Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nuclear Power: Hated by Environmentalists

The environmentalists' hatred for man and his technology is revealed by the reluctance of most environmentalists to embrace nuclear energy as a solution to the alleged global warming problem. Nuclear plants emit no carbon dioxide. Yet, environmentalists will rant and rave against nuclear power for all of its alleged harms, despite the fact that in the West not a single person has died from an emission of radiation into the environment by a nuclear power plant.

If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were shut down, and all federal and state regulations were eliminated on nuclear power plants (and all other forms of electricity generation), I suspect that we would generate the majority of our electricity from nuclear power plants. Nuclear power has an inherent economy of scale because a very tiny amount of material can produce a huge amount of energy. Nuclear energy is very concentrated. This means that the cost of handling uranium and disposing of waste is very small in comparison to the amount of energy produced.

Contrast this with coal, where many 100-car-long trainloads of coal are needed to produce the amount of electricity that could be produced in a couple softballs' worth of uranium. Even with nuclear waste being radioactive, it is far easier and more environmentally "friendly" to dispose of nuclear waste than it is to dispose of coal waste, some of which inevitably gets disposed of in our lungs.

Only a wealthy, technologically advanced society can cheaply deploy a technology as advanced and beneficial as nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is clean and would be very cheap if it were not regulated. Yet all of the regulations on power generation -- including the pollution rules on fossil power -- just make our economy that much poorer, and less able to afford something as magnificent as nuclear power. So, ironically, by attempting to regulate in order to prevent pollution, such regulations have the opposite effect of making us poorer and therefore more likely to use polluting technologies, such as fossil fuels.

This point may not seem obvious, but observe that the worst polluting societies are the emerging Third World countries that are far poorer than ours. China, the former Soviet Union, developing parts of Africa and Asia, all have far more polluted air than we have in the West. Poverty and pollution go hand-in-hand.

As a final tidbit on nuclear power, I remember reading about an Alaskan village that wanted to install a tiny underground nuclear reactor for electricity. They believed it would be far cheaper to generate electricity through nuclear fission than it was to burn fuel oil that had to be arduously transported at great expense to their small village. I spoke to a nuclear engineer who told me that it was feasible to make such small nuclear reactors, but you would have to wait for "hell to freeze over" before the regulators would permit it. Given how much those Alaskan villagers have to pay for electricity, and how low they probably set their thermostats to save money, I imagine that they are already living in their frozen little hell.


Amanda Carlson said...

Actually, I've noticed a bit of a shift in the stance of environmentalists concerning nuclear power. They seem to understand how much cleaner nuclear energy is, as you point out, and are disposing of outright bans in favour of "progress" by governmental control. I'm not sure that I like the enviros being interested in nuclear energy. One thing's for sure, it can't help the Alaskan villagers.

As a side note, I wanted to thank you for your posts. Your observations of the electric utilities industry are very fascinating and helpful to me.

Galileo Blogs said...

Thank you for your comment, and I am glad you enjoyed my utility posts.

I have also noticed some environmentalists providing lukewarm support for nuclear energy. For many, it just seems like very reluctant acknowledgement of just how ideal nuclear energy is as a solution to global warming (after all, zero carbon dioxide emissions). Certainly, a "better" and "more honest" environmentalist would have to support nuclear energy. It is telling how many still do not

At the end of the day, the anti-man and anti-technology core of environmentalism is likely to preclude the "movement" from actually pushing for nuclear energy in any meaningful way. In fact, I would watch for some sort of new "groundbreaking study" from an environmentalist that will find yet another reason to oppose nuclear energy. That will give an excuse for the "faithful" to keep their faith and not be so troubled by the existence of a man-made, technological solution to the global warming problem.

The environmentalists are really after power. They want to be able to restrict our energy use, tell us which light bulbs to install, whether we can grill in our backyard, what kind of cars we can drive, etc. But if the widespread deployment of nuclear power would offer a solution, they would lose all that power to control.

Myrhaf said...

I wonder how cheap energy would be if environmentalist regulations did not exist and the free market was allowed to work. Statists depend on the fact that people don't miss what they've never known.

Galileo Blogs said...

Answer: a lot cheaper. For example, in California, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and other regions, electricity rates are at least 50% higher than the national average. This difference in price is entirely due to government interference in the energy market. Electricity rates would be lower and not vary that much across the country because of the interconnected grid. However, in these regions electricity rates are higher because of: (a) anti-nuclear hysteria that drove up the cost of nuclear plants; (b) land use policies that prevent cheaper, new power plants from being built; (c) rules that take the profit out of building transmission lines, so that not enough are built; and (d) "green" policies that subsidize the building of grossly inefficient "environmentally-friendly" power plants.

In a true laissez faire economy, not only would electricity rates be lower and more uniform, but unimagined (and imagined, but currently thwarted due to regulation) new technologies would make all forms of energy much cheaper and more widely available. For example, we may have mini-generators in our backyards, just like we have air conditioners. Ubiquitous nuclear plants, including much smaller plants (like the Alaska village example), would make power at much lower cost.

So far, despite the regulations technology still advances, but at a glacially slow pace compared to what we would experience in a laissez faire world.