Saturday, October 13, 2012

Occupy the NRC | Peter A. Bradford | VOTE NO

  1. Peter A. Bradford, an adjunct professor at the Vermont Law School and former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, believes nuclear power is no longer the way to go to solve our energy needs. If you agree with him, click N

    O on The Wall Street's Journal question should nuclear power be Increased. Vote NO here with a quick click

    Mr. Bradford's comments below:

    If asked whether we should increase our reliance on caviar to fight world hunger, most people would laugh. Relying on an overly expensive commodity to perform an essential task spends too much money for too little benefit, while foreclosing more-promising approaches.

    That is nuclear power's fundamental flaw in the search for plentiful energy without climate repercussions, though reactors are also more dangerous than caviar unless you're a sturgeon.

    How dangerous? The full impact on people's health from last year's disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan won't be known for years, if ever. But other impediments to relying on a vast nuclear expansion to fight climate change are already clear: Thousands of Japanese may not return to their contaminated hometowns for many years, if ever. The world's largest private utility is a ward of the state. The Japanese government at the time of the accident has fallen. Four reactors were destroyed live on world-wide television. All of this happened on the watch of a safety regulatory regime thought to have been a world leader.

    Iran, like several other nations, has used its civilian power program to justify activities bringing it closer to assembling a nuclear bomb. Enthusiasm for spreading reactors among new nations should remind us that the Shah of Iran's nuclear-power program was featured in 1970s nuclear-industry advertisements. If the next nuclear-power-related catastrophe is a bomb going off in a city, what will happen to a climate strategy based on rapid expansion of the "peaceful atom"?

    Of course, new reactor designs are safer. However, safety depends on more than design. A world more reliant on nuclear power would involve many plants in countries that have little experience with nuclear energy, no regulatory background in the field, and some questionable records on quality control, safety and corruption.

    But safety isn't why the U.S. stopped ordering new reactors in the mid-1970s. Nuclear power is so much more expensive than alternative ways of providing energy that the world can only increase its nuclear reliance through massive government subsidy—like the $8 billion loan guarantee offered by the federal government to a two-reactor project in Georgia approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier this year. That one loan guarantee amounts to $100 in risk exposure per U.S. family. And then there's the quasi-tax that Georgia's government has imposed on its utility customers in the form of early rate increases to help the utility avoid invoking the loan guarantee.

    Many more such direct government subsidies will be needed to scale up nuclear power to any great extent.

    There are better choices. John Rowe, former chief executive of Exelon Corp., EXC +0.52% an energy company that relies heavily on nuclear power, recently said, "At today's [natural] gas prices, a new nuclear power plant is out of the money by a factor of two." He added, "It's not something where you can go sharpen the pencil and play. It's economically wrong." His successor, Christopher Crane, recently said gas prices would have to increase roughly fivefold for nuclear to be competitive in the U.S.

    Exelon's current low-carbon plan makes clear that many combinations of energy efficiency, renewables and gas beat new nuclear units. In these conditions, governments don't know precisely which technologies will best achieve an energy supply that threatens neither security nor the climate. They should focus on implementing policies like carbon taxes (for climate) or oil import fees (for security) and accept the market's verdict as to which energy sources fit the resulting bill.

    Countries that choose power supplies through democratic, transparent and market-based methods aren't building new reactors. Only two are under construction in Europe. The U.S. "nuclear renaissance" has collapsed from 31 announced reactors in 2009 to five now likely to be built, none in states that rely on competitive power markets.

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