Sunday, April 3, 2011

The incalculable cost of nuclear power

George Monbiot caused quite a stir recently when he declared that the Fukushima Daiichi disaster had confirmed him as a supporter of nuclear power as part of the solution for reducing carbon emissions. But the costs and uncertainties of the industry cast serious doubt on the prospects for a nuclear renaissance.

Monbiot is not the first climate advocate to call for more nuclear power. Steward Brand, famous as publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, has announced that he favours building more nuclear power because, as he puts it, "coal is so awful."

Such declarations are taken as evidence that environmentalists are becoming more hardheaded about energy economics. Monbiot complains that renewable energy advocates are using a double standard in assessing the economics, but nuclear power has never been able to stand on its own without government backup.

If the costs and benefits of nuclear power are so attractive, where are the investors? At least with wind and solar power, it is possible to see the cost curve dropping to the break-even point in the near future. Nuclear power, by contrast, may never be able to convince investors to put their money down without government guarantees.


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