Better off without fission?

by Milan on April 7, 2011

in Nuclear power

There is a timely and interesting debate ongoing on The Economist‘s website: This house believes that the world would be better off without nuclear power. So far, 73% of participants are of the view that nuclear power’s benefits outweigh the harms associated.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

. April 7, 2011 at 10:38 pm

SIR – Regarding your analysis (Economics focus, March 19th) of the costs of the tsunami in Japan, in addition to the many studies which find that natural disasters do not lead to a significant drop in national output, a fair number have gone further and contend that disasters eventually can cause growth to rise. Jesús Crespo Cuaresma, Jaroslava Hlouskova and Michael Obersteiner argued in a paper in the April 2008 edition of Economic Inquiry that natural catastrophes generate their own “creative destruction”, a variation on Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of capitalism. Cuaresma et al claimed that natural disasters can spur economic development through factors such as knowledge spillovers and investments in new technology and human capital.

The most notable part of their argument is that these factors have the potential to erase previously outdated and perhaps path-dependent methodologies, helping a disaster-struck country to adopt more efficient processes.

Jonathan Ehrlich
Somerville, Massachusetts

SIR – You argued that the death toll from Chernobyl does not spoil a “reasonably good record” of nuclear power (“The fallout”, March 19th). But the estimate of “a few thousand” deaths from that disaster only counts the direct casualties of radiation. It ignores the lives lost and shattered as a result of massive resettlement, poverty caused by a lack of investment in the region, the destruction of agriculture and ecosystems, alcoholism induced by fear and desperation and poor health care because of the difficulty of attracting doctors to contaminated areas.

Similar factors will probably plague communities near the Fukushima accident in Japan. Decisions on the future of nuclear power should take into account not only direct biomedical damage from radiation but also the social, psychological and economic costs of nuclear accidents.

Professor Aleh Cherp
Jessica Jewell
Central European University
Budapest

. March 14, 2012 at 9:21 pm

But Mr Obama made no mention of nuclear energy, even though America’s 104 nuclear reactors provide around one-fifth of its electricity, and even though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was poised to approve, for the first time since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, the construction of a new nuclear reactor on American soil. It duly did so on February 9th, giving its first-ever combined construction and operation licences to the Atlanta-based Southern Company to build two new reactors at Plant Vogtle, in eastern Georgia, where they will join two existing reactors that have been in operation for 25 and 23 years. Southern Company got $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees for the Vogtle expansion, and it expects the new reactors to begin operation in 2016 and 2017. This will be the among the largest construction projects in Georgia’s history, representing capital investment of $14 billion and bringing the state, by the firm’s estimate, 3,500 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs.

In 2009 Lamar Alexander, Tennessee’s senior senator, called for 100 new reactors to be built by 2030. The following year Mr Obama proposed tripling the nuclear loan-guarantee programme to $54 billion. Mr Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2013 (which begins this October) includes money to fund research into advanced small “modular” reactors.

Safety, then, may well result in delays and cost-overruns: two factors not entirely unfamiliar in building nuclear plants. The cost of Vogtle’s first two reactors was initially pegged at $660m; they ended up costing a cool $8.7 billion, with electricity rates for Georgians spiking as a result. A study by Mark Cooper, an economic analyst at Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment, found that in constant dollars the cost of nuclear power roughly quintupled between the 1970s and the early 1990s. Mr Cooper also found that initial cost projections tended dramatically to underestimate actual costs, as the Vogtle experience would seem to bear out.

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