Sunday, January 31, 2010

Newks

In his State of the Union speech President Obama made noises about how resurgent nuclear power can contribute to the country's energy needs, and in a "green" way naturally. Long time proponents took this as a good sign and hailed proposed subsidies intended to jump start the struggling industry. This long time proponent of nuclear power thinks this is a lousy idea. Not the power but the subsidies. After years of carping about how pointless and anti-market the billions thrown at green power projects have been it is more than a little disingenuous to approve of subsidies for nuclear power.

Nuclear power is a good idea in any number of ways but if it is not a sound commercial idea then why should we encourage it? Nuclear power needs to make economic sense in terms of an energy company's generation portfolio before a spade of earth is turned. Subsidies can only distort those economics because subsidies always distort the economics of any project that aspires to commercial viability. Either the country needs nuclear power badly enough to spend investor money on it or it does not. I think that it does and that investors will respond if the government will just stay the hell out of the way.

Subsidies will mean regulators will be even more intrusive than they already are which in the case of nuclear power is about as extreme as it gets. Bad enough that new nuclear plant building will attract the usual legions of anti-nuke whack-jobs prostrating themselves at work sites followed by phalanxes of lawsuit happy foundations trailing battalions of eager pinstriped shysters in their wakes. To add political overseers to the mix should rightly give pause to any sane company contemplating nuclear generation expansion. Really who needs that kind of grief?

Damn shame. We really do badly need more nuclear power, a lot more, but I suspect that we won't get a lot more due to the decades long flood of noisy activist bile ranged against it. The bile, the nuts, the foundations, and the shysters have conspired to increase both the financial burdens and the public relations problems to crippling degrees. Which has been the point of the whole exercise of course, and has been extremely successful, thus I'm skeptical that the changed minds of a few environmental apostates will be enough to undo the damage.

Obama's first instinct, as in all things, is to fling money at the "problem". The problem is not money. The Problem is half a century of heedless agitation against one of the most resource efficient and overall cleanest methods of generating electricity yet devised. Even Obama's alleged prodigies of soothing, albeit increasingly threadbare, rhetoric will not cause the ever ready regiments of antinukers to slink back to their coffee houses and campuses in chastened contrition. In fact the prez's recent nuke approving speechifying might well enrage them further.

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