Under different circumstances, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's recent decision to grant its first license to a nuclear power plant in nearly two decades would be interpreted as a boon for the atomic energy industry.
These, however, are hardly normal times for the nuclear sector, which many observers acknowledge is hamstrung by relentless domestic opposition — even as dozens of new atomic power reactors are being constructed worldwide. Despite nominal backing from the federal government, and an accelerating push to promote carbon free energy sources, the Tennessee Valley Authority's $4.5 billion Watts Bar plant isn't being interpreted as a fresh start for a beleaguered sector.
"We haven't done anything in 20 years … now we're off to the races? Not at all," said Vincent DeVito, a partner at Bowditch & Dewey, LLP, and a former Department of Energy policymaker.
"It's great for the TVA … but it doesn't address larger issue which is can you build these along the Hudson River and Cape Cod Canal, where the power is needed," he added, citing energy starved hubs of demand along the U.S. East Coast. "That particular success is not transferable."
The stagnation of the U.S. nuclear sector belies developments on the international front, where a wide range of economies have become a major source of demand for new reactors.