The Dernogalizer

October 21, 2008

Nuclear Power

So I broke down the free market economics of nuclear power today. You can read my column at the link, or what I pasted below.

For as long as I can remember, allegedly rational people have been pushing for the most overhyped energy source there is – nuclear power. Just look at Maryland – we’re on the verge of adding a third reactor to our Calvert Cliffs Plant as a way to address our rising energy demand. Nationally, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is on his way to glowing green, as a major part of his energy plan consists of building 45 new nuclear reactors by the year 2030. Where do I begin?

Nuclear power plants take a long time to build. Take the Calvert Cliffs reactor, for instance. Under the best-case scenario, it will be up and running by 2015. Consider that against the fact that Maryland may be experiencing rolling blackouts in 2011. Maybe we should build a time machine while we’re at it?

Imagine trying to build 45 of these by 2030. Assuming we started in 2010, that would be an average of two-and-a-half nuclear reactors every single year. It’d be like trying to write a term paper the night before it’s due and starting at midnight. You’d need very fast fingers, a lot of coffee, divine intervention and … can somebody get me that time machine?

Nuclear plants need to be located near a water source for cooling, and there simply aren’t enough locations in the U.S. that are safe from natural disasters or drought. A few of our reactors are in danger of being shut down because of the water shortages we’ve been facing in the Southeast due to drought.

This ties into another critical problem with nuclear power, which is that the cost of building and operating a nuclear power plant actually increases as you build more plants. You’ve got limited space to put them, and with fewer choices, the bidding for remaining spaces goes up. Cost also rises because the increased demand for uranium, used as nuclear fuel, causes its price to go up. These rising costs would be passed directly on to the consumer’s energy bill, just as we’ve seen happen with coal and natural gas.

It’s a sharp contrast with alternative sources such as solar panels and wind turbines, which get cheaper as you buy more. This is a key reason why in 2007 renewables got $71 billion of private investment, while nuclear got none. Subsidies for nuclear power are now approaching and, in some cases even exceeding, its costs. Guess who pays for those subsidies? The taxpayer; I’m surprised to hear McCain pushing an agenda that requires so much government support.

How much of an impact would 45 new nuclear reactors have? They would supply 1.2 percent of our energy needs in 2030. Oh, and the Calvert Cliffs reactor we’re building is projected to cost between $7.2 and $9.6 billion. Assuming the low end of these projections, the 45 reactors we’re building to meet 1.2 percent of our energy needs will carry construction costs of $270 billion, most of which is going to come from government subsidies.

I always hear politicians talk about supporting an “all of the above” energy policy. Why? That means you’re for all of our good ideas, and all of our bad ideas. How about the smart, cost-effective energy policy with the right priorities? Nuclear should be at the bottom of the list, not the top. McCain’s silver bullet is a blank.

Matt Dernoga is a junior government and politics major. He can be reached at



  1. […] for streamlining  nuclear?  Go ahead, have a field day, I’ve already written about why no nuclear plants are getting built.  It’s not the permit process that’s the issue.  The plants cost over $10 billion […]

    Pingback by Landmark Op-Ed Means Climate Legislation « The Dernogalizer — October 12, 2009 @ 10:31 am | Reply

  2. […] for streamlining nuclear? Go ahead, have a field day, I’ve already written about why no nuclear plants are getting built. It’s not the permit process that’s the issue. The plants cost over $10 billion dollars […]

    Pingback by Landmark Op-Ed Means Climate Legislation « It’s Getting Hot In Here — October 12, 2009 @ 12:55 pm | Reply

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