Global warming gives nukes new energy

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Thanks to global warming, nuclear energy is hot again. Its promise of abundant, carbon emissions-free power is being pushed by the president and newly considered by environmentalists.

But any expansion won’t come cheap or easy.

The enormous obstacles facing nuclear power are the same as they were in 1996, when the nation’s last new nuclear plant opened near the Watts Bar reservoir in Tennessee after 22 years of construction and $7 billion in costs.

Waste disposal, safe operation and security remain major concerns, but economics may be the biggest deterrent. Huge capital costs combine into an enormous price tag for would-be investors.

There is also fervent anti-nuke opposition waiting to be re-stoked. Jim Riccio of Greenpeace said nuclear advocates are exploiting global warming fears to try to revive an industry that’s too risky to fool with.

“You have better ways to boil water,” Riccio said.

But environmentalists aren’t in lockstep on the issue. Bill Chameides, chief scientist for Environmental Defense, said anything that helps alleviate global warming must be an energy option. “I think it’s somewhat disingenuous that folks who agree that global warming is such a serious issue could sort of dismiss it out of hand,” he said. “It’s got to be at least considered.”

The United States has 104 commercial reactors, which supply about 20 percent of the country’s power. The Department of Energy projects a 45 percent growth in electricity demand by 2030, meaning 35 to 50 new nuclear plants will be needed by then just to maintain nuclear’s share of the energy market, said Scott Peterson of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

That growing demand, not global warming, “has been the single biggest factor in companies looking at building large nuclear plants again,” Peterson said.


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