A fair number of environmentalists, especially those in coal mining states, are beginning to question whether nuclear power plants are a better choice than coal-fired plants. At present dirty coal is certainly causing more damage to communities, our water, our air, and the plant’s future than are those quietly humming nuclear plants.
In the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of the Washington Monthly, Mariah Blake describes how Finland tackled this fossil fuel vs nuclear dilemma in 2002. In that year the Finnish parliament decided to build a single nuclear plant. The decision was greeted by much fanfare in the European press and by the French builder, Areva.
Today the plant is three years behind schedule. This means that to meet its Kyoto agreement target by 2012, Finland will have to buy millions of dollars worth of credit through the EU’s credit trading scheme. Due in part to sub-contractor inexperience the project is 50% over budget with a final estimate of $6.2 billion. Finally, as Blake discovered, the Finnish nuclear authority, STUK, has detected 2,200 “quality deficiencies”. Blake indicates that the Finnish experience has broad implications for the world’s resurgent nuclear power industry.
With support across the political spectrum, more than 100 nuclear plants are on the world’s drawing boards, with thirty-five in the US. Blake chronicles this resurgence from the nadir of Three Mile Island in 1979 through the patronage of then Senator Domenici of New Mexico and the Bush administration’s push for the Energy policy Act of 2005. In the past four years alone the nuclear industry has enjoyed federal funding of $25 billion.
Despite the support of Congress, including that of then Senator Obama, Wall Street has remained skeptical of the “nuclear power panacea”. That is where Blake gets to the central thrust of her article: the exorbitant cost of building safer nuclear plants, and how the industry and utilities are lobbying ferociously for federal funding to pay the bill.
The fear is that disproportionate federal funding of nuclear power will harm the development of green energy sources. While Finland put so much into nuclear power, countries such as Germany have invested heavily in solar and wind power.