Gov. Charlie Crist’s inclusion of nuclear power as a clean alternative to fossil fuels during Thursday’s introductory speech to the global warming summit in Miami has many environmentalists concerned, with good reason: Such power may well be more trouble than it’s worth.
As reported in the Herald-Tribune, a requirement that 20 percent of energy supplied by utilities in the state come from renewable sources is among the executive orders signed by Crist at the summit. “Renewable” typically refers to solar and wind power, not nuclear. Though the word nuclear does not appear in the documents, Crist did say of nuclear power that, “I think it’s just as important. It’s clean, it produces a lot of juice.”
While the second half of that statement is certainly accurate, the first is only theoretically so. Nuclear power plants do produce waste, the disposal of which is problematic. Most of the nuclear waste in this country is stored in the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada, but the available space is not infinite.
Reprocessing is a possibility being considered by the Florida Energy Commission, according to an Associated Press report, but reprocessing was ended in the 1970s because it produced plutonium that is nearer to weapons grade. