PORTLAND — The primary goal of U.S. energy policy should be to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels.

With this goal in mind, it doesn’t make sense to create another generation of nuclear plants, because the construction costs of new nuclear plants have become prohibitively expensive.

As nuclear becomes the most expensive form of new power on the market, it becomes the least effective option in our goal to displace foreign oil and other fossil fuels.

In business school, this concept is known as opportunity cost: Resources can only be spent once.

Moreover, a dollar spent on nuclear power will yield less power than a dollar spent on other forms of power.

Nuclear then becomes an indulgence, as the opportunity to displace foreign oil and other fossil fuels is spent on the least effective option. If nuclear is not necessary, competitive or effective in climate control, it should not be built.

Even nuclear proponents admit that new nuclear plants cannot be built without huge taxpayer funding. Under President Obama’s plan for the government to guarantee nuclear construction, the taxpayer shoulders all of the risk for this investment.

And it is risky: In May of 2003, a Congressional Budget Office report stated that the risk of default on loan guarantees to build nuclear plants is “very high — well above 50 percent.” There is no basis to justify putting public funds at such risk.

What has the history of the nuclear industry been? Nuclear construction costs have always been something of a bottomless pit: Three-quarters of U.S. nuclear plants ended up costing double their original estimates.

More currently, the French government is attempting to build a new nuclear plant in Finland.

It is way behind schedule, and already 50 percent over budget. Of the 52 plants now under construction worldwide, 13 have been “under construction” for over 20 years.

Twenty-four have no official start dates, half are late, and 36 are in four countries with centralized governments: China, India, Russia and South Korea. None of the 36 were ordered on the free market, in competition with other forms of power.

Elsewhere, some point to France, which gets about 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear, as an example of the perceived success and promise of nuclear power.

The thinking is that nukes are economical and that France has solved the waste problem by reprocessing or “recycling ” nuclear waste.

But all is not well in France. The government’s official Charpin report (2000) admits that reprocessing of nuclear waste is neither economical nor does it reduce the amount of nuclear waste.

In addition, during the period from 1970 to 2000, France experienced a 3.5-fold escalation in real capital cost per kilowatt and nearly doubled construction time.

Moreover, although France has a lot of nuclear plants, it still imports all its uranium from foreign countries, and still gets almost half of its final energy needs from oil.

In short, the French nuclear experiment has troubles, too.

Many believe we need big plants for “baseload” power, because solar, wind, and other renewables aren’t reliable when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

But all power plants shut down from time to time. Almost one-third of U.S. nukes shut down for a year or more, some more than once.

Even well-operating nukes need to shut down completely for about a month every year and a half.

A mix of solar, wind, gas, co-generation and other renewables is more dependable and predictable.

Individual windmills can be shut down one at a time for service. Diversity provides reliability. The successful farmer carries eggs in several baskets.

The environmental concerns associated with nuclear should not be overlooked. Murphy’s law also applies to nuclear plants. An objective assessment of nuclear safety is offered by the worldwide insurance industry, which will not sell insurance against a nuclear accident at any price.

Further, nuclear plants give off daily radioactive emissions into the air and water. The net effects of these radioactive emissions can be debated, but not dismissed.

The Obama administration is moving in the wrong direction, at considerable cost, risk, and expense to taxpayers.

New nuclear power is neither competitive nor effective in displacing foreign oil or fossil fuel.

Historically, and currently, there is overwhelming empirical evidence that nuclear is too expensive to be effective in displacing foreign oil or fossil fuel.

Obama’s plan is tantamount to a preemptive bailout of a failed industry.

 

– Special to the Press Herald