No to Nukes

July 16, 2012

The United States currently generates around 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants. No new facilities have been built since the notorious Three Mile Island accident of 1979, which contributed both to a moratorium on construction and persistently high disapproval of the nuclear field as a source of energy, says Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center.

The Fukushima reactor meltdown in March 2011 cast further doubt on the idea that nuclear power will ever be a long-term clean-energy solution in the United States. This sentiment was manifested in February poll by The Economist, which reported that 64 percent of Americans opposed building new reactors.

However, the case against nuclear power need not be built on public opinion or even on safety. That the extraordinarily expensive investments are a poor idea can be established on the economics of the energy source alone.

  • The data accumulated during the last 30 years suggest strongly that nuclear plants will never be able to cover their operating costs, let alone recoup the billions it costs to build them.
  • A 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study led by physicist Ernest J. Moniz and engineer Mujid S. Kazimi showed that nuclear energy costs 14 percent more than gas and 30 percent more than coal -- even accounting for the massive subsidies given to nuclear power.
  • A 2010 study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that nuclear power will remain more expensive to produce than other conventional sources of electricity through 2016.
  • Based on this analysis, nuclear power is even more expensive than wind power (though admittedly, cheaper than solar).

Bolstering the argument for nuclear, lawmakers often turn to France as an exemplary case of the source's inherent benefits.

  • France gets about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and has never suffered a large-scale disaster.
  • But producing nuclear energy in France is not magically cheaper than elsewhere: French citizens are forced to pay inflated costs to support grand government support for power.
  • France's estimated cost for a kilowatt of power is between $4,500 and $5,000; the estimated cost in the United States is between $4,000 and $6,000.
  • Thus, it is clear that France has not found the veritable silver bullet to make nuclear power cost efficient.

Source: Veronique de Rugy, "No to Nukes," Reason Magazine, July 2012.

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