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Monday, April 30, 2012

Nuclear Energy is Not a Mature Industry

Article originally appeared at Consumer Energy Report

Senator Bernie Sanders is using Grist Magazine to lobby against government assistance for nuclear energy on the grounds that it's a mature industry. I might agree with him if it really were a mature industry and if renewables really could carry the day without it. But it isn't, and renewables can't. Always irritates me to watch ignorant politicians screw with my children's' futures. As sometimes happens with my long-winded comments, the one I left over there got large enough to convert into a post over here.

Senator Sanders may have good intentions, but what's new? We don't need any more roads to hell paved by those. He's just another member of the generation that has been systematically misinformed by "the end justifies the means" anti-nuclear lobby and our sensationalist for profit lay media.

An earlier article on Grist recently (and inadvertently) demonstrated with a simple graph that the most optimistic estimates for renewable energy do not come close to meeting our energy needs, all cost issues aside.

Do government subsidies ever pay off? The poster child for government subsidies that have paid off royally would have to be those for nuclear energy. There are presently about 60 nuclear power plants under construction around the world. Just off the press:
Westinghouse Electric Company and Ameren Missouri have entered into an agreement to respond collaboratively to the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for developing and licensing the Westinghouse Small Modular Reactor (SMR).
Bernie and/or his co-writer said:
Whether you support nuclear energy or not, we should all be able to agree that with record debt, we cannot afford to continue to subsidize this mature industry and its multi-billion-dollar corporations. If the nuclear industry believes so fervently in its technology, then nuclear companies and Wall Street investors can put their money where the mouth is. Let them finance, insure, and pay for nuclear plants themselves.
I can't think of a more promising technology to subsidize. With all of the new nuclear technology coming down the road, you can't seriously call this a mature industry. Where's the legislation to end government mandated consumption of food-based corn ethanol (moonshine) which may quietly be starving hundreds of thousands to death annually?

Nuclear may be expensive up front, but it certainly has proven to pay off over time. I'm a big fan of renewables, but they are going to need a lot of help from nuclear, and never mind that renewables receive even greater subsidies and are even more expensive than nuclear per unit energy, not that this is necessarily a bad thing.

Nuclear energy has been around for about half of a century. Aircraft technology has been around for about a century. By Senator Sander’s reasoning, a Sopwith Camel is the equivalent of an F-22 Raptor. There would be no F-22 raptor without government funding.

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:13 AM

    I think mature is a relative term. the Nuclear industry is mature in the sense that it is able to support itself without a taxpayer handout. Whether government should subsidize on some other principle is certainly debatable. But the issue really takes shape when considering the fact that the nuclear industry was born out of government interests and has received large amounts of subsidies since day one. the coal industry too is considered mature by similar reasoning. Then there's the issue of profitability. That is, why should tax payers subsidize private corporations that are profitable without a subsidy or why should a corporation be able to profit from subsidy?

    I personally think the government has an obligation to ensure access to safe, secure, and sustainable energy and if it means using subsidy as a tool to that end, then so be it. I think the issue comes down to how much taxpayer money should be used for this purpose and how it is doled out. Should it go to industries that are relatively mature and profitable and who have enjoyed such support for nearly a century or should it go to industries and ideas that have the potential to align more closely with long term goals of safety, security, energy independence, and sustainability? Should it be skewed at all or should it be provided evenly on a per kwh-generated basis for instance? And then what is the true total cost of these energy resources? Most reasonable people realize that the price we pay on our utility bills is only a portion of the cost. We pay more in our taxes and in environmental damage and destruction, e.g. mountain top mining operations for coal or long term waste storage for nuclear.

    Keep in mind too that nuclear and coal plants are more prevalent than so-called renewables and that there hasn't been a new nuclear plant built in nearly 30 years. Granted this is changing with the construction of the new Vogtle units in GA and licensing of Watts Bar Unit 2.

    I think its time to answer certain difficult questions such as those I posed above. It is time for a honest and reasoned look at where all this money is going and whether it is wise and aligns with longer term goals. After all, our government is good at very little when it comes to economic and financial decisions lately. Do we really want them driving certain decisions especially when they've proven generally inept and susceptible to lobbying and shill input?

    Nukes are relatively mature (the average plant nets close to $1M a day) but its time to reassess how we spend our money. If nukes are truly a wise choice despite waste management and safety concerns, they ought to be able to compete just as wind and solar will need to in order to really carry weight. Its time to level the playing field and see which contender is prepared to lead with the finish line sitting at sustainable, safe, energy independence.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous6:28 AM

    I think mature is a relative term. The nuclear industry is mature in the sense that it is able to support itself without a taxpayer handout. Whether government should subsidize on some other principle is certainly debatable. But the issue really takes shape when considering the fact that the nuclear industry was born out of government interests and has received large amounts of subsidies since day one. The coal industry too is considered mature by similar reasoning. Then there's the issue of profitability. That is, why should tax payers subsidize private corporations that are profitable without a subsidy or why should a corporation be able to profit from subsidy?

