Being tied to one supplier is never a good thing; anyone with a remote understanding of the basic business principles knows that. If something happens to that supplier and their ability to provide that material is affected, the business dependent on that supplier is going to have serious problems. That fact is made worse when you consider the national security implications of being heavily dependent on a fuel source that is imported from countries with unstable governments (Niger) and hostile government factions (pretty much every Middle Eastern oil exporter). To put it simply, the United States needs to diversify and expand its energy infrastructure, and that includes everything from more domestic oil drilling to building more wind and solar farms to building new nuclear power plants.
In all of the recent talk around moving away from coal and oil, you do not hear too much talk around nuclear energy; most of the discussions has been around building new wind farms and solar collector arrays. I am sure most people know that there has not been a new nuclear power plant built in the US in over 30 years (though there have been individual reactors installed since then); as of right now, there are 104 nuclear reactors in operation in the US. Did you know that 20% of the energy currently generated in the US comes from those 104 reactors? That is quite impressive, especially when you consider the number of coal power plants in operation - about 600 coal plants and they produce 54% of the energy.
When you do the math, you should easily see that nuclear power is much more efficient - each nuclear reactor is averaging about 0.2% of the country's total energy, compared to 0.09% for each coal plant. In other words, the nuclear reactors are twice as efficient. Those figures should be more impressive when you consider that most of those nuclear reactors are over 20 years old and woefully inefficient compared to current reactor designs. When you also consider the fact that nuclear power does not generate any particulate emissions like burning coal, it should be any easy sell to make. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come:
President Obama today said that safe, new nuclear power plants are a "necessity" as he announced more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to build the first nuclear power plant in three decades.
Mr. Obama’s announced plans to break ground on two new nuclear reactors at a Southern Company plant in Burke, Georgia – which he said will create thousands of construction jobs in the next year – with 800 permanent, well-paying jobs in years to come.
Even though this is not part of the stimulus package, this would have been an excellent use of stimulus dollars. I am pretty much against massive government spending programs, but if one had to be enacted, I would rather see 787 billion dollars invested in bringing new nuclear power plants online as opposed to giving raises to unionized teachers in Washington state. Even if we did not build a single new power plant, modernizing the existing 100+ reactors would go a long way towards boosting energy output. Maintenance and operating improvement have already resulted in huge efficiency increases:
A significant achievement of the US nuclear power industry over the last 20 years has been the increase in operating efficiency with improved maintenance. All this is reflected in increased output even since 1990, from 577 billion kilowatt hours to 809 billion kWh, a 40% improvement despite little increase in installed capacity, and equivalent to 29 new 1,000 MWe reactors.
The public is still somewhat mixed on the issue, but I suspect a good bit of that uncertainty comes from uneven news reporting and a general lack of information. For instance, more people die in coal mine accidents every year (5000+) than have ever died in all nuclear reactor accidents over the last 50 years. However, the perception is that nuclear reactors are more dangerous, and this is probably the "airplane crash effect" - despite the fact driving a car is orders of magnitude more dangerous than flying on an airplane, an airplane crash is a sensational news story, and it tends to stick in peoples' minds.
Nuclear energy is an important part of the energy portfolio of the United States, and it is on piece that we have direct and total control over. The main barrier to nuclear energy is the amount of money and time it takes to get a new reactor online (billions of dollars and 10+ years, in some cases), but when you consider how many billions of dollars we spend on importing other fuel sources each year, the cost pales in comparison.
Let the nuclear renaissance begin.