Marketplace Scratch Pad

Should we go nuclear?

Scott Jagow Feb 25, 2010

President Obama supports the idea of increasing the country’s nuclear energy. He even knows how to pronounce the word. But just as Obama is offering incentives for building new plants, one state has voted to get rid of its nuclear power.

From USA Today:

On Wednesday, (Vermont) senators became the first legislators in the United States to vote on a nuclear plant’s future. By a 26-4 vote, they opposed a 20-year extension of Vermont Yankee’s license, which expires in March 2012…

The vote comes one week after Obama offered $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to build two new nuclear reactors in Burke, Ga., which — if approved — would be the first such nuclear plant construction in three decades.

Vermont Yankee didn’t help its cause by lying under oath about tritium that’s been leaking into groundwater near the plant. Tritium is radioactive and can be dangerous in large amounts.

Still, a misstep by one plant doesn’t explain the decades-long US aversion to generating nuclear power. France derives more than than 75% of its electricity from nuclear. In the US, it’s only about 20%. More facts about the French:

France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity due to its very low cost of generation, and gains over EUR 3 billion per year from this.

France has been very active in developing nuclear technology. Reactors and fuel products and services are a major export.

It is building its first Generation III reactor and planning a second.

Ironically, the French nuclear program is based on American technology. So why do the French embrace nuclear power and Americans, in general, do not? From PBS:

Claude Mandil, the General Director for Energy and Raw Materials at the (French) Ministry of Industry, cites at least three reasons. First, he says, the French are an independent people. The thought of being dependent for energy on a volatile region of the world such as the Middle East disturbed many French people. Citizens quickly accepted that nuclear might be a necessity. A popular French riposte to the question of why they have so much nuclear energy is “no oil, no gas, no coal, no choice.”

Second, Mandil cites cultural factors. France has a tradition of large, centrally managed technological projects. And, he says, they are popular. “French people like large projects. They like nuclear for the same reasons they like high speed trains and supersonic jets.”

Still, no country has solved the issue of how to dispose of nuclear waste safely and to satisfaction of its citizens. In the US, NIMBY is a strong factor. And, as our managing editor pointed out this morning, you can also blame Three Mile Island and The Simpsons.

Are you in favor of more nuclear power in this country?

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