It’s the environmentalist’s third rail question: “Should we promote nuclear power as an expedient way to reduce CO2 emissions?” On the one hand, nuclear power generates electricity with almost negligible CO2 emissions — potentially a good way for our society to reverse the current global warming trends. On the other hand, nuclear power is…well…nuclear. Problems related to waste disposal, proliferation and high costs have not been solved, and we still have the occasional disaster.
Nuclear technology continues to improve. Today we have more efficient reactors, lower cost modular designs, safer fuel cycles, better materials and control systems, and a heightened awareness of reliability and safety issues. We also have a determined and well-funded nuclear industry pushing the “restart” button. But alternative sources of electricity — particularly solar and wind — also continue to improve. Moreover, developments in more cost-effective storage are starting to negate nuclear’s biggest base load generating benefits.
The nuclear question is not only about costs and technology, it’s also about anticipated trends in our electrical distribution system — particularly what types of companies will be around a dozen years from now installing power plants of all sizes. The surging solar industry is probably the biggest long term threat to a nuclear renaissance. Please listen to this week’s Energy Show for my perspective on the future of nuclear power, especially in light of practical and cost-effective solar power and battery storage.