It’s nearly spring, and nuclear is in the air. Some state legislators are attempting to lift a ban on building new nuclear reactors in Kentucky. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. just delivered a speech at Murray State University, denouncing nuclear as prohibitively expensive and still unsafe. And E.on-US’s CEO Vic Staffieri told Louisville Rotarians yesterday that coal-fired power plants are much cheaper to build than nuclear plants. It’s a curious convergence of renewed interest in nuclear, especially since no new reactors have been built in the States for years. The federal government wove incentives for new plants into its recent energy policy act, hoping private enterprises would line up to apply for permits to build. That hasn’t happened. Dozens of new plants are under construction worldwide, while nuclear power still seems to make Americans nervous.
I offer no opinion one way or another on nuclear power. But the current buzz about it has inspired me to do a little fact-checking. In fact, several new reactor designs have been approved recently, according to the US Energy Information Administration. And they’re supposed to be safer than older designs. Also, the EIA reports that operating and maintenance costs for nuclear and coal plants are about the same. And finally, the Administration’s projections – and again, these are just projections – are that the cost of building a new nuclear plant compared to the cost to construct a new coal plant should even out in a little more than a decade.
So, does this mean we’re ushering in a new nuclear age in the US? Not sure. But these three things are true: 1) greenhouse gases are warming up our world; 2) not enough of us are using less energy; and 3) there will be more of us, many more of us, using more energy all over this little planet of ours.