The Future of Nuclear Energy

Published January 6, 2017

Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Marvin Fertel said in a recent interview the administration of President-elect Donald Trump will be “much more positive than negative” for the nuclear industry. Fertel went on to cite Trump’s decision to tap Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as the country’s next attorney general, a man he says “has always been a very big supporter of nuclear energy.”

Nuclear power is America’s largest source of clean-air, carbon-dioxide-free electricity. It produces few, if any, air pollutants or greenhouse-gas emissions. Nuclear power can produce a
vast amount of power from a tiny volume of fuel and requires less land than other
so-called “green-energy sources,” such as wind. An average nuclear power plant occupies about
one-third of 1 square mile, whereas a wind farm must use up to 200 square miles of land to
generate the same amount of power. The nuclear energy industry also has a proven track record of safety.

Scientist James Conca argued in a recent Forbes article 2016 was an active year for the nuclear power industry in the United States and internationally. “Currently, there are 450 nuclear power reactors in operation globally, 98 in the United States … Sixty new plants are under construction, five in the United States.”

However, Conca argues nuclear power faces a difficult battle, because even at a low cost of 5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), “They cannot compete with cheap natural gas and wind energy that is subsidized at 2.3¢/kWh. Solar is even more heavily subsidized, usually over 10¢/kWh, but up to 54¢/kWh in some states like Washington.”

Michael Shellenberger, the founder and president of Environmental Progress, argues in a recent USA Today article nuclear energy’s recent problems (in certain parts of the country) are not  because nuclear power is uneconomical. Shellenberger says the issue is they are punished by discriminatory policies that treat one zero-carbon energy option more favorably than another. “In 2013, solar received 281 times more in subsidies per unit of electricity than nuclear, while wind received 17 times more, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. As a result of this perverse incentive, some nuclear plants that produce power at costs lower than the wind subsidy could be forced to close.”

Although governments have unfairly favored renewable energy, they shouldn’t make the same mistake with nuclear power by doling out subsidies or mandating the use of nuclear energy. They should instead lift the undue regulations currently placed on the nuclear power industry. This would lead to an expansion of nuclear energy in the United States, which would be beneficial to the environment, economy, and to the stability of the U.S. power grid.

What We’re Working On

Budget & Tax
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Energy & Environment
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Health Care
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From Our Free-Market Friends
Mackinac Center for Public Policy Releases New Study: High Cigarette Taxes Lead to More Smuggling
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