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Political debate over the future of nuclear energy

By John Pritsiolas , Columnist

After the horrific events that occurred at the Fukushima reactors last March, one would like to believe that nuclear energy is no longer viewed as a viable resource. Unfortunately, many people still hold nuclear energy in a favorable light despite the dire consequences of the disaster in Japan. For example, David Ropeik (a professor at Harvard), is out with an article lamenting the individuals who wish to shut down two nuclear reactors in California. He focuses his attention on two different groups, baby boomers and environmentalists. According to Mr. Ropeik, he blames baby boomers 'irrational' feelings towards nuclear energy on a so-called cold war mindset. Mr. Ropeik then goes on to broadly label anyone else that opposes nuclear energy, as an "environmentalist". On that note, I regret to inform Mr. Ropeik, that I do not consider myself an environmentalist by any definition of the word. As such, I will make the argument why nuclear energy in its current form simply remains unfeasible, on a purely economic basis.       

I believe it is important to begin with remarks from John Rowe, the former CEO of Exelon (the largest provider of nuclear energy in America).  Who recently stated that, "I'm the nuclear guy and you won't get better results with nuclear [energy]. It just isn't economic, and it's not economic within a foreseeable time frame." Unlike Mr. Ropeik, the former CEO of Exelon actually has the credentials to reinforce his analysis in opposition of nuclear energy in its current state.         

Furthermore, it's also important to note that while Mr. Ropeik likes to act as if nuclear energy is as primordial as fossil fuels, then he should certainly take a step back. The first civilian nuclear power plant was built in Obninsk, Russia, which was later brought online in 1954. At the very fact of the matter, nuclear energy is not only still in its infancy, but it would cease to exist if governments removed their financial support of such endeavors. Unfortunately, Mr. Ropeik also fails to mention the fact that disaster insurance for nuclear energy (in America) is currently underwritten by the U.S. government. No existing owner of a nuclear power plant would have to completely cover the liabilities of a nuclear disaster in the United States.  If the power of the market was allowed to properly function, nuclear energy would become notoriously uncompetitive.                    

To bolster these claims, the Associated Press released an article only serving to vindicate the previously established points. The author, Juergen Baetz, made the not so stunning revelation that nuclear energy is an economically viable resource, only if it goes uninsured. Mr. Baetz, a German AP correspondent, revealed that a disaster at a nuclear plant in Germany could rack up costs totaling $11 trillion dollars. Such a calamity would not only be harmful to the welfare of Germans, but would present a financial quagmire for the country as well. Mr. Baetz ultimately comes to the logical conclusion that at the very end of the day, nuclear energy will ultimately be more costly than fossil fuels. Furthermore, Lazard Ltd, an investment bank that manages over $160 billion dollars in assets found that, wind and solar are becoming cheaper sources of energy at a much more rapid pace. Whereas, on the other hand, pursuing nuclear energy is only becoming increasingly costly as time passes.                          

Given the ambiguous nature of nuclear energy and the plethora of risks associated with such efforts, the future of nuclear energy stands amidst growing public outrage that shows little sign of waning in the future. When one begins to factor in the sheer costs that are involved with government subsidies and potential disasters, one has to seriously question if nuclear energy is truly the panacea that it was originally anticipated to be.


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