Nuclear Renaissance?

Schwarzenegger ‘open minded about nuclear power’

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger believes that nuclear power has “a great future” and that it is time to “relook at that issue again rather than just looking the other way and living in denial.” The governor made these comments March 14 in Santa Barbara, at the “ECO:nomics” conference sponsored by the Wall Street Journal. His views are making waves in environmental and energy circles.

Gov. Schwarzenegger told the Wall Street Journal that it is time for the Golden State to reconsider nuclear power if it ever wants to meet energy demands for the future. He decried “environmental scare tactics that frighten everyone that we’re going to have another blowup and all of those things.” He did not seem to notice that his favorite legislation, AB 32 (the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006), is predicated on exactly those types of scare tactics. Nevertheless, it is refreshing that he remains open minded about nuclear power—and he is not alone.

Last summer, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, tried to qualify a ballot initiative and more recently pushed bills that would again allow nuclear power in the state. DeVore has authored two pieces of legislation, AB 1776 and AB 2788, on nuclear power this year.

California currently has two active nuclear power plants: PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant and the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric own both power plants jointly. Together, they supply about 12 percent of California’s electricity. They were built before the state placed a ban on new nuclear plants in 1976, pending release of the political hostage of spent fuel disposal. Rather than dispose of spent fuel, however, we could follow the French. Using technology we developed, they recycle the fuel for even more energy. California, after all, is a national leader in recycling.

Nuclear power can be slightly more expensive than coal-fired power, but the current energy options allowed in California are far more expensive than either coal or nuclear, and coal has become subject of an effective ban in California as well. With the cost of money now at historic lows, nuclear technology is even more cost-competitive to other technologies, as costs are fixed year to year, like a mortgage with a fixed rate.

Solar power holds great appeal but remains the highest cost source and cannot supply enough to meet California’s growing demand. Natural gas is also expensive, with potential continued price increases and volatility. The wind is fickle and seldom available on hot summer days when air conditioning, comfort and health all demand power. Nuclear power, on the other hand, has known costs not subject to future fuel volatility, and is available rain or shine.

Consider also the great irony in this debate. Had we continued to build nuclear power plants over the past 30 years instead of depending increasingly on fossil plants and fickle renewables, we would most likely be meeting our Kyoto Treaty limits for carbon dioxide emissions—or even those limits in AB 32.

In order to rebuild the strength of the California economy, we need to follow DeVore’s lead and advance meaningful electricity supply options like nuclear power. Assemblyman DeVore has already seized on the comments by the governor as a positive sign.

“I’m delighted to see Gov. Schwar-zenegger now out front on this vital issue. California cannot meet its global greenhouse gas reduction targets nor meet its growing need for clean [and economic] energy without modern nuclear power,” wrote DeVore on his blog,

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received seven applications for new power plants last year and is expecting a dozen more in other states. It’s time for California to follow their lead and recognize the promise of nuclear power for environmental and economic reasons.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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