Recently, the congress and the Obama administration has approved what could be up to $225 million in federal funding for a new generation of reactor design called Small Modular Reactors. I’ve completed a blog post called Small is Ugly on SMRs while researching it i came across a report which is worth it’s own blog post.
Nuclear Power: Still not viable without subsidies is a 146 page report that you can download. But let me save most of you the work by giving you this key disturbing statistic which comes up in the first few pages of this pretty accessible document. There is also this excellent summary by Union of Concerned Scientists.
Between 1960 and 2009 the total subsidy for nuclear power plants in the US works out to US$ 0.072/kwh which is 140% of the wholesale cost of all the nuclear generated electricity during that period.
In other words, the amount of money the government has paid for these reactors to exist and operate exceeds significantly the value of the electricity they produced.
Put even more simply, from an economics perspective we would be way ahead if we had never build these reactors at all. The money was wasted.
The author of this 2011 report for the Union of Concerned Scientists is Doug Koplow. He has been working on energy subsides for 20 years and has an MBA from Harvard.
So i went to the NEI blog. This is where the nuclear lobby takes on its critics. Amory Lovins, Helen Caldicott, Paul Gunter and their work all gets attacked here. Not a word about Doug Koplow or this report.
The Economist tells us that the energy which was once billed as “too cheap to meter” is really “too expensive to matter.”
Vandana Shiva is a hero of mine. So i was doubly pleased to get an email from her today. It was not personal, we have never met and i have not even seen her speak live. [Tho here is her recent TED talk on the food crisis and solutions.], but i was happy none-the-less to know that some group which she works with has me on their mailing list and thus i am getting stuff from her.
More important than my ego gratification was the content of her message, which said that her group has petitioned the Indian Supreme Court and they have ruled in her favor banning the release of GMOs. This is not forever and for always, but until at least long term studies can be done on rats and there is a regime in place for controlling the releases and selecting the sites which releases are made from by the government. This is a significant win.
What is especially encouraging about this ruling is that it sites the precautionary principal as central to its decision making. The precautionary principal is:
if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.[from wikipedia on precautionary principal]
This of course is not what Monsanto wants. What they prefer is the world continues to be their lab and that they can continue to release things they are convinced are safe (or at least are likely to be profitable) and “let’s not worry too much about the side effects, they will sort themselves out.”
One of the most important conversations of my life was in Kiev at the Chernobyl 10th anniversary which i was helping to organize. American inventor and intellectual Amory Lovins was explaining to German Green Party leader Joschka Fischer the idea of “risk technologies” . That there were a certain class of technologies, including nuclear power, nanotechnology, genetic engineering – where the unknown possibilities of on going and catastrophic dangers were so great that the state had to strictly regulate them or prohibit them altogether. That perusing these new technologies often represents the wrong way of thinking about global problems altogether and instead we should be implementing known proven technologies with well understood impacts.
Fischer was already both the leader of the German Green party and anti-nuclear , later he became the foreign minster and vice Chancellor. He found Lovins presentations on these other technologies compelling. But it is one thing to convince a popular and prominent green of these ideas and quite another to convince a national supreme court that they need to intercede and prevent businesses from doing business as unusual. Shiva and her group have attained this and should be applauded for it.
This ruling is timely, because a recent French study has shown that Monsanto’s genetically modified Roundup Ready corn induces cancer in rats feed this corn. These were rats of the same type Monsanto used to get permission for the release of Roundup Ready corn, but Monsanto tested them for only 90 days. The French study tested them for 2 years.
Significantly, the precautionary principal is part of the 1992 Earth Summit accords, which the US refused to sign, but nearly every other major industrial country agreed to this treaty. We can only hope these other countries will follow India’s lead.