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Nuclear’s future cloudy

– Two years after the tsunami that crippled Japan’s Fukushima power complex, the U.S. nuclear industry is facing far-reaching challenges to its own future.

Five years ago, industry executives and leading politicians were talking about an American nuclear renaissance, hoping to add 20 or more reactors to the 104-unit U.S. nuclear fleet.

But today those companies are holding back in the face of falling natural gas prices and sluggish and uncertain electricity demand. Only five plants are under construction; at least that many are slated for permanent closure or shut down indefinitely over safety issues.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week reiterated refusal to issue a license for a unit at Calvert Cliffs, Md., that a French company hoped would lead to a fleet of reactors.

A pair of reactors in Southern California are under scrutiny over whether a major contractor and a utility there hid concerns about potential cracks in the tubes of a steam generator.

And nuclear plants in Wisconsin and Florida are closing down because their owners said they cannot compete with less expensive natural-gas-fired electricity.

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