Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Obama and Nuclear Power etc

President Obama made a few policy suggestions in his state of the union address. The one that I thought stuck out the most was his call for new nuclear power plants.

Former contributer and current friend of the blog, Dr. Strangelove has posted about the advantages and improvements of modern nuclear power on this blog before. And if he's lurking out there, I'd love to read his thoughts on this subject again.

I've always preferred solar and wind power to nuclear. Not because I dislike nuclear power itself but because I think the political economy of power utility provision would be improved by a decentralized power grid and nuclear power is so expensive and complex that it requires a highly centralized grid. This would serve to continue the monopoly of the big power companies that have abused their position in the past (see for example the Enron-California blackout crisis). My ideal world would be one where every home and business has both a solar and a wind power generator on the roof combined with the ability to sell their excess back to the grid. The problem then would be one of efficient transmission and power storage.

But nuclear power combined with increasing reliance on hybrid and someday viable electric cars will do a lot to diminish our dependence on oil. That would be a very good thing. It would be an improvement and in the interest of "not making the perfect the enemy of the good" I'd support it.

Obama also called for investment in high speed rail. I'm ambivalent about that. On the one hand, I'm a fan of the environmental advantages that rail has over cars and airplanes. But the United States is a much bigger and sparsely populated place than Japan or Western Europe (the places where high speed rail thrives). There are regions where it would make a lot of sense: The Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington connection and maybe the San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Diego-Las Vegas connection. But does it really make sense to talk about high speed rail between Chicago and Minneapolis or Omaha? The distances might be right but are there enough people to use it? I'll admit to not knowing a lot about this so, as with the nuclear power issue, I'm curious about what other think here.


Robert said...

I too prefer solar and wind over nuclear. I especially like your argument about the political-economy and the decentralization of power (which would also be good in preventing a possible terrorist attack on our electrical infrastructure).

But another strong argument is that wind and solar are CHEAPER than nuclear, wind significantly so. Right now, it costs about 3 cents/kwh for wind, depending on location; solar is up around 15-20 cents/kwh. Nuclear, however, is more expensive. Various estimates have placed new nuclear power at costing between 18 and 35 cents/kwh. It's also important to note that wind and solar prices are falling while nuclear prices are rising.

Lastly, we should remember that nuclear fuel, uranium, is a finite resource, of which we have about 150 years left (the number is debated, but since everyone is trying to build new nuclear plants we're going to run out more quickly). There are, of course, some secondary fuels, but we really don't have much uranium, and the extraction process is extremely environmentally damaging. You may remember hearing about the proposed plans to mine uranium next to the Grand Canyon... can you imagine that?

As for trains, I agree the distance does make HSR difficult, but as you said there are regions that make sense. Tampa-Miami just broke ground. Chicago-Madison is underway. And the northeast already has some. If we can expand rail so that we diminish the number of short flights taken, I think that will be a great start.

Raised By Republicans said...


Thanks for the numbers on nuclear vs solar and wind. That's a great reason to like those sources more!

So what you are saying is that the main advantages of nuclear are: 1) zero emissions (barring catastrophic accidents) and 2) reducing oil dependence (if combined with electric cars).

I do think that the corporate interests that depend on the infrastructure of our big plant/centralized grid have something to do with a lack of push for solar and wind improvements. I'm 100% convinced that the reason the Republicans prefer hydrogen cars to electric cars is because hydrogen cars would still need fueling stations that could be private owned by what are now Big Oil companies.

Robert said...

Also, hydrogen cars are much farther away from reality, meaning more short-term profits for oil...

The Law Talking Guy said...

I think the political opening for high speed rail comes from the oversaturation of the airways. There is no room for more flights, and indeed the FAA is trying to cut back the number of flights from busy airports. So air interests are no longer really fighting HSR.

Raised By Republicans said...

The capacity question is one that is so obvious once you mention it that I'm embarrassed not to have thought about it. I suppose HSR could replace the commuter jet flights.