Nuclear power plants produce 20 percent of our country’s electricity, but the industry is in trouble. An aging nuclear reactor fleet combined with low natural gas prices is forcing the shut down of plants across the country. And that impacts many communities that rely on the plants for jobs.
Nuclear waste is not popular in any neighborhood. In West Texas, there’s a battle underway over a plan to create a above ground storage facility for high level waste. Its a bigger problem than West Texas – the nation’s nuclear power plants are quickly running out of room to store the waste. This region has had a long and often contentious relationship with nuclear waste, stretching back to a years-long battle over a planned permanent waste site in the 1980’s and 90’s. Opponents eventually won that fight, but a different site was later built in the Permian Basin.
Watts Bar actually is what it sounds like: a watering hole for light bulbs. It’s a nuclear reactor. And not just any nuclear reactor. When it begins operating next year, it’ll be the first new commercial reactor in the U.S. in nearly 20 years.
Inside Energy is a collaborative journalism initiative of partners across the US and supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting