Arms Control Today May 2007Printer Friendly
Risks and Realities: The â€œNew Nuclear Energy Revivalâ€
* A Short History of Nuclear Power in the United States
The headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sits in the suburbs of Vienna, in the northeast corner of a country that has outlawed nuclear power plants since 1978. The irony of this situation masks deeper divisions in the nuclear energy debate, which recent assertions of a nuclear renaissance have papered over.
Concern about greenhouse gas emissions and energy security combined with forecasts of strong growth in electricity demand has awakened dormant interest in nuclear energy. Yet, the industry has not yet fully addressed the issues that have kept global nuclear energy capacity roughly the same for the last two decades. Although nuclear safety has improved significantly, nuclear energyâ€™s inherent vulnerabilities regarding waste disposal, economic competitiveness, and proliferation remain. Moreover, nuclear security concerns have increased since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Nuclear energyâ€™s revival depends strongly on public sector support and financial backing. Even if it were true that nuclear energy emits no carbon dioxide, that it is renewable, and that it will provide energy independenceâ€”all selling points made by President George W. Bushâ€”the fact would remain that nuclear energy is more expensive than alternative sources of electricity.