The Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania has been a symbol of the dangers of nuclear power for nearly four decades. However, the plant which survived a partial meltdown in 1979 has become a symbol for the new danger threatening nuclear power in the United States, namely, cheap natural gas. The operators of Three Mile Island say the plant hasn’t been profitable in five years and without state subsidies they will be forced to shutter the plant.

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

Nuclear power has existed for over 60 years and at the time of its advent it seemed to be the way of the future. For more than half a century nuclear power has provided safe reliable and clean energy and currently nuclear plants generate about 20% of the electricity used in the United States. However, nuclear power has always had an Achilles heel, the high cost.

The price tag for nuclear reactors has historically been high. This problem was exacerbated following the meltdown of three reactors in Fukushima after they were hit by an earthquake and a tsunami causing an environmental disaster. In the aftermath nuclear power plants were required to spend millions upgrading safety equipment and older plants.

The final nail in the nuclear coffin was the price of natural gas which collapsed around 2009 and has yet to recover. This cheap, relatively clean, and abundant source of energy has become increasing popular in the United States over the last decade.

It is still possible that the invention of new technology will drive costs down and nuclear power will stay a mainstream source of electricity. However, at the moment, the sun seems to be setting on the age of commercial nuclear power. Renewable energy sources and natural gas are expected to increase dramatically as sources of electrical power over the coming decades.