The Bottom Line on the New Energy Economy
Nuclear Not Red or Blue

Nuclear, Solar Not Red or Blue

by Craig Severance

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Within days of the well-publicized release of my new study Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power in January by the Center for American Progress, the Heritage Foundation, the arch-nemesis of CAP, thought it necessary to respond with an article defending nuclear power.  Their article, which also gained wide publicity, was entitled New Study on Staggering Cost of Nuclear Energy, Staggeringly Pessimistic. 

My purpose in doing the updated nuclear cost study was to open up nuclear costs to public scrutiny, with a detailed cost analysis where all assumptions were clearly spelled out.  It is now incumbent upon nuclear supporters to present specific analysis to the contrary.  (None has been forthcoming).

Though the title of their article implied I was being "staggeringly pessimistic", Heritage did not actually challenge the assumptions in the Study.  Instead they noted:

Aside from the cherry-picking of data and its clear tilt toward Big Green (the vast industrial complex and lobbying machine being built around global warming alarmism), its conclusions are potentially not that  far off. 

From the above quote, it seems Heritage is a bit paranoid of the green movement (currently being championed by such far-left institutions as Chevron, IBM, and Microsoft).  The thrust of the Heritage "rebuttal" was to blame nuclear's staggering cost on environmentalists, and to call for measures to prevent the outcomes predicted in my Study:

The value of the CAP study is to demonstrate why a nuclear renaissance may never unfold unless something is done to ensure that the conditions set forth by the study never come to pass.

Oh, if it were only that easy!  The nuclear industry has already achieved its political goals of streamlined applications, restricted intervenor rights, and government subsidies for nuclear power.  The nuclear industry even carried off a masterful public relations coup in convincing a majority of the public and policymakers that it could be an important solution to global warming.  Public opposition to nuclear power is now far lower than at virtually any time in the past several decades. 

In the end, however, none of that matters.  Though ideologues may see every issue as a political battle between Left and Right, Blue and Red - these are just power plant projects.    They are not liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic.  And when the numbers don't add up, they don't add up.  (Something about "lipstick on a pig" somehow comes to mind.)

Jerry Taylor, a Senior Fellow at "the other conservative think tank" - the Cato Institute - published an excellent article "Nuclear Energy: Risky Business" in October 2008, in which he wrote: 

Nuclear energy is to the Right what solar energy is to the Left : Religious devotion in practice, a wonderful technology in theory, but an economic white elephant in fact (some crossovers on both sides notwithstanding). 

Taylor then proceeded to address the myths vs. facts circulating around nuclear power, in a well informed article devoid of ideological bent.  His article (written months before my Study) describes the major economic barriers to nuclear power, then debunks the myth that it is all the fault of eco-freaks: 

Nuclear supporters often counter that construction costs would be a lot lower if regulators didn't impose insanely demanding safety standards, byzantine and time-consuming permitting processes, or endless public hearings, any one of which could result in the plant being stopped in its tracks. Investors would also be more likely to invest, we're told, if there were a high-level waste repository in place or more political support for nuclear power.  

I would love to tell that story. I do, after all, work at the Cato Institute, and blaming government for economic problems is what keeps me in business. But what stops me is the fact that those complaints are not echoed by the nuclear power industry itself. 

On the contrary,  the industry in the early 1990s asked for- and got -exactly the sort of safety regulations, permit review process, and public comment regime now in place. Both public and political support for nuclear power is running so high that even a majority of Democrats in Congress are happy to not just tolerate nuclear power, but lavish even more subsidies upon it. And while Yucca Mountain may not be open now or ever, everyone seems reasonably content with the current on-site waste storage regime.

Indeed, if government were the reason why investors were saying "no" to their loan applications, I would expect that industry officials would be the first to say so. But they do not.

Taylor's full article is worth reading by conservatives and liberals alike.  It is not just a good article on nuclear power.  It is an example of how we might be able to address these critical energy issues with a clear head. 

These are just technologies, folks.  There is no such thing as a Republican or Democratic solar cell, wind generator, or nuclear power plant. 

Americans are good at technology.  We need to promote the best of the new energy solutions.  Can we all talk to each other, please?   

This article was originally posted on  March 1, 2009, and is posted under Nuclear Power. 

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