Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Conservative Reason.com: The myth of nuclear power

Gee, I can't believe I missed this article. And I can't believe my free-market-loving rightwing friends didn't forward it to me. Oh well. Anyhoo, this article gives the lie to those who say we should put our faith -- and our investment dollars -- into nuclear power.

I don't agree completely with de Rugy's analysis. For example, taking the 60-odd years of nuclear power as a reliable data set for the entire future safety of nuclear power is just poor risk management. Harmful radioactive materials last thousands of years! (This is taking the rightwing "don't pass the debt onto your grandchildren" argument into extreme "don't pass the waste onto your great-great-great-great-great...grandchildren" territory). According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, "At this time there are no facilities for permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste." High-level radioactive waste has a half-life of 24,000 years.

Her article also fails to mention the scary reality that U.S. nuclear regulators are in the pocket of the heavily subsidized nuclear industry -- that worst-of-all-worlds nexus of corporatist democracy -- whose fleet of aging plants is coming up for re-licensing, so our safety cannot be guaranteed. And although she correctly points out that there is no such thing as a "private" nuclear industry, her analysis ignores the fact that all sources of energy, including oil, are heavily subsidized, whether it's necessary or not.

Also, she makes sure to draw the distinction between electricity generation and fuels, which is true as far as it goes, but let's take the U.S. interstate highway system, for instance: it is a sunk cost (not considering the need for constant repairs) in economic terms, but without it our devotion to gas-guzzling cars would make no economic sense. So it's dishonest and wrong to analyze our current energy situation but refuse to ask, "How did we get here?"
She also ignores the fact that the U.S. spends hundreds of $ billions protecting market access to fossil fuels, especially petroleum. With wind and solar there's nothing to protect and nothing to restrict: it's there for everybody. Finally, her analysis ignores that plug-in electric cars are now a reality, not science fiction, so if we can switch to renewable sources of electricity production, then the dichotomy of electricity- vs. fuel-producing technologies would largely disappear.

There are other problems with de Rugy's analysis but I want you to actually read it and appreciate its merits, my pro-nuke comrades, so I won't say any more.

P.S. -- I respect Germany more all the time. After the Fukushima disaster, Germans revolted democratically at the ballot box to reject unequivocally a nuclear future for their country, and -- can you believe it? -- Germany's government actually listened, and pledged to shut down all nuclear power plants by 2022 at the latest, and increase Germany's share of renewable energy consumption to 35 percent in 2020, 50 percent in 2030, 65 percent in 2040, and more than 80 percent in 2050. Since they're Germans and not at given to silliness they will almost certainly succeed. As in the health care field, we Americans don't have to be innovators, we can simply borrow the best policy ideas from other countries and implement them to our benefit; but alas, we are oh-so "exceptional," to our detriment.

The Truth About Nuclear Power
Separating economic myth from economic fact

By Veronique de Rugy
March 25, 2011 | Reason.com

URL: http://reason.com/archives/2011/03/25/the-truth-about-nuclear-power

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