The Nuclear Option

After “Where’s a good place for brunch in your neighborhood?” (see my post on that here ), probably the second most frequently asked question I get is “Is there a way to reshape the current political calculus that would enable our country to rely more heavily on nuclear power?”

It’s a great question and it’s easy to see why people are wondering. With the decline of the coal industry and, along with it, its lobbying power in Washington, it might seem that we’re at an inflection point. In a perfect example of “strange bedfellows,” for decades coal has made common cause with environmental groups in fighting the construction of new nuclear power plants, albeit for very different, entirely commercial and self-interested reasons. With Big Coal retiring from the field and many environmentalists starting to wonder if nuclear power might be the lesser of two evils when compared with the carbon emissions from other power sources, it might seem that nuclear might be increasingly politically viable. Both these factors weigh in nukes’ favor.

However, there are still two powerful forces on the other side of the scales. One is the low cost and plentiful supply of natural gas thanks to breakthroughs in extraction methods, principally fracking. The other is that climate change still remains an abstraction for many voters who, while they may believe it is a scientific fact, have yet to directly experience its consequences. The coal lobby and environmental advocates may have done their anti-nuke work too well. The public remains deeply concerned about a Chernobyl-style meltdown and highly skeptical of an industry many view as fundamentally dishonest and incompetent (thank you, Mr. Burns!) The 2011 disaster at the Fukishimi Daiichi plant didn’t help matters any.

For those of you who support nuclear power, whether as long time advocates or recent converts, I’m sorry but I’m afraid a nuclear renaissance is not on the immediate horizon. But don’t give up hope! As the effects of climate change become more dire, your case can only get stronger.

For those who remain adamantly opposed to new nukes, you can rest easy for the time being. But be aware that you stand on ice that is thinning as rapidly as the polar ice caps. The public, whether at home or abroad, shows little appetite for reducing its carbon footprint through restraint and a lowered standard of living. You’re going to need to come up with another solution that doesn’t require cutting back energy consumption. Because I don’t see that happening either.

Also…

Is this Tom Bombadil movie ever going to happen? Come on, Hollywood.