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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: What is Green and Glows in the Dark?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What is Green and Glows in the Dark?

Environmentally friendly generation III nuclear power plants.  Some might argue with the environmentally friendly part, but they don't emit carbon to generate electricity.  Most economists believe that markets are innovative and the new generation of nuclear power plants provide evidence.  In a good article, titled "The New Nukes," Rebecca Smith of the Wall Street Journal writes that the new plants will be safer, cheaper and more efficient than old plants. 
For the first time in decades, popular opinion is on the industry's side. A majority of Americans thinks nuclear power, which emits virtually no carbon dioxide, is a safe and effective way to battle climate change, according to recent polls. At the same time, legislators are showing renewed interest in nuclear as they hunt for ways to slash greenhouse-gas emissions.

The industry is seizing this chance to move out of the shadow of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and show that it has solved the three big problems that have long dogged it: cost, safety and waste. Researchers are working on reactors that they claim are simpler, cheaper in certain respects, and more efficient than the last generation of plants.

Some designs try to reduce the chance of accidents by automating safety features and minimizing the amount of hardware needed to shut down the reactor in an emergency. Others cut costs by using standardized parts that can be built in big chunks and then shipped to the site. Some squeeze more power out of uranium, reducing the amount of waste produced, while others wring even more energy out of spent fuel.
Smith points out that nukes will always have their critics.  My guess it is environmentalist who push a soft green solution of renewable energy: wind, tide and solar.  I don't know who will win the debate that will take place in markets and the Congress, but Smith describes the critics' concerns.
And while the industry is winning converts, plenty of powerful enemies remain. Many scientists and environmentalists still distrust nuclear power in any form, arguing that it can never escape its cost, safety and waste problems. What's more, critics say, trying to solve the problems in one area, such as safety, inevitably lead to more problems in another area, such as costs.


  1. Nuclear Power may not be the perfect solution, but it should be seriously considered.
    I think that Nuclear Power may have received a bad rap in the past due to the fact that using nuclear reactors to produce energy was ahead of technology and wasn’t fully thought out. However with today’s technology and engineering we have discovered how to make nuclear power plants efficient, safe, and extremely cost efficient. Maybe the real question is; can we really afford not to embrace clean nuclear power?

  2. I agree with D Wolf. Sure Nuclear Power has its risk factors, but the cost of the engery produced is cheaper than other forms. For example, the windmills in West, TX. Most environmentalist would tell you that they are better for the environment, but do they consider the thousands of birds that are killed each year from running into them? Also the maintance on a windmill is extremely high, and they easily break. Nuclear Power is more economical just for the shear fact that it is more productive, and allows energy to be at a cheaper cost to consumers.

  3. Our energy alternatives seem always to result in waste being spread all over the planet. Nuclear waste is concentrated in a relatively small and identifiable footprint. All energy alternatives have their own problems. There is really no one perfect solution.

  4. Jason Weaver3/10/09 11:06 PM

    Though I'm a strong advocate of trying to better our energy alternatives, it would be close-minded not support the new nuclear power plants. With the safer features, cheaper parts, and waste reduction, it is hard to see how the new improvements of late do not make the benefits of the power plants out weigh the detriments. There will always be people that will disagree with whatever alternative that comes up, but it is not a bad thing necessarily. Critics are what drive us to create the bigger and better energy alternatives in the first place.