A friend just passed me a link to an article on Clean Technica by Zachary Shahan titled Why Are So Many Redditors Obsessed With Uncompetitive Nuclear Energy?.
Shahan bemoans the fact that nuclear supporters on Reddit seem to outnumber solar and wind supporter and believes that contrasts with the real world as demonstrated by the rapid growth of solar and wind. He states that he does not believe that we are paid by the nuclear industry to populate internet forums, but his explanation for the online population of pronuclear advocates is almost just as insulting.
Rather, I think people who have worked in the nuclear industry and people who have been mesmerized by the idea of insane amounts of cheap energy from supernatural nuclear (you know, the “too cheap to meter” stuff) have simply been too enclosed in a nuclear-enthusiast bubble for too long and simply don’t have a good sense for where the energy world is today.
Shahan throws out the old antinuclear talking points that nuclear is too expensive, entails too many financial risks to attract investors, poses large — unspecified — environmental risks, and is only chosen in places where there are “corrupt or very confused governments”. Here are his concluding paragraphs.
But the nuclear enthusiasts don’t seem get this no matter how many ways you explain it to them. I’ve been in numerous comment threads trying to illuminate them, but you can debunk the pro-nuclear/anti-renewable myths repeatedly and they just keep coming back, even by the same commenters.
So, the question remains, why is such a small portion of the population so obsessed with nuclear energy despite the fact that it’s no longer competitive? And why are they so opposed to the rapid growth of solar power? I’m not sure, but I can tell you that it certainly gets old.
It should not surprise any of the regular readers on Atomic Insights that I took that question as a personal challenge and composed the following comment in response.
Zachary Shahan – As a former nuclear submarine engineer officer, founder of a now defunct company named Adams Atomic Engines, Inc., former member of a small modular reactor design team and current independent publisher of Atomic Insights, one of the oldest pronuclear blogs on the web, I suppose I qualify as slightly obsessed with the technology. (As a submariner, I quite literally lived inside a nuclear-enthusiast bubble for a major portion of the 1980s.)
I admit that some of your points are valid; nuclear energy is — currently — quite expensive, quite unpopular with investors, and not poised for near-term growth in any place outside of China, India and the UAE.
However, I have a different point of view on why that is true and whether or not it will remain true. Your own post exposed part of my thesis when you mentioned in the same paragraph that Shell (one of the supermajor oil companies) says that solar will dominate the energy industry AND also claim that massive campaigns against solar and wind are being funded by the fossil fuel and utility industries.
The reality is that nuclear energy has been a competitive threat to coal, oil and gas hegemony since its inception. In fact, the world’s established energy industry was warned about the prospects for being replaced by atomic energy as early as the World Power Conference of 1930 in a keynote address. By 1990, US nuclear power plants were producing more electricity than the entire US grid produced in 1960.
The roots of the antinuclear movement correspond almost directly to the growth nuclear electricity generation. It started to move off of zero on a graph of energy sources in 1970; the Friends of the Earth was funded by a donation from the CEO of Atlantic Richfield Co (ARCO, an oil company) in late 1969.
Sure, the World Bank won’t finance nuclear projects. Doing so might unleash enough new energy supply into the market to cause a price collapse. That would have dire consequences for trillions of dollars of bank loans backed by physical capital assets that are tied directly to fossil fuel extraction, transportation, refining, storage, and delivery.
Solar and wind projects are featured in ads from Chevron, Shell, and BP because they are not competitive threats. Fossil fuel lobbyists have lent their support for the subsidy programs that have enabled the rapid capacity growth seen in the past decade BECAUSE that capacity does not produce enough energy to change the market dynamics that result in continuing growth in demand for fossil fuel.
Publisher, Atomic insights
I probably should have pointed out that I have been accumulating evidence to support my observations about the way that the hydrocarbon establishment is threatened by atomic energy for almost two decades. Many of the scraps of the evidence mosaic can be found by searching this site for the phrase “smoking gun” or by going to the archives page and reading through the stories in the “Smoking Gun” or “Fossil fuel competition” topics.