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Beyond Japan – What About Nuclear Power?

Beyond Japan – What About Nuclear Power?

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.

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Photo from Creative Commons
written by ZACH.AHMAD on October 29, 2009

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25 comments

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7:52AM PDT on May 13, 2011

Thanks, if green energy is that which can be extracted, generated, and/or consumed without any significant negative impact to the environment then the industry have proven that it cannot do so, so theoretical asides we should abandon it.

9:43PM PDT on Mar 17, 2011

nuclear power does generate significant greenhouse gases when the mining and processing of uranium, construction and decommissioning, and waste storage (for thousands of years) and transportation are taken into consideration.

I said it at protests after TMI and I say it now - No Nukes!!!

3:49PM PDT on Mar 17, 2011

No to nuclear power.

12:30PM PDT on Mar 17, 2011

No nukes!

10:36AM PDT on Mar 17, 2011

No, No, No, They are just to dangerous.How many billions tons of hazardous waste have they stored deep in the ground already? It is not clean or cheap as the nuclear industries would have you believe.

6:01AM PDT on Mar 17, 2011

Grid tied solar panels on every house, VAWTurbine's on the top of every skyscraper and more.
No more nuclear reactors to threaten everyone's health.

5:51AM PDT on Mar 17, 2011

thanks for the article.

4:42AM PDT on Mar 17, 2011

We need batteries and a smart grid in addition to windmills and solar panels to store electricity generated when windmills and/or solar panels are producing more electricity than electric utility customers are using at the moment and then feed it back into the grid when customers are demanding more electricity than the windmills and solar panels are producing at the moment. If the $36 Billion in loan guarantees for the nuclear power industry were put into batteries, smart grid, windmills, and solar panels instead, we could probably switch to all sustainable energy for the electric part of our energy use at least over a twenty to twenty-five year period. Solar panel warranties are for 25 years. That must be somebodies best estimate of their service life. So if we plan and installing all the new sustainable energy electric generating capacity we expect to want twenty-five years from now, then just when the market for new generators is saturated, old generators will be reaching the end of their service life and be ready to be replaced. So the manufacturing capacity will not go to waste.

3:41AM PDT on Mar 17, 2011

Not M said it best. Nuclear power and fossil fuels is our countries solution to energy crisis. There is risk involved not matter what method one favors. Wind power is ridiculous, solar power is overpriced just as the new hybrid vehicles is along with the piece of junk $37,000 Chevy Volt. I believe GM had a vehicle called the EV which sort or rode into the sunset. This article makes a rather vague statement in that we should use natural energy sources. Hmm, I can see our Washington bright ones are really pursuing this at full speed. There has to be at least 6 committees investigating. Another grand old unsubstantiated with numbers propaganda bid by this writer.

10:57PM PDT on Mar 16, 2011

Let's be clear! NUCLEAR ENERGY is NOT GREEN technology! True, It doesn't generate atmospheric CO2, but the radioactive waste that it does generate is FAR more damaging to human health and the environment and infinitely longer-lasting than CO2. Want to get rid excess CO2 in the atmosphere? Plant trees!

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