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Nuke plant shutdown foreshadows coming changes in energy mix
Nuclear power was hailed as a miracle when it was first implemented back in the 1950s, and still shows promise in the form of nuclear fusion, which has been "just a few years away" for many decades.
We agree with the view that the most practical course is a cocktail of energy sources -- coal, oil, wind, solar, hydro and nuclear -- but in the end, simple economics will be the deciding factor.
That was the main factor cited by Tim Burke, president and CEO of the Omaha Public Power District, who has decided that the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station is no longer financially viable.
Despite its ability to generate power without adding carbon dioxide emissions, Fort Calhoun has had its problems.
OPPD spends about $250 million a year on the nuclear plant, but had to spend $140 million to bring it back online following flooding and a small fire in 2011. After those problems and regulatory issues, the utility hired a Chicago firm to run it.
While it's unusual for nuclear plants to be shut down, smaller plants like Fort Calhoun are less efficient and several have been shut down -- in New Orleans, New York and Boston.
Cheap natural gas, made possible by fracking, coal and other low-cost wholesale power sources also make it difficult to keep small nuclear plants open.
Shutting down a nuclear plant is not a decision to be made lightly, in part because the problem of how to dispose of nuclear waste has never been completely solved.
It's extremely expensive; OPPD has already set $373 million aside to decommission Fort Calhoun, but it will take another half a billion dollars over 10 years to complete the task.
Technological breakthroughs are likely to make solar energy more economically viable in the near future, and wind is finally gaining a foothold in Nebraska, but while the ingredients will vary, an energy cocktail will be on our menu for many years to come.