Going Nuclear

Over the weekend, the New York Times had an interesting article about environmental groups who are starting to rethink their opposition to nuclear power. The “green” reasoning is pretty simple: At the moment, there aren’t a whole lot of other options for decreasing carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. The wrong reason, meanwhile, for embracing nuclear energy is in the hope that it might decrease our oil imports or lower gas prices. It won’t do either. Nuclear power is mostly used to make electricity, and oil isn’t much used for that. (Of the 20.5 million barrels we consume a day, only about 600,000 are used by the electric utilities, according to the Energy Department.) If we want to get serious about decreasing our oil addiction, higher fuel standards for cars is the place to start.

Meanwhile, there are still major, major problems with nuclear energy, as I outlined in this piece last November. The three big concerns include: 1) avoiding accidents or theft of nuclear material; 2) “technologies that address complexity, cost, safety, waste management, and proliferation concerns”; and 3) “transparency in nuclear decision-making”. At the moment, no existing nuclear technology can satisfy all of these concerns. Meanwhile, Nathan Newman sort of hits on another issue: there’s a cap on how much insurance nuclear plants have to carry, so taxpayers are stuck with the bill in the event of a meltdown. True, but the larger worry is that the limit on insurance causes both plant owners and insurers to worry less about safety than they otherwise would. Now I have no idea whether those Republicans now advocating nuclear subsidies are serious about thinking through these various issues, but they’re the sort of issues that really need to be thought through.