It’s a clean, reliable source of energy that the U.S. would do well to embrace.
Whither nuclear power? That question has become more important as energy policies evolve to emphasize emissions-free “green” energy and an increased electrification of the U.S. economy. Some environmentalists consider nuclear power to be crucial to reducing carbon emissions; others continue to vehemently oppose nuclear power and believe that our energy must come solely from renewable sources. The public, encouraged into hysteria by dramatizations of nuclear-plant accidents such as the film The China Syndrome and HBO’s Chernobyl, is split.
Meanwhile, the nuclear-power industry itself is in a parlous state for a variety of tangled reasons. In a recent Manhattan Institute report, I broke them down into four categories: (i) decades of construction cost overruns and plant delays because of poor designs, lack of manufacturing expertise, and changing regulations; (ii) political squabbling over spent-nuclear-fuel disposal; (iii) energy policies, including renewable-energy subsidies and mandates, that have distorted electric-power markets and made it harder for nuclear plants to compete; and (iv) lower natural-gas prices and more efficient gas-fired generators. In the past few years, threatened plant closures have led state policymakers to award subsidies to eleven existing plants. More such subsidies are likely forthcoming, if for no other reason than some nuclear-plant owners wanting their share of the subsidy pie. “Nice plant you got there,” they seem to be saying to local economic stakeholders. “Be a shame if something happened to it.”
Nevertheless, nuclear power provides valuable benefits. It is highly reliable and emissions-free. It provides generation diversity, which can reduce the adverse effects of fuel-price shocks. It does not require backup and storage, unlike wind- and solar-power generation. And new designs for nuclear plants promise lower costs and improved safety.
Jonathan A. Lesser, PhD, is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, president of Continental Economics consulting, and author of the new report, “Is There a Future for Nuclear Power in the United States?”
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