The Mae West of energy sources

The New Yorker has a good article on nuclear power, which discusses the imminent shutdown of a nuclear power plant in California that produces 9% of their electricity, with zero carbon emissions:

Today, the looming disruptions of climate change have altered the risk calculus around nuclear energy. James Hansen, the nasa scientist credited with first bringing global warming to public attention, in 1988, has long advocated a vast expansion of nuclear power to replace fossil fuels. Even some environmental groups that have reservations about nuclear energy, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, have recognized that abruptly closing existing reactors would lead to a spike in emissions. But U.S. plants are aging and grappling with a variety of challenges. In recent years, their economic viability has been threatened by cheap, fracked natural gas. Safety regulations introduced after the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, in 2011, have increased costs, and, in states such as California, legislation prioritizes renewables (the costs of which have also fallen steeply). Since 2013, eleven American reactors have been retired; the lost electricity has largely been replaced through the burning of fossil fuels. At least eight more closures, including Diablo Canyon’s, are planned. In a 2018 report, the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that “closing the at-risk plants early could result in a cumulative 4 to 6 percent increase in US power sector carbon emissions by 2035.”

I’ve always found it to be ironic that environmentalists are often the ones that protest against nuclear power, given how good it is for the environment.  It would almost be like community housing advocates opposing new housing construction.  (Oh wait . . . )  Or public health experts opposing first-dose-first.

Some point to the risks of a catastrophic accident, such as occurred at Chernobyl.  In fact, while nuclear power is very good for the environment when working safely, it’s even better for the environment when there is a major disaster.  Chernobyl created a vast nature reserve in northern Ukraine, full of wild animals that have disappeared from much of Europe.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should be building more nuclear power plants—there may be sound economic or safety reasons for not doing so.  But we should not move away from nuclear for “environmental” reasons, as this energy source is extremely good for the environment.  And it seems rather foolish to shut down clean energy power plants that have operated safely for decades, and where the high construction costs have already been incurred.

PS.  The post title is a reference to one of the greatest actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age:

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Private versus Government

In his textbook Public Finance, 7th edition, 2005, Princeton University emeritus professor of economics Harvey S. Rosen, discussing the idea that incentives to monitor are better in the private sector than in government, quotes Adam Smith’s statement to that effect in The Wealth of Nations. He also gives a famous modern example. Rosen writes:

Anecdotal evidence for this viewpoint abounds. One celebrated case involved New York City, which spent $12 million attempting to rebuild the ice-skating rink in Central Park between 1980 and 1986. [DRH note: think about that–that’s 6 years.] The main problem was that the contractors were trying to use a new technology for making Iceland it did not work. In 1986, after spending $200,000 on a study to find out what went wrong, city officials learned they would have to start all over. In June 1986, real estate developer Donald J. Trump offered to take over the project and have it completed by December of that year for about $2.5 million. Trump finished the rink three weeks ahead of schedule and $750,000 under projected cost.

I remembered this passage when I was preparing for a Zoom interview on Monday with a high school senior in Arizona. He asked good questions and I gave him this example and a number of others.

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Potential yet still thwarted Filipino nurse vaccine barter markets in everything?

The Philippines will let thousands of its health care workers, mostly nurses, take up jobs in Britain and Germany if the two countries agree to donate coronavirus vaccines, a senior official said on Tuesday. Britain’s health ministry said it was not interested in such a deal and its priority was to use shots domestically, but added it […]

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