Despite growing public worry over the safety and long-term consequences of nuclear power, the United States is set to resume construction of reactors after more than three decades of a building freeze that followed the incident at Three Mile Island in March of 1979.
The Three Mile Island accident involved a core meltdown in Unit 2 of the nuclear generating station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Nearly 40,000 gallons of radioactive material was released into the nearby Susquehanna River, resulting in a nearly $1 billion cleanup effort.
Though the incident failed to derail the nuclear power industry in the United States, a moratorium was issued on construction of new nuclear facilities. The four reactors currently slated for building – two in Georgia and two in South Carolina – will be the first since the accident.
The AP1000 1,100 megawatt reactors are expected to be operational by 2016, using turbine equipment provided by the Toshiba Corporation. When completed, the reactors will bring the United States’ total number to 108. More than 26 reactors are under review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The recent problems at Japan’s Fukushima plant have again thrust the issue of nuclear power into the public spotlight. With the end of the moratorium on U.S. facilities, though, plans to expand the nation’s capacity will break ground all over the country. While a possible boon to a contracting construction industry, the expansion of American reactors has many concerned about the long-term tradeoffs of nuclear energy.