I do agree that more nuclear power is probably a good idea and that there probably should be a very serious look at and overhaul of the regulations for nuclear energy. Other countries have been using nuclear power safely for decades. One problem with increasing nuclear power in the U.S. are the hysterical environmentalists who ironically want to cut CO2 emissions, but at the same time don't want to switch to nuclear power which emits no CO2. Another problem, which is derived in part from the previous problem, is the exorbitant costs due to the regulations on nuclear power. So while this would be a good direction to go in, I doubt that we will go in that direction.
While I understand where Steve is coming from (before I came to work in the nuclear energy industry I shared many of the same misconceptions), I have some additional information that sheds some more light on the argument. First up, the environmental movement isn't quite so monolithic in its opposition to nuclear energy any longer. Over the past two months we've introduced our readers to figures like James Lovelock, Hugh Montefiore, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore and most recently, countercultural icon Stewart Brand -- all environmentalists who have endorsed the expansion of nuclear energy because it emits no greenhouse gases.
Granted there is still opposition inside the activist community, but there are clear indications that the public pronouncements of these figures are beginning to have an effect -- one that was most recently seen over at environmental pub, Grist.
Then again, when the activists decide to come out and play, nuclear supporters are proving to be more than ready for them.
As to his concerns about regulation, the NRC has made a commitment to the concept of performance based and safety-focused regulation, something that NEI CEO Skip Bowman made a point of mentioning earlier this year in his luncheon speech at the NRC's 2005 Regulatory Information Conference:
In short, reactor safety, security and emergency planning should work synergistically, in a conservative, but realistic way, to protect public health and safety regardless of whether challenges to plant safety are operational, acts of God, or acts of terrorists.
In the past, pure deterministic regulatory approaches led, in some cases, to gross over design in the zeal to build in unrealistic margins to protect against unrealistic events. This new concept, introduced only a few years ago, calls for application of realistic engineering, physics and experience centered on safety.
The NRC took the first step in this direction when it transformed the reactor oversight process to common sense, objective criteria that are focused on those systems and components that are most important to safety.
First thought to be unworkable, the safety-focused reactor oversight process demonstrates that this concept can work and bring practical discipline and rigor to the process.
And when it comes to the possibility of building new plants, 16 companies are working through three consortia to demonstrate the combined operating license process. Then there's the three companies nearing a decision from the NRC regarding early site permits.
Safe to say, there's plenty of reasons for optimism in the nuclear energy business today.
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