Conservatives Heart Nuke Power

November 6th, 2009 at 3:40 pm David Frum | 27 Comments |

| Print

First Brad Plumer in the New Republic, then Matt Yglesias on his site have marveled at the supposedly strange enthusiasm of conservatives for nuclear power. What’s strange about it? It’s pure cold economic rationality. If you wish to move away from carbon-emitting electricity sources, nuclear is far and away the cheapest choice. If we’re not going to rely more on nuclear power, then the reduction in carbon emissions will have to imply some dramatic reductions in standards of living.

Nor is it true, as Matt contends, that only an active state can deliver nuclear power. The United States already draws 20% of its power from nuclear. Until recently, it’s true, the stock market has preferred utility companies that generate their power from coal. Coal is cheap and reliable. But if a carbon tax increased the price of coal, nuclear would come back into vogue – and the regulatory changes needed to facilitate that shift would not have to be very dramatic. Probably more important would be mergers in the utility industry. The rule of thumb in the industry is that a new nuclear plant would cost some $10 billion and start yielding revenue only after 5 to 7 years. That’s a big check to write when the largest utility in the United States, Exelon, has a market capitalization of only $35 billion. Electricite de France by contrast has a market cap of some $85 billion.

It’s a simple formula. Reduced carbon = either radically more expensive electricity or else more nukes. More nukes = bigger utilities. No mystery at all!

Recent Posts by David Frum



27 Comments so far ↓

  • JJWFromME

    “nuclear is far and away the cheapest choice”

    Just saying that doesn’t make it so. But hey, if you have a solution that works (and that we can export to emerging middle class societies like Pakistan and Iran [!] who need energy too) then by all means, let’s try a few and see how they work.

  • doormat18

    I totally see the point in avoiding the current catastrophe (climate change) by doing something that is less than ideal like nuclear but I worry about the highly toxic waste of nuclear energy. I just want to make sure we aren’t trading one catastrophe right now for another one 100 (?) years later.

    I think a moderate approach would be to see nuclear as a part of the solution, but not the entire solution.

  • joemarier

    It’s coldly rational, yes. It’s also wicked-sweet rhetoric that exposes progressive internal contradictions, too. That’s what’s called a “two-fer”!

  • balconesfault

    But if a carbon tax increased the price of coal

    So let’s see – there are two ways for nuclear to be as much much bigger part of the energy mix going forward:
    - via massive governmental investment or
    - a regulatory mechanism which significantly changes the playing field

    I rarely meet conservatives today who want huge government spending programs (except on DOD), or behavior-changing new regulations (except on abortion providers) …

  • The Fruits of Diversity | Conservative Heritage Times

    [...] must read this. As I said before, I think this piece hits the nail on the head. See article at . VDare, Richmond, CA, Muslim, Gang Rape, | | | | | [...]

  • DFL

    You see, conservatives can be positive when they want to be.

  • sinz54

    balconesfault: I rarely meet conservatives today who want huge government spending programs (except on DOD), or behavior-changing new regulations (except on abortion providers)
    We conservatives recognize that there are NO laissez-faire totally free market energy sources, except maybe kerosene lamps and flashlight batteries.

    Oil, natural gas, coal, all benefited from government subsidies, tax breaks (oil depletion allowance), and other favors, long before nuclear power came into vogue. That’s inevitable, now that drilling and mining has to take place on Government land so often.

    And you liberals constantly demand subsidies for green power. Because you know that green power couldn’t possibly survive in the free marketplace at the price it would charge per megawatt.

    So it’s not a choice between a government-subsidized energy source and a free market energy source (sorry, Matt).

    It’s a question of which to pick.

    Nuclear is the only provably scalable energy source we have that emits no greenhouse gases. It’s here, right now, whereas wind and solar have yet to prove themselves on the scale needed to power, say, Boston.

  • sinz54

    doormat18: I worry about the highly toxic waste of nuclear energy
    Nuclear reprocessing solved that problem years and years ago. France does nuclear reprocessing on a large scale, and they have only a fraction of the waste we do.

