Thinking About the New Nuclear Energy

Three Mile Island, begone!

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President Obama intends to fund two new nuclear reactors with government loans. In so doing, he's paved the way for a new source of energy, job creation, and--of course--a new debate about the merits and dangers of nuclear energy. Aside from the usual worries over disposal and disasters, commentators are weighing three different considerations: the need for energy, the proposal as an economic stimulus, and the pitfalls of a state-supported industry. While a number strongly approve of Obama's plan, whether for environmental or economic reasons, some conservatives--traditionally friendly to nuclear energy--think there may be better ways to jump-start the industry.

About Time--Nuclear Power Absolutely Necessary

  • We Need Nuclear Power  "There is absolutely no way," writes blogger Mad Hedge Fund Trader, posting at Business Insider, "we can deal with our energy crunch without a huge expansion of our nuclear capacity." France, Sweden, and Belgium--hardly anti-environmentalist countries--have realized this, he notes. Furthermore, "unless you're a nuclear engineer, you are probably unaware how far the technology has moved ahead in the last 30 years." Disasters are now much less likely while the industry has gotten much better at disposal.

Nuclear Power's Great--But This May Not Be the Way to Do It

  • Bad Financing Plan, says The American Spectator's Philip Klein. "As much as I'd like to see more nuclear power plants built, I still can't bring myself to supporting government subsidies."
  • Could 'Stifle the Industry's Growth' Rather than Help It, argues Nick Loris at The Heritage Foundation. "Loan guarantees are not enough to recreate a robust nuclear industry in the United States." At The Guardian, Kate Sheppard is similarly worried about sustainability: "the industry has made it clear that there will be no nuclear renaissance unless the US taxpayer foots the bill. The economics of the nuclear industry are so dicey that Wall Street, no strangers to high-risk investments, have for years refused to finance new plants unless the government underwrites the deal."
  • Build More, Change Process  In addition to wanting to see more than two new reactors, the National Review addresses that matter of sustainability: "if the president wants to go further in demonstrating his commitment to nuclear energy--and reduce the burden on the taxpayer should something go wrong--he should seek to wean the industry off its reliance on the state. The best way to do that is to streamline the permitting process further."

As a Stimulus

  • No Down Side to This, says The Atlantic's Daniel Indiviglio, who lists five reasons this is a great program for stimulating the economy. Among them: (1) nuclear energy is a "known quantity," (2) in terms of job creation, it's "semi-shovel ready," (3) the jobs will be created both now and later, and (4) the project "probably [is] not very costly." He just wonders why this wasn't proposed earlier.
  • Not Enough!  24/7 Wall St.'s Douglas McIntyre is particularly excited on this subject. Calling the gesture at stimulus "astonishing for its lack of ambition," he says "the scale of the new nuclear construction plan is a disappointment." He notes the problem with the public:
Nuclear power may remain unpopular until it is clear that new plants are as safe as those that burn enough coal to blot out the sun. It may still be unpopular while people pay higher and higher electricity bills and while jobs that might go to construction workers who would build the plants never materialize. The alternative is that Americans could be told that if many nuclear facilities were to be constructed, tens of thousands of jobs would be created, the country’s reliance on fossil fuels would be decreased and that the cost of energy for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses would be much less.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.