Nuclear proponents are launching a full-court press for fresh investment in the technology. The release of the new film Pandora’s Promise, another editorial from ardent nuclear champions Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute, and Paul Blustein’s recent piece in Quartz, “Everything you thought you knew about the risks of nuclear energy is wrong,” are part of an effort to put a new shine on a technology that once offered, but failed to deliver, electricity “too cheap to meter.”
All of these actors are purportedly motivated to support nuclear power on climate grounds, emphasizing the technology’s extraordinarily small physical footprint, its ability to generate massive amounts of electricity, and its lack of carbon emissions (after the plants are built). And they are probably right that the risks of radiation have been historically overblown as “junk science” wormed its way into popular culture. But the anti-nuclear crowd (and I, too, used to count myself among them) is probably right for the wrong reasons.
Missing from the entire debate about nuclear is the most important fact of all: Nuclear is dying due to poor economics, and the debate is already over as far as the market is concerned.
Shellenberger and Nordhaus have backed up their arguments with junk accounting on nuclear energy’s costs. This is where the discussion must depart from mere boosterism and descend into the deep, dark world of energy economics—a subject that Blustein did not even address.