A pro-nuclear article in the Washington Times raises some interesting questions, as dishonest gibberish so often does.
Nuclear power is on the rise here and abroad after decades of dormancy, driven by the need for a cleaner environment and steady, secure sources of power in the Internet age.The "rise" of nuclear power in the USA is largely rhetorical, and is fueled by the willingness of right-wing media to treat the matter as a fait accompli. Write enough articles about how everyone has embraced nuclear power, the logic goes, and eventually everyone will embrace nuclear power. It may work, or it may not. I suspect it won't.
If we want to talk about how nuclear power is faring in foreign lands, Germany's situation is worth a mention. Under that country's "nuclear exit strategy," all nuclear plants were supposed to be scrapped by 2020. Sounds great, in theory, but there is the small matter of waste to consider. Germany has enacted a ban on nuclear-waste exports to other nations, which leaves it with thousands of tons of hot radioactive waste, and no good place to put it.
Germany's not alone in this dilemma; things are tough all over. (Rather than bore you with the details here, I'll bore you with them over here.)
Now, let's get back to our friends at the Washington Times:
With worries about terrorism now paramount in the minds of the public and political leaders, concerns about safety that haunted nuclear utilities for decades appear to have receded, replaced by increasing confidence that after a half-century of operating without causing a major public health hazard in the United States, nuclear plants have by and large proven to be safe.This is quite a paragraph. It begins with a non sequitur; whether terrorism is "paramount" in the minds of Americans or not - and polls suggest that it isn't - the notion that fear of terrorism has caused fear of nuclear power to "recede" makes no sense whatsoever. For one thing, these fears aren't mutually exclusive; the fact that nuclear plants and waste dumps are ideal targets for terrorism may not yet have percolated into the hive-mind of the Washington Times, but more individuated forms of consciousness have surely managed to grasp it.
Of course, what naysayers like myself fail to reckon with is the amazing progress we've made in ensuring plant safety:
A new generation of power plants on the drawing board, some with automatic methods of shutting down in emergencies, promises to be safer than before.Wow...automatic shutdown systems! Whatever will they think of next?
As it happens, nuclear power plants are already equipped with automatic shutdown systems (whether they work reliably is another question). I don't know how many people will be comforted to learn that some unspecified percentage of the "new generation" of atomic plants will be equipped with this standard-issue safety feature.
So far we've learned that nuclear power is fashionable, and that it's possibly a bit safer than it used to be, and that it has been validated in some obscure way by 9/11. With those crackpot notions duly espoused, the only thing left to do is explain that nuclear energy is nonpolluting:
In the West, nuclear power is gaining an image as a clean energy source. Nuclear plants emit none of the pollutants or greenhouse gases that are byproducts of the most common sources of power: coal, oil and natural gas.One might just as logically say that natural gas plants emit none of the radioactive isotopes that are byproducts of nuclear fission. In any case, uranium enrichment produces plenty of greenhouse gases, and the nuclear industry uses huge amounts of fossil fuel. France has estimated that its nuclear industry produces about 25 million tons of CO2 emissions per year, without factoring in emissions from uranium ore mining and preparation. We can argue about whether that's an improvement over other types of energy production, so long as we can agree that there's a stark quantitative difference between 25 million tons of emissions, and zero tons of emissions.
In closing, I'd like to turn things over the dewy-eyed, Birckenstock-wearing treehuggers at the Economist, who have managed to explain the financial problems with nuclear power pretty clearly:
Taking into account the uncertainties, most studies done on nuclear economics (including the most authoritative ones, done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and by Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs) conclude that new plants built by the private sector, with investors bearing the full brunt of risks, are not economic without subsidy.And this, of course, is without factoring in waste disposal, a problem for which there is no safe and cost-effective solution, and which renders null and void any proposed environmental benefit of nuclear power.
Though nuclear vendors are promising that their new designs will cost only $1,500 per kW of installed capacity, that assumes ideal conditions and no delays. A more realistic assessment (indeed, the consensus view among experts not aligned with the nuclear industry) is that new plants will probably cost close to $2,000 per kW. That may be less in real terms than the capital cost of previous generations of nuclear plants, but it is still about double the capital cost of a conventional coal plant today.