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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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Political Intrusion is Destroying the U.S. Nuclear Power Industry

Finally, the US Department of Energy’s First Quadrennial Technology Review, released last week, identifies Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing as the technology’s primary obstacle.

It would seem obvious to most anyone that better new designs and applying experience would offer a safer, cheaper and more efficient production of nuclear power.  It just isn’t so in the U.S. and that fact is a huge embarrassment for an economy, a lost opportunity for ratepayers, stockholders, and job seekers, and a major intrusion into the effort for abundant energy.

Simply said, experience worldwide and intellectual progress can’t get into the U.S. nuclear power sector because of political intrusion.  The U.S. has squandered nearly 40 years, two generations, on law and the subsequent bureaucracy for honesty – nothing.

The Department of Energy (DOE) contends that new and refurbished reactors have “high potential for materiality,” materiality meaning a worthwhile contributor to the supply of electrical power.  Frustration shows up with DOE scientists launching a virtual reactor that models ways they could operate existing reactors longer and more intensely to extend the life of the existing fleet.

Extending the life of the existing fleet is a crucial move.  About 20% of the U.S. electrical power is produced at nuclear facilities.  While many assert that competition keeps the nuclear industry down, and a bit of that is true, most everyone with a bit of sense quickly realizes that closing nuclear power facilities would create a massive cut in supply, drive a huge marginal cost into electric bills for consumers and remove a fundamental support of the economy.

A telephone survey of 1000 US citizens done in September by Bisconti Research with GfK Roper for the Nuclear Energy Institute found that 62% of the respondents favored the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to generate electricity in the USA. That represents a small decrease in those supporting nuclear since a similar survey in February 2011 – a month before the Fukushima tsunami – that showed that 71% in favor.  26% of those questioned in February said they opposed nuclear energy, while the new figure is 35%. In effect, the accident seems to have moved 9% of the people to changing their minds.

Despite the Fukushima accident, 67% of Americans rate US nuclear power plant safety as ‘high’. That’s exactly the same level recorded in the poll conducted one month before the accident.

Here’s where the sense of the masses separate from the bureaucracy – 82% of respondents said that the USA should “learn the lessons from the Japanese accident and continue to develop advanced nuclear energy plants to meet America’s growing electricity demand.”

Virtually the same amount also thought that the U.S. should learn everything possible from the Japanese accident and implement new safety measures in the short and long term.

The poll also indicates that majorities continue to support renewing the operating licenses of existing nuclear power plants and the construction of new reactors. The licenses of plants that continue to meet federal safety standards should be renewed, said 85% of respondents, while 75% believe utilities should prepare now so that new reactors could be built if needed in the next decade. New nuclear power plants should definitely be constructed in the USA in the future according to 59% of those questioned.

It seems the hysteria that grips some societies from the Fukushima tsunami has for the most part not affected the U.S. citizenry, a sign that major media might want to keep in mind and an important indicator of the common sense of the U.S. people.

It’s helpful for one part of the government to note the failings of another. While there are surely, one hopes, good and well-intentioned people at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the whole of the agency is a national disaster, a disgrace, embarrassment and economic problem.

For now and while hopes run high for alternatives, small and large nuclear power generation is still the cheapest, most reliable and safest way to electrically energize the nation.

Your humble writer isn’t suggesting that the U.S. engage in a massive build out of fission nuclear, but everyone will be best served when fission of all fuels, the research proves up the worthwhile reactors, and the industry can compete with the alternatives.  Electrical energy has to get cheaper better and safer because one day the storage matter will break through and impact transport.

Press and politicians tend to think in seconds as seen in those seconds long sound bite comments.  But it’s a great relief to see the U.S. citizenry hasn’t run like lemmings over the cliff from an earthquake to tsunami to nuclear plant inundated even behind a wall to stop a wave, to a bit to radioactive material getting out.  After all that the active fuel and the spent fuel is, was and will remain safe.

Perhaps folks will start hammering on some Congressmen and Senators and things will get better.  After all, the main problem in the U.S. for cheap electrical energy isn’t business, competition, prices or consumption – it’s purely political.

By. Brian Westenhaus

Source: The US Nuclear Power Problem Pinpointed

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  • Anonymous on October 08 2011 said:
    If by political you mean political-psycological Brian, then you are correct. When it comes to nuclear even sane people often break insane. Something is also wrong on the educational front. I was in the US a month ago, and when I asked a Barnes-Noble outlet about new energy economics books, the only ones they had were mine.This is why talking to even intelligent people about nuclear is like pulling teeth.As for hammering on politicians to get things done, look at what is happening in Germany. Angela Merkel knows as much about nuclear as we do, but in order to win a few votes she launches a nuclear retreat.
  • Anonymous on October 09 2011 said:
    Dear Fred, much as I respect your views and accomplishments in general as much as I can be aware of them from the Internet, I have to say that you seem to have a blind spot with nuclear. You simply seem unable to fathom the visceral nature of the negative reaction to nuclear in a large part of the Earth's population, incl. yours truly. Anyone against nuclear is 'insane'. Well, yes if by 'insane' you mean people having a gut reaction against the most powerful and longest lasting destructive power on Earth masquerading as 'peaceful' and 'safe', yes we are 'insane' and shall remain so in order to remain alive and healthy...I for one am not willing to accept pro-nuke 'rationality' and 'sanity' that, when it all goes pear-shaped to unimaginable horror, will simply say 'we're sorry'. 'Sorry' wouldn't be good enough for a half life destructive capacity of thousands of years... Give me ANYTHING BUT NUCLEAR!
  • Anonymous on November 23 2011 said:
    I lobbied on these issues back in the 1980s. We shut down a lot of nuclear plants, which forced us to keep coal plants longer than planned.Regarding lemmings going over a cliff, this doesn't quite relate to nuclear power, but it does on the debt crisis: Budget Wars: Lemmings Face the Debt Cliff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SOZ0kfUqSE
  • Anonymous on November 23 2011 said:
    Coal is the enemy of nuclear. If you like coal, you will hate nuclear and do everything you can to stop the nuclear renaissance from ever happening.If you like nuclear, you will probably hate coal, and will lobby to promote safe new advanced nuclear plants in the replacing of old smoky coal plants.But some people just hate energy in general, so they hate both coal and nuclear. These same people promote big wind and big solar, since wind and solar are unreliable and exorbitantly expensive, and could never possibly replace coal or nuclear as the energy backbones of an advanced society.Disclaimer: I like advanced nuclear, and also new IGCC coal plants, without the wastefully expensive CCS. Resilient societies demand ample redundancy.

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