We Can't Afford to Expand Nuclear Power
Investing in energy efficiency remains the most cost-effective solution
February 3, 2012
We haven't expanded our nuclear fleet in the past 40 years because the daunting financial costs and massive risks make it unaffordable and unsuitable to meet America's future energy needs. Despite the successful efforts of nuclear company lobbyists to secure generous public subsidies, only one new facility—in Georgia—is under construction in the U.S. Efficiency measures, as well as cleaner and safer technologies—such as wind and solar power—are competing and winning against nuclear power. And that's a great thing if you care about sustainable, healthy communities.
In recent years, industry-driven legislative efforts—most notably the sweep of incentives for nuclear power in the 2005 Energy Policy Act—have been implemented to jump-start the nuclear industry, but even that mountain of money and regulatory rollbacks can't do the impossible: build a nuclear power plant affordably, safely, or timely and find a solution to the thousands of tons of highly radioactive waste. From loan guarantees to charging ratepayers up front for the cost of construction, to liability protections from Fukushima-style accidents, the industry has been unable to bring a new reactor online. Why? Because even with all this taxpayer help, it's still too costly.
Photovoltaic solar this year will break the dollar-per-watt barrier, ushering in a rooftop revolution of cheap, clean, and consumer-owned energy. In addition to turning our buildings into power stations, investing in making our structures more energy-efficient remains the most cost-effective energy investment. Energy-efficiency programs can displace 23 percent of projected demand and provide a huge return for consumers. Charging taxpayers billions of dollars to bring a new reactor online wipes out any incentives to invest in these programs and suppresses local renewable projects that could bring green jobs and advance U.S. leadership in clean energy technology.
Perhaps the most compelling reason new reactors should not be built is that we can't handle the ones we've got. Our existing fleet of reactors is plagued with a host of issues, including tritium leaks, overconsumption of water in drought-stricken areas, outdated evacuation plans for growing populations, inadequate decommission funds, a rapidly retiring professional labor force, and mounting stockpiles of radioactive waste.
Instead of looking to a failed technology of the past, we should be investing in modern, clean technologies that don't saddle our future with insurmountable issues.