A Nuclear Boom

I would consider subsidies to the nuclear power industry a price worth paying to get a good carbon pricing bill through congress, but count me as extremely skeptical on the merits that large subsidies to the nuclear industry is actually the right way to tackle the challenge of climate change. That said, it seems that even absent such subsidies and absent carbon pricing, we’re seeing a revival of interest in building new nuclear plants for the first time in over thirty years. And I think at this point that I’d rather see new nuclear plants than new coal plants.

But one thing that I think tends to go missing from this conversation is that there are substantial national security concerns associated with a global increase in the use of nuclear power. Joe Cirincione has explained:

[A]nd finally, proliferation. It’s not the reactor that you’re worried about; it’s the stuff that goes into the reactor and the stuff that goes out. The same facility that can enrich uranium for fuel rods can enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

This is the whole issue with Iran. They have an enrichment facility they say is for making fuel. Do you trust them? And if nuclear power is going to expand in the world, if we’re going to double or triple the nuclear reactors, then we’re going to double or triple the fuel factories. And these could spread to many other countries, bringing many other countries right up to the brink of nuclear weapons status. That’s an unacceptable threat. I actually think it’s immoral for companies and for countries to be promoting the expansion of nuclear power without taking steps to correct that national ownership of fuel facilities. The only way we’re going to be safe if there is a role for nuclear power, it’s got to be married with an internationalization of those fuel fabrication facilities.

Unlike with the waste issue, there’s actually a pretty clear solution. As Jeffrey Lewis argues you need to multinationalize the fuel cycle:

This would take some diplomatic heavy lifting (see details here) and require the US to be willing to actually submit ourselves to the same protocols as everyone else, but it’s totally feasible. And without doing it, every incremental expansion of nuclear power makes it much harder to forestall the out-of-control spread of nuclear weapons.