    I personally think the government has an obligation to ensure access to safe, secure, and sustainable energy and if it means using subsidy as a tool to that end, then so be it. I think the issue comes down to how much taxpayer money should be used for this purpose and how it is doled out. Should it go to industries that are relatively mature and profitable and who have enjoyed such support for nearly a century or should it go to industries and ideas that have the potential to align more closely with long term goals of safety, security, energy independence, and sustainability? Should it be skewed at all or should it be provided evenly on a per kwh-generated basis for instance? And then what is the true total cost of these energy resources? Most reasonable people realize that the price we pay on our utility bills is only a portion of the cost. We pay more in our taxes and in environmental damage and destruction, e.g. mountain top mining operations for coal or long term waste storage for nuclear.

    Keep in mind too that nuclear and coal plants are more prevalent than so-called renewables and that there hasn't been a new nuclear plant built in nearly 30 years. Granted this is changing with the construction of the new Vogtle units in GA and licensing of Watts Bar Unit 2.

    I think its time to answer certain difficult questions such as those I posed above. It is time for a honest and reasoned look at where all this money is going and whether it is wise and aligns with longer term goals. After all, our government is good at very little when it comes to economic and financial decisions lately. Do we really want them driving certain decisions especially when they've proven generally inept and susceptible to lobbying and shill input?

    Nukes are relatively mature (the average plant nets close to $1M a day) but its time to reassess how we spend our money. If nukes are truly a wise choice despite waste management and safety concerns, they ought to be able to compete just as wind and solar will need to in order to really carry weight. Its time to level the playing field and see which contender is prepared to lead with the finish line sitting at sustainable, safe, energy independence.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous6:22 PM

    I think mature is a relative term. The nuclear industry is mature in the sense that it is able to support itself without a taxpayer handout. Whether government should subsidize on some other principle is certainly debatable. But the issue really takes shape when considering the fact that the nuclear industry was born out of government interests and has received large amounts of subsidies since day one. The coal industry too is considered mature by similar reasoning. Then there's the issue of profitability. That is, why should tax payers subsidize private corporations that are profitable without a subsidy or why should a corporation be able to profit from subsidy?

    I personally think the government has an obligation to ensure access to safe, secure, and sustainable energy and if it means using subsidy as a tool to that end, then so be it. I think the issue comes down to how much taxpayer money should be used for this purpose and how it is doled out. Should it go to industries that are relatively mature and profitable and who have enjoyed such support for nearly a century or should it go to industries and ideas that have the potential to align more closely with long term goals of safety, security, energy independence, and sustainability? Should it be skewed at all or should it be provided evenly on a per kwh-generated basis for instance? And then what is the true total cost of these energy resources? Most reasonable people realize that the price we pay on our utility bills is only a portion of the cost. We pay more in our taxes and in environmental damage and destruction, e.g. mountain top mining operations for coal or long term waste storage for nuclear.

    Keep in mind too that nuclear and coal plants are more prevalent than so-called renewables and that there hasn't been a new nuclear plant built in nearly 30 years. Granted this is changing with the construction of the new Vogtle units in GA and licensing of Watts Bar Unit 2.

    I think its time to answer certain difficult questions such as those I posed above. It is time for a honest and reasoned look at where all this money is going and whether it is wise and aligns with longer term goals. After all, our government is good at very little when it comes to economic and financial decisions lately. Do we really want them driving certain decisions especially when they've proven generally inept and susceptible to lobbying and shill input?

    Nukes are relatively mature (the average plant nets close to $1M a day) but its time to reassess how we spend our money. If nukes are truly a wise choice despite waste management and safety concerns, they ought to be able to compete just as wind and solar will need to in order to really carry weight. Its time to level the playing field and see which contender is prepared to lead with the finish line sitting at sustainable, safe, energy independence.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the civil comment. There are many levels of support provided by government. Some pay off, some do not. Nobody is proposing giving nuclear power plants tax breaks to increase profitability. Basic research and development is a good use of government assist, which is primarily what I'm talking about. Read "Do Government Subsidies Ever Pay Off?"

    http://www.consumerenergyreport.com/2012/02/29/do-government-subsidies-ever-pay-off/

    ReplyDelete

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