The U.S. Needs Nuclear Energy

May 23, 2014

Although nuclear energy faces many challenges -- chief among them, expense and aging plants -- nuclear energy should become more affordable and safer in the near future, says Robert Bryce, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute

Nuclear energy is an environmentally-friendly energy alternative with a small carbon footprint. Moreover, the average reactor has a powerful energy density of 338 megawatts per meter. To put that figure into perspective:

  • Two nuclear reactors in New York at the Indian Point Energy Center can provide up to 30 percent of the electricity for New York City.
  • Wind energy, on the other hand, has a power density of 1 watt per square meter. You would need 772 square miles of wind turbines to generate the same amount of power as the Indian Point nuclear reactors.

The up-front cost of building a new nuclear reactor, however, is high. In Augusta, Georgia, two new nuclear units are being constructed at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant at a cost of $14 billion -- $6.3 million per megawatt and six times as expensive as a natural-gas-fired plant.

In light of the Fukushima nuclear incident in March 2011, when a meltdown resulted from a series of tsunamis in Japan, many claim that nuclear power is too dangerous. However:

  • The disaster led directly to only two deaths, workers who drowned at the plant.
  • Fears of radiation contamination were rampant, yet according to the World Health Organization, radiation exposure from Fukushima was low, and the agency expects no observable increases in cancer above natural variations.

While the impact of Fukushima was relatively mild, it has inspired the development of new and safer reactors with strong containment systems and cooling mechanisms that can work for several days without electricity.

The U.S. needs cheap, abundant, and reliable energy in order to prosper, writes Bryce, and nuclear energy has an incredible power-density advantage.  He encourages the government to streamline the nuclear licensing process while providing proper oversight.

Source:  Robert Bryce, "A Nuclear Option for Energy," Bloomberg, May 9, 2014.

 

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