New Hope For Nuclear?

Jun 17 2013 @ 12:43pm

Michael Specter is coming around on nuclear power:

[L]ife is about choices, and we need to make one. We can let our ideals suffocate us or we can survive. Being opposed to nuclear power, as [Richard] Rhodes points out, means being in favor of burning fossil fuel. It’s that simple. Nuclear energy—now in its fourth generation—is at least as safe as any other form of power. Fukushima was a disaster, but was it worse than the fact that our atmosphere now contains more than four hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide, a figure that many climate scientists believe assures catastrophe? Sadly, we may soon find out.

Razib Khan points to polling data indicating that nuclear is more popular among liberals that you might expect. Meanwhile, David Roberts tries to change the debate:

Nuclear or coal is not the choice that faces us going forward, but were I convinced it was, I’d be a big nuke supporter. I am leery of them for several reasons that I’ll touch on below, but life is about risk, and the risks of coal and climate change are a hell of a lot worse than the risks of nuclear power. … But the reason I and most people I know are not nuke boosters is [economics]: Nuke plants are hellishly expensive to finance, build, insure, and decommission. It’s one of the most expensive ways to reduce carbon emissions and it’s not getting any cheaper. If anything, nuclear has exhibited a negative learning curve.

The response to this from supporters usually amounts to, “Yeah, but you can’t get all the way there on renewables.” This may or not be true. There are credible models of large-scale renewable penetration, but ultimately we won’t know until we try. If we reach a point where nuclear power is cheaper than the next increment of conservation, energy efficiency, demand shifting, renewables, cogeneration, and/or storage, then yay for nukes. But right now there are lots of cheaper options and more on the way. Renewables are plunging in price; nuclear prices are static or rising. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.