The GOP’s 100 New Nukes


If it turns out to be the case that appropriately pricing greenhouse emissions makes nuclear energy price-competitive again, then I wouldn’t have a problem with that leading to the construction of some new nuclear reactors in the United States. But it’s worth noting that the right’s monomania about boosting nuclear power is really bizarre. In the latest iteration of same-old, same-old conservative energy policy they want to build 100 new nuclear reactors by 2029, seemingly because 100 is a number that is both large and round. No sense of where those are going to go, or what will happen to the waste.

What’s more, while it’s genuinely true that coal-fired plants produce cheap electricity and thus are appealing if you ignore the environmental devastation, nuclear plants just aren’t very economical:

The cornerstone of the GOP plan — whose acronym just happens to be nearly identical to that of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) — is an $800 billion plan to build 100 nukes (see “Areva has acknowledged that the cost of a new reactor today would be as much as 6 billion euros, or $8 billion, double the price offered to the Finns”). Taxpayers will assume the full liability for any default on those nuclear plants. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the likely default rate of these loans at over 50% — so that’s $400 billion down the toilet right there. And of course taxpayers already assume the liability for any catastrophic meltdown.

I don’t see any reason to think that would be a good idea. A reasonable approach to nuclear power would, I think, just start with the reality that the waste problem is both serious and also potentially solvable. Put a solution in place, and then the country could accommodate more nuclear power. Then put a carbon price in place, and more nuclear power could provide to be part of the solution. But if you’re going to pour billions in subsidies toward something, you should focus it on truly clean sources of energy.