Tuesday :: Mar 7, 2006

Why Nuclear Power is Dead

by Mary

For over 50 years, governments everywhere have been trying to pick the energy winner by actively backing nuclear energy. Last year's energy bill provided some pretty eye-popping incentives designed to make nuclear energy competitive including 80 percent loan guarantees, $2 billion of public insurance against legal or regulatory delays, an additional 1.8 cent/kWh in operating subsidies, payment for late acceptance for hazardous waste, capping liability for mishaps, free offsite security and another $1.3 billion tax break for decommissioning funds. Under that bill all risk is absorbed by tax payers and the promoters don’t even have to invest very much of their own money. With all this going for nuclear power plants, you would think that nuclear energy would be a market winner. But, you would be wrong. Despite all the incentives bestowed on the industry, it is clearly a dying industry fated to be outgunned by more competitive and flexible new sources of power like wind energy.

Don't believe me? Then how about this assessment from the other side of the pond?

Tony Blair's backing for nuclear power suffered a blow yesterday when the Government's own advisory body on sustainable development came down firmly against the building of a new generation of reactors.

Despite the Prime Minister's well-known support for the nuclear industry, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) concluded that a new nuclear programme was not the answer to the twin challenges of climate change and security of supply. In a hard-hitting report, the 15-strong Commission identified five "major disadvantages" to nuclear power:

  • The lack of a long-term strategy for dealing with highly toxic nuclear waste
  • Uncertainty over the cost of new nuclear stations and the risk that taxpayers would be left to pick up the tab;
  • The danger that going down the nuclear route would lock the UK into a centralised system for distributing energy for the next 50 years;
  • The risk a new nuclear programme would undermine efforts to improve energy efficiency;
  • The threat of terrorist attacks and radiation exposure if other countries with lower safety standards also opt for nuclear.

These are precisely the same objections facing the building of new nuclear power plants here in the United States. Amory Lovins, the founder of Rocky Mountain Institute, pronounced the long coming death of nuclear power in RMI's Autumn newsletter (pdf) last year.

So what is the market winner? Greater efficiency is the number one solution to our current energy problem and as Lovins says, market forces are doing a great job of moving this front along. Another exciting technology is the increasingly competitive wind energy generation. Jerome a Paris has been providing updates on recent advances, including the fact that wind power is actually cheaper than gas-powered plants these days (3-5 cents per kWh for wind vs 7 cents per kWh for gas).

So why would anyone build a nuclear power plant if they thought there was another choice? No wonder nuclear power is dead.

Mary :: 12:33 AM :: Comments (40) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!