What’s Left for Nuclear?

War is one driver of innovation. After WWII scientists who developed nuclear weapons hoped to redeem the technology in peacetime by bringing us electricity too cheap to meter. That never quite materialized, and now the real cost is becoming impossible to deny.

From the Financial Times via CNN–

(Financial Times) — Nuclear power is so expensive compared with other forms of energy that it has become “really hard” to justify, according to the chief executive of General Electric, one of the world’s largest suppliers of atomic equipment.

“It’s really a gas and wind world today,” said Jeff Immelt, referring to two sources of electricity he said most countries are shifting towards as natural gas becomes “permanently cheap”.

“When I talk to the guys who run the oil companies they say look, they’re finding more gas all the time. It’s just hard to justify nuclear, really hard. Gas is so cheap and at some point, really, economics rule,” Mr Immelt told the Financial Times in an interview in London at the weekend. “So I think some combination of gas, and either wind or solar … that’s where we see most countries around the world going.”

This would have developed faster if we had not had huge economic and political investment in nuclear power– artificially protecting and subsidizing a technological dead end. Diversification and smart technology are obvious answers that are becoming harder to ignore.

It was in the 70’s that I sat in a circle of Clamshell Alliance activists while a kid from Brown read us an industry financial report– in his translation of the technical terms, “the economics really suck too.”

Nearly forty years later, despite the power of a massive industry and the politicians it owns, the arguments against nuclear power are being made on the highest levels.

Natural gas will not solve the problem of carbon emissions, and mining it is a dirty process. Moving away from centralized energy and an economy based on endlessly expanding demand for more things is inevitable one way or another. We are already leaving a nuclear waste hazard for future generations. It will be good if we don’t create more.