Sunday, January 31, 2010

At PJM: Let's Get Small

I have a new column up at Pajamas Media today, regarding the state of nuclear power. A sample:

As time passed and 70’s anti-nuclear hysteria ebbed, power companies around the country have petitioned the NRC for permission to build new reactors. Some 16 applications have been filed since 2007, with more anticipated.

All the current NRC applications have one thing in common: they’re for large-scale power plants, technically improved but functionally not dissimilar from the reactors of the 1970s. Today, Jane Fonda is a punchline, "Real People" is long since off the air, and disco is blessedly still dead, but the big electric companies remain stuck in the ‘70s as far as their strategic planning is concerned.

While political conservatives generally look favorably upon nuclear energy, the economics remain daunting. In a now-famous paper for Reason, Jerry Taylor of Cato said nuclear power “is to the Right what solar is to the Left: Religious devotion in practice, a wonderful technology in theory, but an economic white elephant in fact.” Taylor referenced industry studies showing nuclear electricity costing four to five times as much per kilowatt hour than coal or gas plants, and noted the massive subsidies and loan guarantees handed out to power companies as undermining the cost rationale for nuclear power.

All of which makes me wonder, again: this is the 21st century — why are we looking at huge, multibillion-dollar facilities in the first place? It’s not like other options don’t exist.

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