"At $4.7 billion, the project is "arguably one of the most expensive, most over-budget, oldest reactors to be started in human history"
It is way over its original budget, and further delayed, because it was substantially redesigned partway through completion so that it would be in compliance with new post-Fukushima requirements. That's always going to be more expensive than finalizing the design before construction begins. It was not way over the budget for the redesigned version of the reactor. And would anyone have preferred that it hadn't been redesigned to meet the new regs? But even at the revised price tag, if it serves out its initial licensing term, that capital cost would amortize out to less than 1.3 cents per kwh--which is not all that outrageous.
"It's the last gasp of the nuclear industry..."
More accurately, it's emblematic of a kind of reactor technology which probably will have no customers without some government support, or outright government purchases. But there's no reason to suppose that Watts Bar 2 represents any sort of pinnacle of nuclear technology. There wouldn't be dozens of teams racing to develop nextgen reactors if present tech nuclear didn't have major shortcomings.
""One can purchase lots of renewable energy sources for $6 billion," Lochaum said."
Or for $7 billion, you could buy just the power lines Texas had to install to connect up its remote wind farms.
"TVA, which once planned to erect 17 nuclear reactors, has given up on 10 of those..."
Because evolving circumstances rendered them unnecessary. The TVA was instructed by the AEC / ERDA / DOE to prepare for a major increase in energy demand from their diffusion enrichment facilities. For a variety of reasons, that large demand increase never materialized, and diffusion enrichment itself was phased out in favor of much more efficient centrifuge enrichment.
"power demands in the area have come to a standstill as solar and wind power becomes increasingly mainstream, Flessner reported."
"Increasingly mainstream" just means it increased--which is technically accurate but still misleading. The TVA originally operated three wind turbines (combined peak output 2 MW) at its Buffalo Mountain wind facility, and in 2004 15 additional wind turbines were added to increase the total peak capacity to 29 MW. The average output is around 10 MW. This was a complete non-factor in their decision not to add gigawatts of unneeded nuclear capacity.
"As Moglen said, it's a sign that there are "clearly 21st century ways in which we can produce clean safe, greenhouse gas-free energy that is cost competitive, and doesn't have the added risk of nuclear proliferation"
Watts Bar 2 is not a proliferation risk. There will be no new additions to the nuclear bomb club as a result of its operation.
"...and the long-term dangers of nuclear waste."
Spent fuel gets exponentially less radioactive over time. Fresh spent fuel is the most challenging to deal with because of its intense radioactivity and critical cooling needs, but we've been dealing with that most-difficult part of the spent fuel life-cycle for decades with an impeccable safety record. And the long term "dangers" are negligible compared to that--especially if we ultimately dispose of spent fuel by consuming it in fast reactors.
""We have an ethical and cultural and social imperative to be designing clean energy and we know how to do that," Moglen added, pointing to the historic agreement reached in June between Pacific Gas and Energy (PG&E) and a slew of environmental and labor groups to shut down the Diablo Canyon reactor in California and replace it with renewable energy utilities and storage units."
If we know how to replace nuclear with renewables, the obvious question is why that wasn't done with San Onofre and Vermont Yankee, both of which were replaced overwhelmingly with gas, and both of which were located in highly pro-renewable states. The Diablo Canyon agreement is a statement of intent to replace Diablo Canyon with renewables and storage--provided PG&E gets everything they are asking for up front. Buit the agreement spells out that this is an aspirational goal, and PG&E is up front that it doesn't know how it can do this, or whether it will succeed in doing this.
"citing a recent article by environmental activist and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben that demanded a World War II-style mobilization against climate change."That's one of the things this next administration is gonna be responsible for," Moglen said."
Stein would try to phase out nuclear. Trump would continue existing support for nuclear. Clinton has said that she would additionally support advanced reactor research and development. My hunch is that nuclear will do okay in the next administration.
"It's very sad that this is the last gasp of the industry because it looks like such an extraordinarily dumb one."
So presumably it would have been a happier outcome if the industry died after producing a cheap, clean, and very safe reactor.