I am as excited as anyone about the prospects for new nuclear power plants in the United States, but I have also spent a lot of time over the past 17 years trying to understand what went wrong during the first Atomic Age. I fear that some of the same mistakes are being repeated. It is still time to make adjustments, however, and try to keep the mistakes to an acceptable level.
I know – some of the readers of this blog are nukes who think that the only acceptable level is zero, but if the only way that we can proceed with nuclear power is to think that everything will go perfectly we might as well stop the journey now. Humans are involved; perfection is impossible.
There are going to be cost and schedule overruns in some cases, especially in the early days when we are training a whole new generation of workers and scraping rust off of the memories of the few people left in the industry who have ever built a plant. However, we have some pretty effective project managers in the US who understand how to keep a construction project running on time and we have some people who understand the value of getting long lead time equipment in place early rather than late.
We will also run into dedicated opposition – though the people who picketed with the Clamshell Alliance have aged a bit, they have been refining their techniques and still wield considerable power. It is also far easier to train people to slow down a construction project than to train them how to make it run properly.
There are some effective arguments against nuclear power that work even in cases where the receiver of the argument is logical, pro growth, and understands the need for reliable electricity.
When the industry can be painted with the brush of government dependency, corporate welfare, or incompetence, our arguments about clean, reliable, sustainable electricity are ignored.
On Sunday, 23 September 2007, TheDay.com published a commentary titled No Need For New Nukes In State that should be required reading for industry leaders and decision makers. As Sun Tzu advised, “If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”
An editorial from the Salt Lake Tribune from the same date carried a similar message – No nukes: Nuclear power plant plans should be shelved.
There are logical reasons for loan guarantee programs and for ensuring that any loan guarantee program designed to support development of clean energy includes new nuclear power plants in the program. Professor William Miller from the University of Missouri offered some of those reasons in his September 23rd opinion piece titled Financing the next generation of nuclear power plants, which is available from STLtoday.com. Please note, however, that Professor Miller is from the nuclear engineering department, not the economics department or the school of public relations.
Loan guarantees are nice and can reduce the cost (and increase the effective return) of nuclear power plants, but are they absolutely necessary? Do the rest of us really have to assume some financial risk in order to reduce the cost of financing for the likes of TXU, Dominion, Progress Energy or NRG
The most EFFECTIVE argument against nuclear plants during the first Atomic Age – the one that sealed the deal for many people – was the fact that every time a new nuclear power plant came online, the owning utility went to their Public Utility Commission and applied for a rate increase. That action allowed the opposition to implant the following equation into people’s minds that has never left – Nuclear power = expensive electricity.
That equation will not win us any friends, especially in those important parts of America where the favorite retailer is Wal-Mart. More politically important is the fact that it does not win any friends in the steel, auto, plastics, fertilizer, paper, glass, or computer industry either.