Nuclear externalities

We were discussing nuclear power in my class yesterday and when the cost disadvantage of nuclear power was brought up, I made the point that nuclear power’s huge disadvantage is that it actually has to pay for its own externalities.  The first externality is the radioactive waste, with which great expense is required to dispose of safely.  Even more notably, a huge cost of nuclear plants is the tremendous expense to prevent any damage to public health through a catastrophic meltdown.  Those safety steps– to protect the public– are quite expensive, and they are built into the cost of nuclear-generated electricity.  The externalities of fossil-fuel power, however, fall upon the general public in terms of actually realized costs to public health that we pay for in thousands of ways, but not in our electricity bills.  Anyway, it was quite edifying to make this point in class yesterday and then return from class to see that Kevin Drum had a nice post on the matter:

It’s perfectly reasonable to argue that the problem here isn’t that nukes are genuinely more dangerous or more expensive than other forms of power generation, it’s that other forms of power generation aren’t forced to pay for their own externalities. Charge them properly for the carbon they emit and the mercury they spew and the particulates they make us breathe and they’d be just as expensive and just as dangerous as nuclear power. I think there’s a pretty good case to be made for that. Nonetheless, until we do start charging properly for all those externalities, nukes just aren’t going to be cost effective and nothing is going to change that.

The answer, then, is to force coal and oil and gas power plants to pay for their externalities properly. However, our most recent attempt to make even modest progress toward that goal went down in flames and the Republican Party has made it crystal clear that they’ll fight to the death to keep energy generation from ever bearing its market price.

So, if Republicans really support nuclear power– instead of just pretending to– they’d actually support a price on carbon to create a more fair marketplace.  Of course, when it comes to what Republicans say they support to what they actually support, that could keep us here a long time.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Nuclear externalities

  1. jonolan says:

    Perhaps it is because the GOP doesn’t hate America and America’s poor as much as the Liberals and Warmists do.

    It’s a myth at best and more likely a brazen lie that producers bear the costs of production, especially for critically needed products. Consumers always bear those costs.

    But…Drive up energy costs, which will drive up most other costs, and we can shortly be rid of the burden of the poor. It won’t take many winters for that too happen.

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