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A Good News/Bad News Day for the Nuclear Energy Industry

We wrote recently about nuclear energy in the U.S. — how, after much early promise, the industry faltered badly but now seems poised for a renaissance. (Here is some supporting evidence for the column.)

Two related stories broke yesterday, one of which is good news for the nuclear industry. The other is probably — hopefully — not very consequential in the long run, but it still looks pretty bad.

The first story is that NRG Energy, according to David Whitford at Fortune, “filed a license application to build two new nuclear reactors at its existing facility in Bay City, Texas.” Whitford writes that “it has been nearly 30 years since the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission received the last such application.” At the New York Times, Matt Wald explains that NRG “wants to be the first to pour concrete in the main section of the plant, allowing it to qualify for the maximum federal benefits.” Clearly, this is a signal moment for the nuclear industry.

Now for the bad news: the Wackenhut security guards employed at the Pennsylvania Peach Bottom nuclear plant operated by Exelon, which also operates Three Mile Island, were caught napping on videotape in their “ready room.” Exelon fired Wackenhut from Peach Bottom, and may also fire them from its other plants. This good Philadelphia Inquirer article has a lot of detail, including this closing jolt: “Last month, an NRC inspector found an armed guard asleep at a gate outside the Indian Point nuclear generating station in Buchanan, N.Y.”

That said, the security I saw at Three Mile Island was so tight, complex, and thorough that I think it would take a lot more than one sleeping guard to create a vulnerability. They wouldn’t let me photograph anything having to do with their security — the numberless armed guards, physical barriers, electronic monitors, etc. — but I thought they had it backwards: if a potential attacker could see how impenetrable the plant is (at least from a ground attack; an air attack is another matter), he would probably take his business elsewhere in a hurry.