Since the Fukushima nuclear plant failure was kick-started by Japan’s devastating May 11 earthquake, nuclear power generation seen intense scrutiny. In the financial markets, speculators assumed the nuclear market would take an immediate and impactful hit. Subsequently, nuclear-heavy utilities slid in the marketplace and low-carbon alternatives such as solar and wind generation immediately spiked. As a result utilities in the United States (and presumptively elsewhere) have defended their positions in nuclear energy.
The reality is that nuclear-produced electricity is no more dangerous than any other form of energy when everything is going well. And proponents of nuclear energy would be happy to tell you as much. What they may neglect however, are findings recently brought to light by the Union of Concerned Scientists. According to a recent report, after 50 years of commercial nuclear power generation the industry is still not economically viable without government subsidies. So what? This is a wind website, and I am a windpower editor. Why do I, or you for that matter, care about nuclear power and it’s feasibility?
The fact is that nuclear power has been touted as the most likely alternative or clean energy source to replace coal and gas-fired electricity generation. It’s reliable, it has no carbon footprint, it’s cheap…well, maybe not. Let’s put aside the idea that nuclear isn’t as safe as some would tell you and look purely at the economics of the situation. Nuclear has been in commercial use for over 50 years. It has been tested, altered, manufactured and tested again in an effort to make cheap, reliable electricity. Even so, it still cannot compare to carbon-based energy sources says the UCS.
If that’s the case, then how do we expect wind to stand on it’s own in the future? How do we expect wind, a variable source of energy with all it’s maintenance flaws and operational hurdles, to out-compete coal and gas? Wind power has been commercially feasible for maybe 10 years and without subsidies would be anywhere from three to five times the cost of traditional electricity generation. This new report leads me to imagine that perhaps in 40 more years, wind will still cost more than coal and gas. Perhaps we just can’t compete economically with carbon-based electricity. It’s no secret that carbon makes for a tremendous fuel source. Maybe it’s the best we have?
Regardless, that cannot be the only way we approach the problem. We have to be able to look past the brass tax of things. We have to be able to look at the big picture. We have to think about energy independence and security. And when it comes down to it, renewable sources are the most feasible ways of producing that energy. Sure it might be expensive up front, but electricity from wind, solar, hydro, biomass, and other renewable sources point our country toward a more stable economy, one that is less reliant on foreign oil. They point us toward innovation, technology leadership, manufacturing jobs, and responsible environmental stewardship.
So I say, so what if wind does not compete penny for penny with coal. There are intangibles surrounding the renewable energy industry, and I believe that those intangibles deserve our subsidies. I believe that those intangibles will eventually outweigh any additional costs we may incur by developing a renewable energy economy, and I believe that it is our responsibility to support and endorse such development. What do you believe?