When I was born in the 1950s, nuclear power was said to be "too cheap to meter." Although few and far between, disasters at Fukushima and Chernobyl have laid waste to that claim and, for that matter, entire cities. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself a nuclear physicist, led the charge to eliminate her nation's nuclear power plants in the next few years based on a rational risk analysis. With the decision by Southern California Edison to decommission its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), we may now see enough to reasonably conclude that the nuclear power era is coming to a close.
What's so different about the SONGS decision that it warrants a "straw that broke the camel's back" conclusion? At one time, the plant provided 17 percent of the state's electricity, but owners have concluded that a growing portfolio of renewables (solar, wind, geothermal) and clean natural gas plants can meet demand. They also know how effective energy efficiency measures have been in California, which is now 40 percent more energy-efficient than the rest of the U.S. The power plants you don't build, because of such efficiency initiatives, are of course the cheapest power plants of all.