Whether you think nuclear power is “clean” or not there are other considerations to be addressed before anyone starts building new nuclear reactors. Will new nuclear reactors and subsequent nuclear energy really be economical for the people who will be using and paying for it? Are new modern nuclear power plants really safe? Will building new power plants immediately bring more jobs to Americans or will it mean more money going abroad?
Let’s look at these questions in reverse order since the immediate issue is the creation of new jobs here at home. Michael Eckhart of ACORE related the following conversation he had with friends in the nuclear energy industry:
Then, I had a conversation recently with some friends in the nuclear power business and asked where the nuclear power plants would come from if we DID begin to build them. The answer was amazing. The super-pure stainless steel will come from Germany, and it would be fabricated into steam-supply-systems in China, and the overall contractor would probably be Mitsubishi from Japan, and the construction contract would probably go to a firm in Korea that would send workers to the U.S. Well, I said, what’s in it for the U.S.? They laughingly said: “the spent fuel.”
The answer to the question, will more jobs quickly be created would be a resounding NO.
Moving on to the next question, “Are new modern nuclear reactors safe?” The difficulty in this question is finding a nuclear reactor that has been built within the last 10 years. According to Der Spiegel there aren’t any new reactors built within the last ten years that are up and running. Current projects in Finland and France are experiencing severe problems with the construction and the design. Finnish electric company TVO contracted with French nuclear power conglomerate Areva and German company Siemans to design and build the plant. To date over 3,000 mistakes have been made including:
The concrete, they say, is porous, the steel is brittle and some of the design principles seem so risky that experts from the Finnish nuclear regulatory agency can only shake their heads in wonder.
The French project is experiencing similar problems. Both are well over budget and are taking years longer to complete. Even when completed it is possible that neither will actually be put into service.
Of 52 nuclear reactors under construction world wide, 13 have been under construction for 20 years. Twenty-four reactors may never go into service. Thirty-six nuclear plants are planned for China, Russia, India, and South Korea. None of the named countries is known for its stringent safety requirements.
On top of poor designs, lax safety protocols and construction issues there are the problems with untrained personnel. Twenty-six thousand jobs at existing nuclear power plants will need to be filled over the next few years because older experienced workers are due to retire.
The answer to the second question is probably not.
The final question is essentially will new nuclear power plants really be better economically for consumers? In an article by Bill Moore in EV World, he points out that California Energy Commission issued a 2009 report called Comparative Costs of California Central Station Electricity Generation Technologies. In that report, nuclear energy was the only power source expected to continue rising in cost as the following graph from the Commission shows:
As Der Spiegel in the previously mentioned article pointed out,
"A number of US companies have looked with trepidation at the situation in Finland and the magnitude of investment there," says American economist Paul Joskow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 2003, the US Congressional Budget Office assessed the risk that loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear power plants could come due at "more than 50 percent." In 2007, six major investment banks wrote to the US Department of Energy that money for new construction could only be raised if the government guaranteed these loans "at 100 percent, and without conditions."
The continually rising costs of construction, along with the long lead time and possibility that the nuclear plant may never go on line or will have problems that will need to be corrected make nuclear power a very expensive source of energy for consumers. Although the owners of the plants may eventually see profits, consumers will see nothing but rising energy costs for decades to come.
The answer to the first question is NO.
Overall, nuclear plants appear to be a losing proposition for all involved. That doesn’t include meltdowns like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, both of which are still remembered for the disasters that took place in 1979 and 1986 respectively. The costs to build are cost prohibitive and the cost to consumers outrageous.