Image credit: Exquisitur (Creative Commons)
As I noted in my posts on soil versus dirt, and on skeptics, deniers and denialists, words matter. So when I received an email arguing that it was "time to end nuclear socialism", my first reaction was to note the strategic brilliance with which the debate was framed. (Socialism clearly being such a dirty word here in North America.) The actual argument makes for pretty compelling reading too. I've never been ideologically opposed to nuclear power. In fact, with some pretty prominent greens arguing in favor of nuclear power, I've always felt that we should make decisions based on a sound assessment of what works, and how much it costs. But crucially, according to a new report by Mark Cooper—a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment—the cost escalations of nuclear power make it an unattractive option for tackling climate change. In fact, says Cooper, while most other high-tech innovations like solar, computers and wind turbines can be expected to come down in price, the costs of nuclear are only likely to keep rising.
GreenTechMedia picks up the story of the the costs of nuclear, pointing out that while Cooper may be on the extreme end of the scale when it comes to pricing nuclear, there is no doubt that new power plants are proving way more expensive than originally budgeted for. And while some may hold France up as an example of successful nuclear power, Cooper is explicit in his recommendation that others do not follow in its footsteps:
"The French Nuclear Miracle is a misconception. There is no reason to think that things will change if the U.S. follows France. It would replicate what I call Nuclear Socialism. Nuclear power would remain a ward of the state."
Cooper's study shows the costs for nuclear power in France and the US rising by as much as 700% between the 1970s and today. The main culprits are cited as being the bidding process, and construction costs and delays—which does beg the question, how much are these costs inherent to nuclear power, and how much are they a result of the way we choose to build nuclear power plants? (I'm sure, for example, that some nuclear advocates would argue that current safety and planning regulations are over-zealous and make nuclear cost prohibitive.)
No doubt the debate will rage on for many years to come, and those with entrenched positions on both sides of the debate will draw their own conclusions about the validity of Cooper's study. Nevertheless, it's important we evaluate the full costs of all proposed solutions to climate change. We have a limited amount of money, and a limited amount of time, energy and political will, to get this right. The stakes are too high already.