the (new) american worker

Nuclear: Is It Really Worth It?
February 19, 2010, 12:45 pm
Filed under: nuclear | Tags: , , , ,

President Obama put the nuclear debate back on the map this week with a high-profile announcement that his administration will guarantee a $8.33 billion loan towards building the nation’s first nuclear units in thirty years. The loan guarantee will go to Georgian-based Southern Company, to open the last two of four reactors the company has been trying for decades to complete.

Obama's "Nuclear Bet:" Southern Co. and the Vogtle power plant

Nuclear. Just the word brings to mind a stark landscape of hulking reactors and radioactive waste. It seems so…retro. Is Obama and his energy team really moving us forward with this one?

Hardly, says Michael Grunwald in his TIME piece: “Why Obama’s Nuclear Bet Won’t Pay Off.” Look past the outcry from the greenies, and the eons-long commitment to waste storage, and there is still the obscene costs, something Grunwald calls “the insanity of nuclear economics.”

Grunwald writes that when Southern Company first started building the Vogtle Power Plant, it put a $1 billion price tag on four reactors. By 1989, that number had raised to $9 billion – for only two of the four. Now, Southern Co. is looking for help to finally build those last two reactors, a cost it estimates at $14 billion.

Grunwald adds:

“And you can be sure that number is way too low, because nuclear cost estimates are always way too low.”

His piece goes on to acknowledge that yes, the Vogtle plant is expected to create “3,500 well-paying jobs,” if ground is broken next year, and yes, nuclear power really is emissions-free. Two points for Obama. But minus one for the state of Georgia, since the Vogtle reactors are expected to increase resident electricity bills by nine percent. Residents also may not be so thrilled to hear that the federal government is likely stepping in as a lender of last resort, since Wall Street won’t touch nuclear and credit ratings agencies have consistently downgraded any utilities with nuclear plans. Ouch.

Nuclear runs rain or shine, so it is understandable why our country is currently so dependent upon it. But it seems to me like a better use of fiscal resources would be to invest more heavily in energy efficiency and the gradual reduction of dependencies altogether. It would be like looking nuclear in the face and saying “we can do better” –  and get a better price.

–Mia Lamar