America aims for nuclear-power renaissance (The Economist – June 25, 2023)

The Biden administration is pouring billions into the industry. The payoff isn’t certain

After the second world war, America’s newly created Atomic Energy Commission was on the hunt for a remote site where engineers could work out how to turn the raw, world-altering power contained in a nuclear bomb into electricity. They settled on the desert shrubland of south-eastern Idaho.

Towns in the area fell over themselves to compete for the headquarters of the reactor test site, viewing it as a catalyst for growth. Idaho Falls, then a city of 19,000, launched what it called “the party plan”. Locals wooed officials at lunches, cocktail parties and tours of the city. The guest lists always included women who were “as winsome as possible” to make the town seem attractive to the (male) engineer in charge of choosing.

The party plan worked. Nearly 75 years later, Idaho Falls (with a population of 67,000) remains home to the test site’s successor and the centre of nuclear-power research in the United States: the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

Today, America’s nuclear-power industry is partying again. Nuclear is a carbon-free alternative to other sources of steady baseload power, such as coal and natural gas. Nuclear reactors are much smaller than wind or solar farms, which sprawl across landscapes and attract legal challenges from groups with different visions of how the land should be used.

For the rest of this article: