The July 16, 2006 issue of the New York Times Magazine has a long and detailed article by Jon Gertner titled Atomic Balm. I highly recommend taking the 20 minutes or so that it will take to read it to obtain an interesting viewpoint from a skilled writer who has not published much about nuclear power in the past. (There is a free registration required and I do not know how long the article will be accessible.)
The article focuses on the actions and opinions of some important players in the nuclear business – the traditional reactor supplier companies, the large, nuclear experienced utilities, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Of course, to provide journalistic balance, there are numerous passages that quote the usual anti-nuclear suspects – Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute (the self described physicist who may or may not have any formal academic degree), David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Jim Riccio of Greenpeace,
As would be expected from such an article, there is a strong focus on the economic aspects, including trotting out the approved, shortened version of Lewis Strauss’s 1954 prediction – “too cheap to meter.” (As an aside, here is the full quote:)
“It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter, will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history, will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age.”
Lewis L. Strauss
Speech to the National Association of Science Writers, New York City September 16th, 1954
You might also want to read Too Cheap to Meter – It’s Now True for a challenge to idea that this quote was way off of the mark.
The 2003 MIT study titled The Future of Nuclear Power is mentioned as proof that nuclear power needs a carbon tax in order to be competitive without taking the time to recognize that the economic conditions of that study have been overcome by the last few years worth of fossil fuel price increases.
According to that study, even in the “high” gas price case, Friday’s price for natural gas ($7.18 at New York City Gate) would not be reached until about 2022. (The high gas price case considered begins in 2003 with a base price of $4.50 per million BTU and escalates at 2.5% per year.) According to that model, the price reached last summer in the natural gas market (nearly $15.00 per million BTU) would not have been possible within the 40 year projection considered for the study.
Anyway, enough quibbling. Go read the article and let me know what you think.
(Anyone that mentions the fact that the article completely ignores some very exciting developments in nuclear markets outside of large, utility scale plants gets a little extra credit. Yes, my students used to love it when I banged on the table to let them know that a certain concept WOULD be on the test.)