EDITOR’S NOTE: Published in 2009, this post from the Progressive Book Club isn’t new, but it is a valuable addition to the way we think about nuclear issues. Of all the alternative energy ideas now in vogue in the fight against climate change, the most controversial is what Al Gore calls “a radioactive white elephant” is nuclear power.
In his book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, Gore runs down the standard arguments against nuclear power, which center around safety concerns, amplified by memories of notorious accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and the challenge of waste storage. Yet, as the former vice president points out, in the scientific community the overriding concerns are not safety risks — which are in fact far lower than in the past — but economic hurdles.
Soaring construction costs
A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists cautions against investing in new nuclear reactors in the U.S. Though nuclear power may be carbon-neutral, the analysts say, the cost of expanding the country’s nuclear infrastructure would be both burdensome and unnecessary when weighed against other alternative energy options.
Gore explains that while technology costs tend to be streamlined over time, the opposite has happened with nuclear energy. Expensive to begin with, the cost of building a nuclear power plant soared from $400 million in the 1970s to more than $4 billion in the 1990s, and is now rising at an estimated rate of 15 percent each year. Most utility companies have given up on the idea of ordering new reactors. Of all the nuclear reactors ordered between 1953 and 2008, about half have been canceled, and only a quarter are currently functional.
After the Three Mile Island accident, in 1979, construction of nuclear power facilities was put on a hiatus that has proved to be open-ended. Fewer young engineers were willing to go into what appeared to be a dying industry, leading to a shortage of trained personnel. Investments have dropped off likewise, and even if inclinations were to shift, the world lacks to manufacturing capacity to expand the current number of nuclear facilities anytime soon.
Despite the prohibitive costs, though, nuclear power is very much a going concern globally. There are 436 nuclear power plants in the world today in 30 different countries. The most prominent example is France, which receives more than three-quarters of its power from nuclear sources at considerable government expense.
Photo from Creative Commons
written by ZACH.AHMAD on October 29, 2009
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