If New Mexico ever gets snookered into building a nuclear power plant, you’ll know we got fooled, and fooled good.
Nuclear energy is not an option. If New Mexico were a submarine or an aircraft carrier then yes, nuclear energy might make sense. But in a land as rich in sunshine and wind as this enchanted state, nuclear power would be a huge mistake, and a gigantic step backward.
Some people say that since solar and wind are finally making headway, we should take their subsidies and give the money to nuclear instead. The notion is so profoundly illogical that the mind struggles for a metaphor. It’s almost like saying “Since smart phones are doing so well, let’s stop building cell towers and invest in land lines instead.”
Step back in time to the 1980s. Imagine if somebody said “Wow, personal computers are really taking off. Let’s stop R&D on those, and start building bigger mainframes instead.”
With few exceptions, nuclear has never really been a viable alternative energy source.
Exhibit A: No nuclear power plant has ever been built, anywhere, without a massive infusion of taxpayer money.
Exhibit B: In 2011, the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the total subsidies paid and offered to nuclear power companies from 1960 to 2024 generally exceeded the value of the electricity produced.
Exhibit C: Since 1958, more than 120 nuclear power plants were started and never finished due to cost overruns.
To make matters worse, nuclear energy is simply more expensive than traditional sources. As an example, where traditional sources might cost around 0.89 cents per kilowatt hour, nuclear energy can cost as much as 1.04 cents. Since we’re living in an era where energy can be traded across the country via power-lines, it’s altogether possible to build a nuclear power plant that generates electricity nobody wants to buy.
Nuclear is a big investment in terms of money and time. From start to finish, an operational nuclear power plant can take as long as 10 years or more to complete. Why? Because we’re not just building the plant, we’re establishing an intricate, exceptionally high-tech logistical system that has to run like clockwork or the whole thing grinds to a halt.
First we have to secure the uranium. Second, we have to enrich the uranium at special processing plants. Next we have to safely transport and store the activated material. Then we use it. Once used, we have to discard the nuclear waste safely. Not surprisingly, the taxpayer usually gets stuck with the bill for this last phase.
Nuclear energy is an exceedingly complex way to do a simple thing. Fissile nuclear material gets hot, really hot, hot enough to turn water to steam, which in turn spins electrical generators. The uranium “fuel rods” are useful for about 6 years. Sounds good, until you realize we generate about 2,300 tons of nuclear waste per year.
So after 6 years of energy, we’re left with thousands of tons of a useless, deadly nuclear byproduct which can last about 10,000 years. This means that for the next 10,000 years, someone will have to monitor it, measure its degradation, and be able to move it should some unforeseen complications arise.
10,000 years of lethal hazard for 6 years of limited, regional energy? That’s not a good trade-off. And who’s going to pay for minding the waste? How many companies stay in business for 10,000 years?
All of these negatives don’t even touch upon the very real possibility of something going catastrophically wrong. Then we’d have a Three Mile Island, or a Fukushima, or a Chernobyl, or worse.
Who gets stuck with the bill if something goes wrong? We do, the taxpayers, of course. That’s Business 101: privatize the profits and externalize the costs.
Whose ecologic system will be irreversibly impacted? Ours. Whose DNA will risk cancerous mutation? Ours. And you can bet money few of the shareholders of that nuclear facility will live anywhere near the contamination.
While I’m no fan of Wall Street, it’s telling to note its whims and fancies. The stock exchange isn’t crazy about nuclear power, and hasn’t been for decades. Way back in 1985, Forbes Magazine wrote that nuclear power was “the greatest managerial disaster in business history…only the blind, or the biased, can now think that most of the money has been well spent.”
Regardless of what we think of big investors, we should heed sound advice, forget about nuclear, and learn to look forward, not back. Just as coal has no future, neither has nuclear. It’s ironic, since one was made of dinosaurs, and the other was born of war, two things best left in the past.