SAN DIEGO — There was a time when nuclear power was considered to be the bulwark of America’s energy future.
Now the titan appears to be teetering.
Westinghouse Electric Co. — long considered the leader in nuclear power development — filed for bankruptcy protection in late March. The move puts in jeopardy the completion of two nuclear plants in the Southeast that had been heralded as proof the industry’s future was still vibrant.
The news added to a long list of nuclear’s woes:
• California is on the verge of eliminating its last remaining nuclear power plant.
• Nuclear waste, stranded in places such as the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station outside San Diego, isn’t going away any time soon.
• The industry still is reeling from the 2011 tsunami that hit the Fukushima plant in Japan, which prompted some countries such as Germany to turn away from nuclear power.
Within hours of the Westinghouse announcement, some industry opponents pounced.
The group Beyond Nuclear sent out a tweet concluding: “Time to recognize the nuclear show’s over.”
Damon Moglen, senior strategic adviser for Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s really the death rattle of the nuclear industry.”
Even the industry’s biggest supporters acknowledged the Westinghouse news was bad.
“I’m freaked out, honestly,” said Michael Shellenberger, president of Berkeley, Calif.-based Environmental Progress, a group that considers nuclear power an essential element to battle climate change.
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Westinghouse, a Toshiba subsidiary, was supposed to help build the first fleet of new-generation nuclear plants in the United States since the Three Mile Island incident in 1979.
Two reactors in Georgia and two others in South Carolina promised to employ the latest technology — called AP1000 — to usher in a new century of nuclear development, delivering robust electricity production while ensuring structures were simpler, safer and less expensive.
But construction at each site has been dogged by delays and cost overruns.
The two utilities lined up to operate the plants say they plan to forge ahead, but the bankruptcy filing is sure to further delay the projects and increase costs. The current surcharge at the Georgia site — called Plant Vogtle — adds about $100 a year to the bills of most residential customers in the area.
Iowa has one nuclear power plant, the Duane Arnold Energy Center, near Palo.