Image there was energy technology that produced no carbon emissions and could produce energy on a large scale. Some claim that the search for such a source is wishful thinking, but what if it was here already?
This “incredible” energy source, nuclear power, is the topic of a provocative Eduardo Porter column today. He claims that nuclear power is the “only technology with an established track record of generating electricity at scale while emitting virtually no greenhouse gases.” Why don’t we invest more in this crucial resource? Well, it’s science denying liberals, according to Porter.
Liberals are more opposed to nuclear power than conservatives, mostly on the basis of largely unfounded claims about nuclear’s lack of safety.
In a choice between coal and nuclear power, nuclear is certainly more attractive. It’s safer and produces less emissions. (Not almost zero, but less) However, the lack of investment in nuclear isn’t because of liberal fear, but the enormous cost of building nuclear power plants.
For various reasons, the true price of nuclear power is controversial, but it’s certainly higher than coal, oil, or natural gas. More troublesome is that the price isn’t going down. If anything, it’s actually rising.
Liberals certainly aren’t blocking a climate change panacea, but that does not mean misplaced safety concerns aren’t damaging. Part of the reason more nuclear plants aren’t being built is precisely because of the regulatory and political climate that threatens to turn against nuclear.
Nuclear plants are very long term investments. Even if they get the approval to be built in the current adverse political climate, it’s not a guarantee that the politics won’t shift 10 or 20 years down the road and force a plant to shut down. The political risk makes financing nuclear power much more expensive and lowers the incentive for R&D that could bend the cost curve down.