Last year was pivotal for nuclear power. On May 13, 1994, the board of directors of the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) voted 9-4 to terminate reactors WNP-1 and WNP-3, triggering a dismantling of the two mothballed reactors, both about 70 percent complete. For ratepayers in the Pacific Northwest, the decision offered no relief from bills for construction of the two plants (em recently estimated at about $350 million per year for the next 24 years1. In many ways, WPPSS and its troubled history is a microcosm of the U.S. nuclear industry, now largely brought to a halt.Meanwhile, other nations continue to build nuclear reactors, such as France, Japan, Korea, and China. Still others are planning to start nuclear programs, including Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey. This contrast between domestic and foreign nuclear experience remains largely hidden from view in America.
So what went wrong?
Common journalistic lore tells us that the WPPSS default was a case of bad management (em of farmers acting as nuclear construction contractors, of reactors built when they weren't needed. In fact, there were management problems; past managing director Bob Ferguson has said so. The public has also been told there were labor problems. And yes, labor leaders concede that too. But what the public has not been told is the tremendous impact of regulatory agencies upon the domestic nuclear industry.