There is an interesting opinion piece on TomPaine.com written by Peter Bradford and Kurt Gottfried titled Nuclear Deficits that I think every nuclear advocate needs to read carefully. In preparation for any battle, whether it is actual warfare, a football game, or an intellectual debate, it is always worth the effort to try to understand the thoughts and opinions of the opposition, especially the portions of the opposition that are the most dangerous. I hope that the active supporters of nuclear energy understand clearly that we are in a struggle that will probably last longer than the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
Here is the introduction of the authors provided by TomPaine.com.
Peter Bradford is a former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Kurt Gottfried is professor of physics emeritus at Cornell University. They are vice-chair and chair respectively of the Board of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In other words, these gentlemen are well educated, influential and formidable leaders of an organization that has a well earned reputation as an effective voice that often opposes nuclear power and emphasizes its weaknesses. Let me be as clear as I can – the weaknesses that the UCS talks about are generally quite real, they simply choose to emphasize them more than I would. The organization often tends to downplay the beneficial aspects of nuclear power compared to its fossil fuel competitors.
(NOTE: I have talked about Mr. Bradford before, he is a featured character in the following post Nuclear financing is not “impossible”.)
Nuclear Deficits contains many of the now familiar talking points that antinuclear organizations like to make. Nuclear power is described as having unresolved challenges for waste disposal, proliferation prevention, security and economics. It is painted as only viable because of intensive lobbying efforts that have opened up the possibility of large government subsidies, without which it would be dead in the water.
The piece also brings up one of the more ironic talking points that is now commonly injected into the energy conversation – the authors claim that we simply cannot build nuclear plants fast enough to make any difference in the climate change arena. It is kind of interesting to hear leaders of an organization that has worked steadily since 1969 to slow the growth of nuclear power saying that it should now be avoided because the plants cannot be built fast enough to matter.
However, Nuclear Deficits does acknowledge that waste disposal “from a technical and safety standpoint” can probably be addressed by a “well-conceived program of dry cask storage”. It also tacitly acknowledges that nuclear power can help decrease climate changing emissions, though it claims that this benefit is oversold.
Near the bottom of the article I found the paragraph that made me believe that the column was worth reading and discussing. Here is the quote:
A wiser approach to both climate change and nuclear power would set the necessary emission targets and assure that they are reflected in fuel prices through a mandatory carbon cap-and-trade program or revenue neutral carbon tax. Under such a framework, subsidies to individual technologies would be less critical and could be directed in proportion to each technology’s potential to reduce rapidly global warming emissions (and oil dependence).
I would LOVE to see such an approach, especially if it were expanded to include fair treatment in terms of such requirements as federal licensing, environmental impact statements, and public hearings. It would provide a solid, sustainable basis for sound decision making that legitimately valued the contributions that each energy source can make. I am pretty confident that my team would win most games on such a playing field, but I am willing to go onto that field without any help from government subsidies.