    In the United States, Presidents Ford and Carter unilaterally abandoned nuclear reprocessing in hopes that this would help stem nuclear proliferation. Shortly after Carter abandoned reprocessing indefinitely, India test-fired their first nuclear bomb. Carter protested; India told him to stuff it.

    The only thing stopping us from resuming reprocessing now are Greenpeace and the usual collection of Luddites.

  • Matthew Yglesias » Frum on Nuclear Socialism

    [...] fact that only massive socialism seems capable of financing nuclear power plants. David Frum has a post in response that I don’t totally understand: Nor is it true, as Matt contends, that only an active state [...]

  • sinz54

    Joe Marier: It’s also wicked-sweet rhetoric that exposes progressive internal contradictions, too.
    Greenpeace has launched a kind of pre-emptive strike, when they announced that they’re opposed to nuclear fusion too.

    Even though controlled nuclear fusion is still in the research stage at this time.

    They didn’t wait to see if it produces far less radiation and radioactive waste (which most scientists agree would happen). They just said NO.

    Greenpeace: The environmentalists’ “party of NO.”

  • JJWFromME

    It’s also wicked-sweet rhetoric that exposes progressive internal contradictions, too.

    In other words, as people in the liberal blogosphere are fond of saying, “it p**ses off the liberals.”

    That’s a very strange basis for policy. Perverse, even. Saying, “Who cares if it makes sense, as long as it p**ses off the liberals.” Sometimes we get the impression that that’s actually a basis for conservative policy.

    Well, what if nuclear makes as little economic sense as flying to the sun to get energy?

    http://solveclimate.com/blog/20090918/nuclear-power-s-cost-competitiveness-remains-critical-question

    What should matter is if it’s cost effective, how wise it is to create more risk for nuclear terrorism (remember, conservatives, terrorism?) and how wise it is to create ongoing storage problems. If you’re an adult, these questions should come ahead of the very strange goal of “p**sing off the liberals.”

  • Oldskool

    “What’s strange about it? It’s pure cold economic rationality.”

    That’s why it’s strange. Did a huge war in Iraq make economic sense? Did huge unfunded tax cuts? An unfunded drug giveaway? Subcontracting out our armed forces so we have to pay 10 times as much?

    That something Republicans want makes economic sense is the exception rather than the rule. This excludes their rhetoric of course which is always thrown under the bus once they get into power.

  • joemarier

    Well, if you don’t like nuclear, there’s also natural gas turbines, carbon sequestration, hydro, or whatever. But, if you insist on solutions that make no economic sense whatsoever, we could always talk ethanol! Or we could just try and negotiate a better deal for red states on cap and trade; that would make no economic sense either.

  • JohnMcC

    The nuclear option is without a doubt the best choice for utility companies. Whereas wind turbines would require new wiring/delivery systems, nukes could be sited essentially wherever there are aging coal-fired plants (allowing for NIMBY problems). Photovoltaic and concentrated solar plants are still in development.

    For individuals dealing with their own energy situation, this is not so true. I could add 2 panels of Photovoltaic generators to my sailboat, pull the diesel and replace it with an easily purchased electric motor and live aboard essentially without a carbon footprint. (I would have to buy a bit of propane for the stove and a bit of Regular Gas for the dinghy motor; otherwise–no CO2 at all–unless one gets to the purists’ point of the carbon price of manufacturing and distributing those modifications.)

    Now, living on a sailboat ain’t for everyone. I live in a condo near the boat because I like A/C (the boat has shade and fans) and the MRS likes microwave and hairdryer conveniences which draw amazing amount of amps from the batteries. But it is only a matter of scaling up the application to make the condo almost as carbon neutral as the boat. The folks up in Gainesville FL have a deal where the local utility is required to buy electricity generated by homes on their grid at 150% of the price they sell it to that house. So the grid is available there when my boat would be depending on batteries.

    Nukes certainly have a part of the future. Charging up our future cars is one good reason to favor it. I moved to FL from Tennessee–and I can tell you that obtaining coal cheaply leaves a terrible mess. But the problems are not negligible; potential terrorism targets have not been mentioned here, for example. And proliferation is–after all–one reason the Bushies gave for Operation Iraqi Freedom, for another.

