Nuclear power is on the verge of a remarkable comeback. It's been three decades since an American utility ordered a nuclear plant, but 35 new reactors are now in the planning stage. The byzantine regulatory process that helped paralyze the industry for a generation has been streamlined. There hasn't been a serious nuclear accident in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979. And no-nukes politics has become a distant memory. It was a sign of the times when John McCain ridiculed Barack Obama for opposing nuclear energy--and the allegation wasn't even true. "There's only a very small minority in Congress that still opposes nuclear power," says Alex Flint, the top lobbyist at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). "That's quite a change."
So how should we produce our juice? The answer may sound a bit unsatisfying: more wind, less coal but mostly the same electricity sources we're using, until something better comes along. The key will be reducing demand through energy efficiency and conservation. Most efficiency improvements have been priced at 1¢ to 3¢ per kilowatt-hour, while new nuclear energy is on track to cost 15¢ to 20¢ per kilowatt-hour. And no nuclear plant has ever been completed on budget.
It appears that the author's conclusions were influenced by our old friend Amory Lovins:
Energy maven Amory Lovins has calculated that, overall, new nuclear wattage would cost more than twice as much as coal or gas and nearly three times as much as wind--and that calculation was made before nuclear-construction costs exploded.Indeed, he provides plenty of unreferenced RMI talking points [link mine]:
A Warren Buffett--owned company has scrapped plans for an Idaho nuclear plant; banks and bond-rating agencies are skeptical as well. In fact, renewables attracted $71 billion globally in private capital during 2007 while nukes got zero. The reactors under construction around the world are all government-financed. "I have to keep explaining: France and China are not capitalist countries!" says Congressman Ed Markey, an antinuclear Massachusetts Democrat. "Nobody wants to put their own money into this so-called renaissance--just ours."Of course, the truth behind this is rather more complex. Buffett dropped his plans to build a plant in Idaho--only to turn around and buy Constellation, which owns five reactors and is planning to build more, beginning with Calvert Cliffs 3 in Maryland. Investment in nukes is definitely non-zero, as is evidenced by companies such as Hyperion and NuScale, among others. This also makes it sound as if renewables are never financed with government funds, when it's clear from the renewble industry's own lobbying that they lead a hand-to-mouth existence on the basis of government subsidies. Take, for instance, this Time piece from a few months ago:
In a press conference last week the leaders of the solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower industries called on Obama and the incoming Congress to look ahead. First, energy leaders asked Obama to immediately adjust the alternative-energy production credit to provide green investors with a cash rebate, rather than a tax reduction. With the economy tanking, simple tax credits — which Congress renewed in October and without which the renewable-energy industry would not survive — aren't the lure they once were for companies looking to invest in new energy projects.This gives a much more realistic picture of the situation. Worldwide, the renewables industry benefits from mandates, feed-in-tarriffs, and similar distortions that render utterly meaningless any appeal to the "wisdom of the market" in comparing new nuclear capacity and renewables in terms of gloabl investment. As the leaders of the industry themselves make clear, private investors put money into their businesses because they are a spectacular opportunity for rent-seeking. But I digress.