NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 23, 2008

All over the world, nuclear power is making a comeback, says William Tucker, author of "Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Can Lead the Green Revolution and End America's Long Energy Odyssey."

In the United States at present, 104 nuclear plants generate about 21 percent of our electric power.  In the past year, almost a dozen applications to build new nuclear power plants have been filed, says Tucker.

While we may be at a turning point, one enormous question still hangs over this revival of nuclear power in the United States: Who is going to pay for it? 

  • The construction of reactors in the rest of the world is essentially a government enterprise.
  • In the United States, the capital will have to be raised from Wall Street; however, not many investors are willing to put up $5 billion to $10 billion for a project that could become engulfed by 10 to 15 years of regulatory delay -- as occurred during the 1980s.

What's more, says Tucker, the perceived danger of nuclear energy has been absurdly exaggerated:

  • Nuclear plants cannot explode; the fissionable isotope of uranium must be enriched to 90 percent to create a weapon, but it only reaches 3 percent in a reactor.
  • It's highly unlikely that terrorists could cause a nuclear holocaust by crashing an airplane into a reactor.
  • The Department of Energy once crashed an F-4 jet going 500 miles per hour into a concrete wall the thickness of a nuclear containment structure; the plane vaporized while the concrete was barely dented.
  • Finally, the problem of radioactive waste has also been exaggerated; more than 95 percent of the material in a spent fuel rod can be recycled for energy and medical isotopes.

If nuclear energy is to progress, that means Wall Street has to invest, which requires persuading the public that there is nothing unacceptably dangerous or diabolical about nuclear power, says Tucker.

Source: William Tucker, "Let's Have Some Love for Nuclear Power," Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2008.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Environment Issues