Nuclear Energy in the US Looking Less Bleak¦Possibly

President Obama said many things this past Wednesday evening during his first State of the Union Address. Admittedly, I had fallen asleep during part of it, though I perked up at the small business initiatives he mentioned. But I missed something rather big pertaining to the nuclear industry. Specifically, President Obama reiterated his commitment to growing this country’s nuclear energy capability by increasing loan guarantees. According to this article, the loan guarantees, included in the Federal Budget scheduled for release on February 1 will include $54b to stimulate the investment in several new reactors. Four companies appear on the short list for the guarantees according to the story. Unfortunately, increasing America’s nuclear base will take more than $54b worth of loan guarantees. We discussed some of the obstacles to increasing the number of nuclear power plants in the United States in this controversial post last May.

First, we have the opposition to the use of nuclear power based on a taxpayer argument. But that argument, put forward by Michele Boyd of the Washington-based Physicians for Social Responsibility in this way, “Why are US taxpayers expected to promise to bail out the nuclear industry, wreaks of hypocrisy. After all, the entire wind industry rests on government mandates paid for by taxpayers (mandates such as the State of Illinois require power companies to source 20% of its energy from renewables paid for by yours truly, I can assure you) And shall we assume that wind and solar energy initiatives do not receive any tax-payer assistance?   The argument seems silly.

The real issue involves what to do with nuclear waste. According to this recent blog post, President Obama under an executive order, established a 15-person commission that will, “conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. And according to Earth2Tech, “That report is meant to include advice on how to store, process and dispose of nuclear fuel and waste from both nuclear and civilian use. The preliminary report could come in June 2011 with the final report by the end of 2011.

With a single reactor costing $9b according to the Nuclear Energy Institute quoted in the Bloomberg article, metals make up a substantial portion of the total. Consider these figures for one nuclear power plant according to a Boston Globe article from last September, “¦.66,000 tons of steel, 44 miles of piping, 300 miles of electric wiring and 130,000 electrical components. We know the metals industry remains gaga for wind energy and the metals demand it supports. Unlike wind, however, nuclear has proven itself a viable, long term, low-cost and most important “always-on energy source burdened with the twin issues of spent nuclear waste and high capital costs (but the cheapest of all energy sources on an on-going basis) but without the massive storage, transport and Ëœwhat-happens-when-the-wind-doesn’t-blow’ issues befuddling the wind portion of the energy industry. We extend our kudos to the President for having set up a commission to investigate nuclear waste options.

And before you environmentalists start telling me about NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard) politics, I would like to point out I live 60 miles from this nuclear power plant.

–Lisa Reisman


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