Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nuclear Power and Short-Term Thinking

The White House’s proposal to invest a few billion dollars in nuclear power is a reflection of the same short-term thinking that got the United States into its current energy predicament.

There is no reason to believe that there is enough uranium accessible on the planet’s surface to power all the nuclear power stations already being built. The most pessimistic scenarios say that the world could run out around 2050, with prices for uranium rising so rapidly that nuclear power can no longer compete commercially as a source of electricity after about 2025.

A nuclear power plant envisioned in 2011, designed in 2014, built between 2017 and 2023 might just be coming online in 2025, too late to cancel the project, but also too late for it to ever be profitable. If the White House is not looking this far ahead, it is simply because most of the people in positions of responsibility there will be retired by then.

If you take the longer view, the efficient thing to do is to reserve the nuclear fuel for the existing nuclear power stations, and invest now in energy technology that has a chance of being sustainable for the long run. If we are lucky enough to find another uranium mine in 2080, we can refurbish one of the existing nuclear power stations at that point. But that is such a long shot that the only way anyone could make a major investment in it now is if they are not thinking ahead.