Today, some 85% of the electricity generated by nuclear plants comes from facilities of a similar design as Fukushima.
As renewed interest and demand began taking off over the past decade, firms eagerly peddled evolutionary designs they assumed utilities would buy.
Nuclear operators, meanwhile, squeezed new life out of old reactors through so-called “uprating” — running plants longer and at higher power outputs than originally intended.
But as harrowing as the Fukushima debacle has been, it hasn’t dimmed the hopes of nuclear technologists, suppliers and manufacturers. It may, in fact, even allow the industry to move beyond the creaking technology of the past few decades, selling state of the art reactors much sooner than it might have otherwise.
The fact is new reactor research and development has long been stalled in the United States, since President Jimmy Carter killed the Clinch River breeder reactor program in the wake of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.
In June, the Reactor and Fuel Cycle Technology Subcommittee, a branch of the vaunted Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, released the draft version of its report on possible future reactors.
It gave the next generation of reactors as close to a government endorsement as the industry has gotten in years.
“What Fukushima has done is create a much larger incentive for utilities to purchase more advanced technologies,” says the committee’s chair, UC Berkeley physicist Per Peterson.