Thursday, June 9, 2016

Two Responsible Ways to Subsidize Nuclear Power

In recent weeks there has been a coordinated worldwide effort to ask for operating subsidies for nuclear power. Supposedly the subsidies would put nuclear power on the same level as sustainable forms of electric power, though in fact, the currently operating nuclear plants already benefit from construction and startup subsidies far beyond any subsidy in the history of solar, wind, and geothermal power.

If there were to be subsidies for nuclear power, though, it is important that they don’t go to prop up inefficient plants that make poor use of the world’s limited stock of uranium, which may be almost gone by the time current plants are ready to be shut down. In other words, subsidies shouldn’t take away the market forces in place that separate the better operators from the worse ones.

This means subsidies have to apply across the whole industry. Here are two suggestions I can offer:

  • Having the government take up some of the responsibility for the unusual health care costs of uranium miners and nuclear workers
  • Having the government take the lead responsibility for disposal of nuclear waste

If you think about it, the nuclear industry already enjoys these subsidies, but they could be expanded incrementally as much as policymakers saw fit. This would be a better approach, if nuclear subsidies are needed, than the welfare-style handouts the industry is so vocally seeking.