A few alleged design hiccups and supposed cost increases in Westinghouse’s new AP1000 nuclear reactor have so-called public interest groups calling for the reactor to be taken off the table. Claiming that escalating costs and half-baked design ideas will result in a failure to build the reactors, environmental group Friends of the Earth are calling for state regulatory agencies to reverse an earlier decision that approved the project.
The truth is that these are the same old delay tactics that the anti-energy crowd used in the 1970’s. We allowed it to kill the nuclear industry then. The stakes are too high to allow that to happen again.
There are two important takeaways from this:
1.) The United States hasn’t built a nuclear reactor in decades; just the application process that moves through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will take about four years on top of another five years for construction. Of course a process as lengthy and complicated as this is going to experience a few hiccups the first time around. After that, the process will be streamlined and cost projections will not only be more accurate but they will also fall as economies of scale are achieved. Furthermore, additional savings should be recognized by applying lessons learned from initial construction projects. Because nuclear plants could have an operating life of 80 years, the benefits will be well worth the costs and initial hurdles that must be overcome.
2.) The more regulations and litigations that the nuclear industry is subject to, the more unstable and costly it will be. Undoubtedly, the nuclear regulatory regime needs to be sound and comprehensive, but it also needs to be predictable. After all, in the 1970s and 1980s, federal, state, and local governments nearly regulated the U.S. commercial nuclear industry out of existence. A large part of this stemmed from the work of anti-nuclear activists of the time. If state and federal governments listen to today’s anti-nuclear activists because of a few bumps in the road, the nuclear renaissance will move down the same path it’s been on since the 70s, a path to nowhere. On the other hand, if the U.S. wants a sustainable source of clean and affordable energy, it must be willing to push through the learning stages.
There are plenty of things to reminisce about the 1970’s. Energy policy is not one of them.