When I moved in during the Fall of 1995, the heating system of my new house consisted of individually controlled, electric baseboard heaters. I thought about switching to a more conventional heating system but decided to wait until Spring. That February, my electric bill was more than $700, and that with the house kept at a chilly 67 degrees. Before the next winter, I had a more efficient and affordable heating system installed. I also found myself speaking with a Vice President of Mass Electric at some social event. I asked her how anyone could have installed an all electric heating system in a house in New England. She asked if the house had been built in 1970 (it was constructed in 1969) because, she continued “back then, they expected there to be a nuclear reactor in every neighborhood and they’d have to pay you to use all the electricity that would be produced.”
But then came Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, and safety concerns about nuclear power put that industry in a near coma. Recently, however, with gasoline bumping up towards the $4 per gallon mark and with no known nuclear near-accidents of any consequence, nuclear power has enjoyed a kind of renaissance, at least in theory. No discussion of alternative energy policy held these days lacks a nuclear power component.
Today’s news from Japan is not good. In the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami, two nuclear power plants seem to be dangerously out of control. The latest stories make it clear that whether this will be a near miss or a complete catastrophe is still an open question. Regardless of the end result, I suspect that this hazardous situation in Japan has dealt a significant set back to the nuclear power industry in the United States.