Brown's Ferry is the name of an unprepossessing boat crossing on the Tennessee River in Alabama. It is also the birthplace of a revival for nuclear power in the U.S. In May 2007 the one gigawatt-electric nuclear reactor known prosaically as Unit 1 restarted boiling water—after a 22-year shutdown and a refurbishment that cost $1.8 billion.
Brown's Ferry is just the first. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), owner of the three nuclear reactors at Brown's Ferry, also has plans to complete a stalled reactor at Watts Bar in Tennessee and two new reactors at Bellefonte in Alabama; Princeton, N.J.–based NRG Energy wants to build two new reactors at its South Texas nuclear power facility.
And North Carolina–based Progress Energy hopes to replace two old coal-fired power plants with two new nukes near Florida's Tampa Bay by 2017 at a cost of roughly $7 billion apiece—a price tag already incorporated into the company's bills to local ratepayers. If built, the two units would be the first...