- Utilities have proposed 22 new U.S. reactors. The designs are under renewed scrutiny to determine whether they would survive extreme threats.
- Safety features in the new designs kick in during accidents even when all electricity is lost and without the need for human intervention.
- Questions about the lead contender, the Westinghouse AP1000, could complicate its final approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
- Even if advanced designs can withstand huge earthquakes and tsunamis or a plane strike, utilities must still balance design costs against safety gains.
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Editor's note: This article appears in print with the title "In Search of the Black Swan."
Half a world away from Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, deep in the pine forests of Georgia, hundreds of workers are prepping the ground for an American nuclear renaissance they still believe is on the way. Bulldozers rumble across sunken plateaus of fresh, hard-packed backfill that covers miles of recently buried piping and storm drains. If plans stay on track, sometime next year two new nuclear reactors will begin to rise from the ground—the first reactors to be approved in the U.S. in more than 25 years.