Julia Zarina’s column supporting nuclear energy omitted the most obvious reason why nuclear represents such a poor energy choice: cost. Because the billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for our current nuclear-energy mix have never been adequately calculated, it’s difficult to arrive at nuclear energy’s “true” cost, but using the nuclear-friendly U.S. Energy Information Administration’s own numbers, the total system levelized costs of nuclear energy come to $108.40 per megawatt hour for plants entering service in 2018. By comparison, an advanced combined-cycle natural gas plant’s cost for the same $65.60. At $86.60, even a renewable source like wind is cheaper. You do the math.
Zarina’s argument that political partisanship is holding up a nuclear renaissance is equally misplaced. Even before the Republicans took control of Congress in 2010, nuclear energy enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Washington. The Obama administration ponied up billions in taxpayer subsidies to promote the nuclear ambitions of several utilities, most of them located in the South. The capital costs associated with building these plants will run into the tens of billions. Taxpayers will spend billions more fueling, maintaining, decommissioning and then storing – for millennia – the radioactive waste these plants produce. With the discovery of massive natural-gas deposits throughout the United States, and plummeting costs for renewables, these utilities made a bad bet, one that their customers will have to cover.
Simply put, the economics simply don’t support nuclear energy, despite efforts by those who back nuclear to load the policy dice. I’d like to believe that this is good old-fashioned capitalism allowing the marketplace to pick the winners. But the fact that we still hear voices touting the viability of nuclear energy tells me we still have a long way to go on the education front.
John Ramsburgh is an employee of LSA.