The real nuclear option 

The UK has announced that it will open its first nuclear power station for many years in 2018. The announcement is particularly noteworthy because the British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat member of the coalition government and well-known environmental advocate. If the UK can decide that the nuclear route is worth following, then the USA should feel happy taking the nuclear option.

Despite the scaremongering of environmental groups over the years, nuclear power could easily form part of America’s future energy mix.  While nuclear plants are expensive to build, the power they produce is at the lowest cost of any viable energy source

Even given all the subsidies to renewable energy, nuclear plants are cost-competitive with renewable plants.  For example, the Mesa Wind Project in Texas, part of the ‘Pickens Plan,’ would have cost $16 billion, including new infrastructure, to provide the same energy as a nuclear reactor costing $6-10 billion. According to the Energy Information Administration, the “levelized costs ” of nuclear power generation, including capital costs, are lower than any form of renewable energy (and note that in the case of weather-dependent renewable energy, like wind and solar, the actual costs will be much higher).

All around the world, governments are turning to nuclear energy as the clean, affordable fuel of the future. Here in the United States, we must also harness what makes our nation so different from the rest of the world: our entrepreneurial spirit. For too long we have stifled the nuclear industry with over-stringent rules and permitting standards that have dissuaded investment in the industry. The last UK government determined that a few changes to the permitting procedure would be enough not just to speed the process up so that new plants could be built before the end of the decade, but to encourage private investment.

Finally, the fragmented nature of the US power industry - imposed by Depression-era rules - means that the industry has to rely on government loan guarantees to build such ‘megaprojects.’  By reforming antitrust and encouraging a much-needed consolidation in the electric market, the industry would be able to stand on its own two feet and not require taxpayer-backed guarantees.


Iain Murray is a Vice-President at the Competitive Enterprise Institute

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