"Generating Failure": Why Subsidizing Nuclear Power is Not the Answer

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This morning, Senator Webb put out a press release on the proposed "Clean Energy Act of 2009," which he is co-sponsoring with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). The main thrust of this legislation is to provide $10 billion "in government-backed loans for the development of clean, carbon-free energy to bring in investors and project developers to jump start efforts that are otherwise too capital-intensive up front." Translation: taxpayer-provided nuclear power subsidies, and lots of 'em.

In addition to the $10 billion in nuclear power plant subsidies, the Webb-Alexander legislation would provide $1 billion over 10 years for "nuclear education and training;" $1 billion over 5 years to help bring new nuclear reactor designs to market; $500 million over 10 years "for much needed research to extend the lifetime of our current nuclear fleet and maximize the production of low-cost nuclear power;" and $7.5 billion over 10 years for research on "low-carbon coal," "technologies that will reduce nuclear waste," "battery technology," "advanced bio-fuels," and "low-cost solar technology." By doing all this, Webb claims, "we can effectively address our nation’s energy requirements and also the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions." Sounds great, right?

But wait, you ask, then why is this article entitled "Generating Failure?" There are many strong reasons, most of which are laid out in an excellent new report by Environment America, entitled, "Generating Failure: How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming." The following graphs, which I believe make the case against focusing limited government resources on one of the least cost-effective strategies possible, are taken from that report. Enjoy.

To summarize, from the report by Environment America:

*"Early action matters in the fight against global warming."
*"New nuclear reactors would be built too slowly to reduce global warming pollution in the near term, and would actually increase the scale of action required in the future."
*"In contrast, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources can make an immediate
contribution toward reducing global warming pollution."
*"Nuclear power is expensive and will divert resources from more cost-effective energy strategies."
*"Nuclear power is not needed to provide reliable, low-carbon electricity for the future."
*"To address global warming, U.S. policy should focus on improving energy efficiency and generating electricity from clean sources that never run out – such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal power."
*Finally, "State and federal leaders should: Oppose additional subsidies for nuclear
power; Reduce the nation’s emissions deeply enough to prevent dangerous impacts
from global warming, guided by the latest scientific understanding; Require the nation to reduce overall electricity use by 15 percent by 2020 and to obtain at least 25 percent of its electricity from clean, renewable sources of energy that never run out, such as wind and solar power, by 2025; Strengthen energy efficiency standards and codes for appliances and buildings; Invest in electric grid modernization."

I'd also point to Figure 9, which clearly indicates that nuclear power is at the bottom in terms of cost effective global warming solutions (and, I'd add, "cost effective energy solutions"). In contrast, energy efficiency - aka, "negawatts" - gives us the most bang for the buck of any other global warming solution. Energy efficiency is followed by 12 other energy sources - biomass cofiring, combined heat and power, wind, geothermal, etc. - before we finally get to nuclear power, which ranks above only "cleaner-coal"-based Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle. While I am certainly not against nuclear power per se, I am against spending limited government resources on the second-least effective (nuclear power) and also the least effective ("low-carbon coal") options out there. Frankly, this goes against everything I've ever learned, which is that you want to put your resources where you get the most bang for the buck. Unfortunately, this bill does the exact opposite.

UPDATE: For all the climate change-denying trolls in the comments section, this is my response to you. That answers all previous and future "questions" or "thoughts" by you on this subject.