The Case for Nukes

Sen. John Watkins, R-Powtahan, makes the case for nuclear power in today’s Times-Dispatch, endorsing Nuclear Regulatory Commission initiatives to reduce the regulatory barriers to the construction of new nuclear power-generating units. Electricity consumption is projected to increase nearly 50 percent nationally between 2002 and 2005, he notes, and nuclear energy has proven to be more cost effective than the alternatives. Nukes don’t generate gases that contribute to the “greenhouse effect,” and there is no shortage of nuclear fuel.

“Virginia,” Watkins writes, “must include in its strategic energy policy efforts toward facilitating future nuclear energy development.” Surprisingly, he offers no specifics as to what Virginia migh do.

An opposing view is presented by Michele Boyd, legislative director for the energy program for Public Citizen, a group that has filed a petition against Dominion’s early site permit application for new nuclear units. Her most cogent objection is the difficulty of disposing of nuclear waste. As an alternative to nuclear fuel, she suggests development of newable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

I think wind and solar power are wonderful, but I’m skeptical that they’ll provide any more than a small fraction of Virginia’s increased demand for electricity. Virginians could do far more to conserve energy, an option that Boyd unaccountably overlooked. But in the end, I’m an advocate of that quaint old idea of letting the market decide. Let entrepreneurs compete to provide the most cost-effective best energy/conservation alternatives and let consumers choose the solutions that are best for them.

As for the problem of nuclear-waste disposal, they are real. And the cost of disposal should be built into the cost of electricity, not passed on to taxpayers. But the problems strike me as more political than technological. The French generate some 80 percent of their electricity with nuclear power (as my feeble memory recalls from watching CNN), and they have never had a serious nuclear incident. If the French can figure it out, we should be able to as well.

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16 responses to “The Case for Nukes”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I’m in favor of nuclear power when it can pay its own way, a precept you usually endorse.

    I believe that if nuclear plants had to buy their own insurance on the open market, and pay for disposal of their own waste for 80,000 years or so, they might find that they can’t afford to be in business. Considering the possible consequences of a serious accident, collecting 80 years of premiums without an incident wouldn’t be enough to make me buy stock in that company.

    If it turned out to be the case that n-pants are being overcharged, then we might decide they are being overcharged for insurance on risk basis that is not justified, and we might decide that the costs of disposal related to 40 years of environmental and state infighting should not be billed to the companies, but to others.

    Until we understand wht the costs and benefits are, and more importantly until we agree on those matters we would be making a huge policy mistake to grant concessions or make regulations that may not be warranted, and the costs of which are subject to dispute.

    Let them solve their own insurance and disposal problems, and then see what happens.

    We could provide all our power needs with renewable resources today if we want to, but it will cost more than what we are doing now, unless you count the cost of wrecking the worlds climate. And we would still have to use energy to manufacture all the equipment.

  2. James Aach Avatar
    James Aach

    “…the cost of disposal [of nuclear waste] should be built into the cost of electricity, not passed on to taxpayers.”

    Actually a sizeable portion of it is – nuclear plants are required to charge their customers an additional premium both for waste disposal and for plant de-commissioning. The nuclear industry has been sueing the federal government over what it has been doing with the billions of dollars of waste disposal money it has been given (via the electric ratepayer).

    I’m an engineer involved in the nuclear industry. I don’t have any particular expertise in waste management, but it seems to me the problems in this area have been overblown. It’s a matter of taking items that generate a bit of heat and putting them into the ground for a long period of time so that they don’t leak. It’s really not rocket science, as they say. But again – only a slightly informed opinion.

    I may have mentioned this on your site before, but if you’d like an entertaining look at the nuclear industry today, see for a novel by a longtime nuclear engineer (me). It’s free to readers – who seem to like it, judging by their comments on the home page. And if you find it useful – please pass the word.

  3. E M Risse Avatar


    Energy policy, now there is a topic worthy of spilling ink!

    Establishing a rational energy policy and thus sustainable settlement patterns will be key to survival of the species.


  4. Lucy Jones Avatar
    Lucy Jones

    Interesting but scary. I hear nuclear and I immediately think mass destruction, warts and extra arms. I’m sure that’s due to my ignorance on the subject but I would certainly be more comfortable to gamble on water, wind and solar power even if it costs a little more.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Once upon a time we had sustainable setlement patterns, but they didn’t sustain themselves: they evolved into something different, so they weren’t sustainable after all.

    That’s where Diamond is all wet: societies don’t succeed or fail depending on whether they have traditional values. If society adapts different values, then it is a different society. It doesn’t mean the other one “failed”.

    In addition, history strongly suggests that just because we think we have a better idea for how to run our lives now than our forebears did, doesn’t mean it is true. All those things that we see as failures today, were the most advanced thinking and technology of their time. They actively promoted by wild eyed visionaries promoting a chicken in every pot or some other promissory madness like the big rock candy mountain.

    Rational energy policy won’t guarantee sustainable settlement patterns either. What you are suggesting is that if we don’t adopt your ideas some or most of us won’t survive.

    Those that do survive will be thrust into some semblance of sustainable settlement, by definition: they will be the ones who managed to sustain.

    If we become extinct, we won’t be the first that didn’t adapt fast enough, we’ll just be the first to have seen it coming, unless something we didn’t see gets us first.

    Have a nice day!

  6. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    Interesting post. The economic arguments may be compelling, but (and I concede, my fear may be irrational) I grew up less than sixty miles from TMI, and still remember my feelings during that time.

    However, Jim, citing the French is hardly a way to persuade this crowd!

  7. Lucy Jones Avatar
    Lucy Jones

    Where do the French store their waste?

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I’m not sure, but I think it gets shipped to the states.

    I don’t think the waste is as big a problem as the insurance, for reasons James Young explained.

  9. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    Perhaps they keep it. Radiation dementia would certainly explain French behavior in the foreign policy arena.

  10. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Lucy, as memory serves me, the French dump their nuclear waste on aun uninhabited coral atoll in the South Pacific. While mankind is endangering animal species all over the world, the French are the only ones creating new ones — all that radioactivity enourages novel mutations! In all seriousness, the French solution is not to be emulated.

  11. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    Jim, I was obviously being facetious. I think you’re incorrect. Here’s a link to a US DOE fact sheet on the subject: factsheets/doeymp0411.shtml.

  12. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Jim, Now that I think of it, the French conducted their atomic tests on the aforesaid uninhabited coral atoll — they didn’t dump their radioactive waste there. I don’t know what they do with the wate. Unfortunately, the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management website you pointed me to gives an error message.)

  13. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Ever try to repir something designed with french engineering? intriguing, cute, ideas, but horrible execution.

  14. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Ray: The guillotine doesn’t need much repair. More humane – one clean stroke rather than dealing with the occassional clumsy, or tipsy human executioner.

    Seriously, count how many BTUs we can generate a year in Virginia with solar and wind power (and what has to be done to achieve this) at what cost and how many BTUs another nuke plant will crank out. Then, get busy building the nuke.

  15. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    Jim, I added a space. Here’s the link without it:

  16. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    BTW, Ray, I have a smarta** response about the last great French contribution to the world, but it’s not appropriate for a family website. Suffice it to say that it references an act illegal in the Commonwealth.

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