A concerned capitalist's nuclear argument: Real progress was made in Paris over the last two weeks. But optimism must be tempered by these realities: (1) the worldwide political process has rarely imposed short-term costs to produce long-term benefits, and it’s not clear they did so this time; (2) there is still no enforceable regulatory mechanism to ensure compliance at any level; (3) reliance on renewable energy alone will not reduce atmospheric carbon levels quickly enough; and (4) strategies that limit energy use in developing countries will slow the economic growth their people desperately need.
Economics, not politics, is the best hope for CO2 reduction. When energy production from low/no carbon sources costs less than fossil fuel energy, Mr. Market will drive substitution quickly.
But because current fossil fuel prices don’t reflect their true planetary costs, they inhibit investment in green-energy production and technology. A significant carbon fee, levied by the major industrialized nations and imposed on their imports, would make green energy more cost competitive with fossil fuels, but neither the United States nor India seems likely to impose one soon.
Until major improvements in storage technology can manage solar and wind power’s intermittent production, only advanced nuclear power can effectively supply base-load no-carbon electricity. While additional research is needed to reduce investment costs, we do know that both uranium and thorium advanced reactors could ultimately produce virtually unlimited carbon-free electrical energy at a competitive price.
The United States is ceding nuclear technology leadership to China and India, despite its potential benefits for our economy, our export markets – and for climate change. Let's change our nuclear technology trajectory immediately.