As the 21st century dawned, "nuclear renaissance" was a popular catchphrase. But current trends suggest that renaissance, if it occurs, will be in the market for engineers and contractors providing services to decommission nuclear powerplants and build storage for their spent fuel. In 2000, 104 power reactors were operating in the U.S., and new growth beckoned. In 2013, four of that fleet were retired, and a fifth will close this year. Five new reactors are now in construction, but there are none behind them. And the number of operating power reactors has slipped to 100.
Decommissioning is years in the future, but plant owners are investing now in dry-cask storage for spent fuel. "It's the country's only recession-proof business," says Rod McCullum, director of used-fuel programs at the Nuclear Energy Institute. There are 63 separately licensed facilities for storing spent fuel in the U.S., and many expansions are under way, he says.