    I guess I’m saying that the changes energy transformation will make in the way we live are going to be deeper and wider that just what kind of place our electricity comes from. And I think that Nuke plants seem to some ‘conservatives’ like a way to keep everything the same except for that cooling tower in the distance. Won’t work. The future is going to be very much more different than that.

  • joemarier

    Oh, and does anyone think liberals are immune from the “touting technologies because they p*** off the other side” thing? Because nuclear technologies have accomplished a lot more than ESCR has, last I checked.

  • JJWFromME

    Well, even if we have to put up with some funny compromises (and I’m not saying that nuclear is *necessarily* a funny compromise, there could well be some technologies worth exploring there) this issue is serious enough that it’s worth making compromises to get to solving the problem. Let the best technologies win and solve the problem and I’ll be happy.

  • johnmarzan

    yes to nuclear power to reduce global warming!

  • sinz54

    John McC: But the problems [of nukes] are not negligible; potential terrorism targets have not been mentioned here, for example.
    That’s one reason I favor Obama’s proposed new energy grid.

    The nuke plants should be located far from any cities, perhaps in the remote mountains or desert. A superconducting grid can move that power anywhere it’s needed with virtually no lossage. And legislation should be devised that allows a utility company in one state to site its nukes in another (if that’s not possible now).

  • sinz54

    J W:
    The study you cited didn’t look at scalability.

    Nuclear is the ONLY source of energy that has been proven to scale up to the national needs of a nation as big and affluent as the United States. No one, NO ONE, has yet attempted to scale up solar panels to a nation the size of the U.S.

    I was an engineer for 25 years, and I can tell you that ideas that looked great as one-off prototypes often fell apart when you had to scale them up by two or three orders of magnitude.

    To get enough energy to power a nation like the United States, you would have to pave over thousands–perhaps tens of thousands–of square miles of fragile desert ecosystem with solar panels. All these enviromentalist freaks haven’t yet started protesting THAT–but they will.

    It makes no sense to pave over half the deserts in America with solar panels.

  • Celebrity Paycut - Encouraging celebrities all over the world to save us from global warming by taking a paycut.

    [...] I always thought it was conservatives who accused progressives of being driven by their heart and not their brain.  A painfully uninformed David Frum wades into the debate over nuclear power with a post headlined, “Conservatives Heart Nuke Power“: [...]

  • David Frum says “Conservatives Heart Nuke Power.” Too bad they don’t “brain” it. | Climate Vine

    [...] uninformed David Frum wades into the debate over nuclear power with a post headlined, “Conservatives Heart Nuke Power“: First Brad Plumer in the New Republic, then Matt Yglesias on his site have marveled at the [...]

  • balconesfault

    The nuke plants should be located far from any cities, perhaps in the remote mountains or desert.

    Ummm … about 2.5 litres of water are evaporated for each kilowatt-hour produced via nuclear energy.

  • BrentB

    I’d go for nuclear plants, but I’m not sure anyone really knows what they cost these days. What DO they cost? Are they cheaper than the alternatives?

    I’ve heard some prohibitive quotes from projects in other parts of the world — exceeding end-user rates of $0.25/kilowatt, more than the putative cost of solar projects, and imposing huge tariffs on utility customers — but I’m not sure what the price would be in the U.S.

  • The atomic headache. « E N V I R O G Y

    [...] Conservatives Heart Nuclear power – David Frum – Frum [...]

  • envirogy

    looking at the different sides of this blogument. Envirogy submits his two cents and suggests that maybe it ‘s not a republican or democrat thing. Maybe some industries as volatile and dangerous as nuclear need stringent government oversight.

  • The Baseload Myth | GPACE

    [...] plants these days are the ones where governments are making the decisions. David Frum replied with a series of wildly overbroad assertions ranging from false to highly misleading, with no evidence or links to support them. (Nuclear power [...]

  • The “Baseload” Myth | GPACE

    [...] plants these days are the ones where governments are making the decisions. David Frum replied with a series of wildly overbroad assertions ranging from false to highly misleading, with no evidence or links to support them. (Nuclear power [...]