Friday, December 02, 2005


News that makes you go ::gulp!::

Sam Kean in The Nieman Watchdog: Duke Power of North Carolina is in the process of applying for licenses to construct new nuclear power plants. Even before the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, power companies had ceased applying for nuclear power plant licenses because of public opposition. What's different now, if anything?
"What's different now, if anything?"

Government decisions are now being made based on profits, not science.
Less public opposition to nuclear plants as the nuke disasters of the past have faded into memories.

A higher profit/outrage ratio as the price of energy rises.

A more generally apathetic generation of citizens, at least for the moment.

As a side note, I'm constantly amused by right-wing collegues who are convinced that the government can't run something as simple as a welfare program, yet they believe that the same government will be able to make sure the nuclear power plants run safely with regulation.
I wish they *were* being made on profit considerations, MEC. That would be a whole lot more sensible than what's happening.

Nuclear power was introduced with the promise that it would make electricity "too cheap to meter." Instead, it is extremely expensive, so much so that it can only exist due to a huge socialistic subsidy called Price-Anderson paying the insurance bill *and* due to another huge subsidy on waste containment. Even with all that money poured into it, it has never been too cheap to meter.

Now, I happen to be in favor of nuclear energy development. At some point, it's possible that we could arrive at a safe, cost-effective means of generating power this way. But the technology is not well enough established to actually deploy it.

I tell you, if the green eye shades went over nuclear power from the standpoint of private *and* public profit, nuclear power wouldn't even make it to the laugh test.
Charles, the reason you think the new nuclear power would be low-profit in order to keep consumer costs down is...?
I'm not sure I understand the question, MEC. So, I'll answer the question I'd like to answer. :-)

Essentially all forms of power generation have externalities. Dams silt up rivers and disrupt the ecology, coal and petroleum combustion creates air pollution and global warming, and nuclear power creates risks of unknown size and pollution that is impossible to remediate if it is released.

The total cost of operation is actual costs + profits + externalities. If research reduces externalities, then it doesn't affect the profit/actual cost ratio. Make nuclear power free of catastrophic incidents, and it eliminates the subsidy of Price-Anderson, but doesn't affect how much it costs a plant to operate. Similarly, Price-Anderson doesn't change operating costs or profits, but does make it possible for nuclear plants to get the insurance necessary to operate... and it isn't free.

My point is that actual cost and profit aren't necessarily connected because externalities are universal, large, and hard to calculate.

Traditionally, the utility industry was a low profit industry. It earned enough to build new plants, pay modest and reliable returns to investors, and pay off present costs. It is only since the industry has been piratized that profits have decoupled from costs. But there's no reason to think that if a nuclear industry were properly regulated, it couldn't deliver low-cost power. And once oil and coal are gone, it will be our only fossil fuel.
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