Nuclear energy in the United States and Europe is far more expensive that it should be. There is plenty of blame to spread; nuclear professionals have to accept some of the responsibility. If you want to do something about the high cost of nuclear energy, it might be best to start with taking the actions that are within your own power to change.
If your biggest objection to nuclear energy is cost, the most constructive thing you can do is to help implement effective cost reduction strategies that do not sacrifice quality.
In my day job, I am doing everything I can think of to encourage people to recognize that a cost-aware approach is compatible with a strong nuclear safety culture. I also try to share something I realized rather slowly myself; time is expensive.
As I learned in the trenches of numerous federal budget cycles, money that is frittered away on trivial matters is not available to use as a tool for solving more consequential matters. Recognizing the difference between a trivial matter and a small issue that has the potential to grow into a major concern is not always easy, but it is a skill worth developing.
In my “hobby job” as a writer who tries to share insights gained, often from painful experience, I will continue to encourage others to engage in critical thinking about the costs associated with nuclear energy. We should think about the aspects of the technology that deserve attention and investment, but also recognize that other areas are ripe for streamlined processes, reduced oversight redundancy, and less attention.
There are many physical characteristics of nuclear energy that give it the potential to beat its competitors in the market. However, even superior technology can be subdued by confusing and contradictory rules; slow decision-making that can increase costs and short-term employment; comfortable, but inefficient work habits; extra barriers that are advantageous for competitors; reluctance to challenge established energy sources; and ineffective marketing that keeps production rates below economic levels.
I also feel compelled to continue pointing out that some of nuclear energy’s excessive costs have been externally imposed by an unholy alliance of people that prefer high energy prices. Some like high prices because they discourage consumption; others like high prices because they improve profits.
That loose and unorganized alliance of people share a common interest in doing everything they can think of to hamper nuclear electricity production, shutter existing facilities, and add cost to every step of the design, license and build process. Most of these actions require no coordination and all of them are enabled by excessive fear of small amounts of radiation.
There are places in the world that have learned that nuclear power can be affordable, safe, and reliable. If Americans and Europeans do not learn from that experience, we are destined for serious economic and social consequences. Here is an eye-opening exchange from the comment section of a recent Atomic Insights post that I thought deserved a promotion to the front page.
Matt: It has become clear to me that the USA has a systemic, entrenched anti-nuclear ‘rot’ in its corridors of power. I am unconvinced that it’s just an effective fossil fuel industry lobby, but rather an active but subtle and dedicated anti-nuclear conclave.
This can only be broken by an all-out pro-nuclear revolution. It will take a dramatic change of heart from key, high-profile, respected people with lot’s of cash and iron will – much like how the anti-nuclear movement started.
The only way to effect a change of heart like that is national recognition that fossil fuels are a clear and present threat to the American way of life, and that renewables won’t fix it, and that nuclear is the only solution.
Sadly, I can’t see it happening.
Steve: As I’ve said before, the only way it will happen is when the USA sees proof that this course of action is a mistake, i.e. when a geopolitical challenger such as China or Russia start reaping the economic benefits of large-scale deployment of next gen nuclear technology at our expense. The benefits of cheap, abundant power are manifold. Energy is an economic enabler, the master resource. Nations that realize this will capture economic advantage in an age of ever more costly fossil fuels. It was no accident that the USA stood over the world when Texas was the Saudi Arabia of the 1940s and 50s. Cheap energy matters – a lot.
Once we start eating their dust, clinging to past glories while wheezing on dirty and ever more costly fossil fuels, only then a “critical mass” of opinion to change nuclear policy will happen. If I were to invest in the Nuclear Age of the 21st Century, and invest in the future, it sadly would have to be OUTSIDE of the US for now. The ruling class of the US is too far wedded to what made it powerful in the past and rich today, a history written in oil.
For now, it will be more nonsense from the likes of Amory Lovins and Al Gore. All talk of wind and sun and negawatts, utterly useless “solutions”, so much snake oil being sold as the fix that doesn’t stand a chance as a cure. Talk that sounds good, feels good, but in the end signifies nothing. The reality will be more fossil fuels get burned as shareholders get rich and the planet burns while the band plays on.