I thought Time magazine was extinct, but no, they're still around, and apparently, worth something. Michael Grunwald:
Since 2008, proposed reactors have been quietly scrapped or suspended in at least nine states — not by safety concerns or hippie sit-ins but by financial realities. Other projects have been delayed as cost estimates have tripled toward $10 billion a reactor, and ratings agencies have downgraded utilities with atomic ambitions. Nuclear Energy Institute vice president Richard Myers notes that the "unrealistic" renaissance hype has come from the industry's friends, not the industry itself. "Even before this happened, short-term market conditions were bleak," he tells TIME.
Around the world, governments (led by China, with Russia a distant second) are financing 65 new reactors through more explicit nuclear socialism. But private capital still considers atomic energy radioactive, gravitating instead toward natural gas and renewables, whose costs are dropping fast. Nuclear power is expanding only in places where taxpayers and ratepayers can be compelled to foot the bill.
Okay, so why is nuclear socialism so popular, particularly with Republican free market fundamentalist radical libertarians who think Barack Obama (who also happens to just love nuclear power) is a Communist?
Of course, Obama is great buddies with the CEO of General Electric. I'm sure the Nuclear Energy Institute has some money to spend on bribing politicians, but I doubt they're a major player on K Street. There's something more primal about this, I think. Back in the day, it was cannabis-saturated hippies, not Wall Street investment bankers, who were emblematic of the anti-nuclear movement, and I think the resonance of past culture wars is still with us. Nuclear power also has a kind of machismo, a testosterone scent of technical hubris. But above all, it offers a tempting escape from harder choices that we need to make.
Many have argued that a renewable energy regime will be less centralized and more democratic -- you can own your own solar panels, conservation can put money in your own little pocket, mass transit is a great equalizer, and other arguments along similar lines. Nuclear power is the most capital intensive technology imaginable, and it can only exist within a pervasive security state. Some people actually like that, on purely aesthetic grounds.
The alternatives also require investment, but a a different kind of investment, to be sure. The research and development will be expensive, but the dissemination of renewable energy and conservation technology can happen in small packages -- as I say, you may be able to buy your own -- while the expensive packages, such as mass transit, represent universally accessible public goods. And it's a benefit to live near a train station. Yes in my back yard, please!
Why we can't just do this is incomprehensible.