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Why more nuclear power plants can't be built
Letter to the Seattle Times
By Roger Lippman
May 18, 2017

The letter below was written to the Times in response to Jon Talton's May 13, 2017 column,
Latest Hanford alert is another reminder of nuclear industry’s many challenges .

The conversation on the future of nuclear power in the US has moved on from why more nuclear reactors should not be built, the long-time position of environmentalists. The issue now is why they can't be built. Let us count the ways:

  • It's too expensive for the marketplace. Conservation, energy efficiency, alternative energy sources (especially wind and solar), and new energy storage technology are all cheaper than building a new nuclear station. And even though it is not desirable, natural gas is also cheaper.

  • The long lead-times for new nuclear plants guarantee that even more advanced, clean technologies will be available in the decade before new nuclear can be built.

  • In the modern era, nuclear power plants have almost always become more and more expensive over time. They have a “negative learning curve” — along with massive delays and cost overruns in market economies. France's nuclear program is scandal-ridden and financially troubled. In the short term, France plans to reduce its dependence on nuclear from 75% to 50%. Furthermore, a French company has provided sub-standard components to nuclear plants worldwide, including in the US. Sorting all that out is just beginning.

  • Nuclear facilities are obvious targets for terrorists. In Belgium, Islamic State operatives were seen surveilling a nuclear scientist. We don't seem to have that problem with wind and solar power.

Investors recognize these issues, and the only way to fund new nuclear plants is with massive government subsidies. Recently Illinois and New York State have committed billions just to keep economically failing plants running. Who is going to have the appetite for more of that?

Fukushima scared the heck out of decision makers. We still don't know the extent of the radiation release, which, contrary to what Talton states, was more than just "some." The once-vaunted Japanese nuclear infrastructure still remains all but shut down, years later.

"New," "clean," "safe" nuclear technologies are promoted all the time, but none of them actually exists. Actual existence is a precondition for testing, approval, and licensing. The promoters are still playing in the fantasy league, and they ain't Russell Wilson.

The amount of money and time needed to accomplish a new nuclear project could be spent to much better effect on investment in the clean, proven alternatives that we already have. Every dollar invested in nuclear delays and takes money away from the better alternatives. Environmentalists who desperately promote nuclear as the only hope to prevent global warming fail to understand that the cleaner answer is already at hand.

For several years there has been a campaign to shut down the WPPSS (now DBA "Columbia Generating Station") nuclear power station at Hanford. Anyone interested in learning more about that can go to the Nuclear Free Northwest website.


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