A Conversation with Experts: The Best Way Forward on Nuclear Power

This week, The Wall Street Journal posed a very important question to the nuclear power industry’s thought leaders: What is the best way forward? The question stemmed from a recent article discussing what the United States should do with nuclear waste as it pursues nuclear energy opportunities. Below are some thoughts from these experts:

  • Robert Rapier, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President at Merica International — a forestry and renewable energy company — believes that public safety and nuclear waste are two important issues that must be addressed in order for nuclear power to gain traction. In order to address safety, new nuclear plants must be designed to be fail-safe and should utilize existing technology to reprocess the waste into additional nuclear fuel on-site.
  • Iván Martén, the global leader of Boston Consulting Group’s energy practice, highlights that nuclear power is a key part of the United States’ energy combination, but it is currently under an incredible amount of economic pressure. In order to relieve some of this pressure, the country must implement regulations that reward the environmental benefits of nuclear power and take a rational approach to safety regulations that allow for cost-effective compliance.
  • Jerry Taylor, senior fellow and energy expert at the CATO Institute, questions the current economic viability of nuclear power. He said nuclear power is the most expensive source of electricity on the U.S. grid and there are plenty of cheap, new power options, including natural gas.
  • Todd Myers, environmental director at the Washington Policy Center, explains that current legal and permitting challenges make small-scale nuclear the most viable approach. TerraPower is developing a small nuclear reactor powered by existing waste, which could prove to be both cost effective and able to overcome the legal hurdles to constructing new reactors.
  • Michael Levi is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment and director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations. He promotes putting a price on carbon emissions to improve the future of the nuclear energy industry. The expense of nuclear power is exacerbated by cheap, prevalent coal and gas. In addition, streamlining regulatory approvals would reduce overall capital costs of nuclear power up front.
  • Closing existing nuclear plants without a viable plan to replace them is not the answer, according to Mark Thurber, associate director of Stanford University’s program on energy and sustainable development. Where safety and reliability are concerned, nuclear operators may be able to draw lessons from the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), an intra-industry body that was formed in the United States in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident. INPO has achieved dramatic improvements in safety practices by allowing U.S. operators to review each other in a non-public forum.
  • Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy policy at the Heritage Foundation, suggests that the United States ease the nuclear permitting process in order to build the one reactor per year required to meet the 30 percent increase in electricity demand projected for 2040. To address the issue of nuclear waste, Cohen recommends a five-pronged approach: complete the Yucca Mountain Permit Review; develop a permanent nuclear waste repository; engage waste producers and market forces in disposal; create a connection between price and waste disposal; and allow competition in nuclear waste management.
  • The way forward on nuclear is through China, according to Jeffrey Ball, scholar-in-residence at Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance and former environment editor for The Wall Street Journal. While other industrialized countries are phasing out or stalling their nuclear programs, China is forging ahead. The International Energy Agency projects that 10 percent of China’s electricity will come from the country’s nuclear plants. In 2010, only two percent was generated from nuclear sources.