Entergy’s Pilgrim reactor–the latest victim of nuclear power’s increasingly wretched economics, not to mention sustained citizen activism. Photo by Enformable.
A generation or so ago, New England was one of the most nuclear-dependent regions in the nation. If one defines New England as including New York, then that relatively small corner of the U.S. map was home to 15 commercial nuclear reactors 25 years ago–only the state of Illinois had a more concentrated nuclear presence; regionally, no other area is even close to that concentration on a square-mile basis.
Today, New England is leading the nation away from nuclear power, and toward the energy efficient, renewables-powered system of the 21st century. Today’s news from Entergy that it will close its Pilgrim reactor by mid-2019–and probably a whole lot sooner–is just the latest manifestation of that process, and it’s a process that is accelerating.
It is probably not a coincidence that for the past 25 years, New England has been home to the most active and aggressive anti-nuclear movement in the U.S. When people band together, work together, and stick to it: good things happen.
The shutdowns started with Yankee Rowe in 1992, which wanted to become the first reactor in the U.S. to receive a 20-year license extension and instead closed for good when Citizens Awareness Network proved it was too unsafe to operate. Then came Millstone-1, followed by Connecticut Yankee and Maine Yankee in 1996. Last year, it was Vermont Yankee that ended operations.
It is true, on one hand, that the poor economics of nuclear power have come home to roost particularly hard in New England, and that at the root of every shutdown in the region has been the reactors’ inability to compete in the marketplace. But it is just as true that those economics exist elsewhere in the country–just check Illinois, for example–and the shutdowns have been much slower elsewhere. The citizens’ actions have made a real difference–and the lesson is they can elsewhere too.
In Pilgrim’s case, Entergy admits it is losing $10-40 million (and think the higher figure) per year just trying to run that obsolete Fukushima-clone reactor. And actually trying to bring Pilgrim up to basic NRC safety standards, which it does not meet–the NRC has rated Pilgrim and two other Entergy reactors in Arkansas as the worst in the nation–would cost many millions more. So for Entergy, the decision was easy: cut its losses now, and avoid spending money to make the safety improvements.
Cutting its losses now is why Pilgrim is not likely to actually operate until mid-2019, as its shutdown announcement indicated. That date is when Entergy has promised the New England grid that it would provide power from Pilgrim. But doing so would cost Entergy a lot of money; if the company can get out of those commitments, it will be happy to do so. And it’s highly likely other capacity can be brought in, probably by mid-2017, to take Pilgrim’s place.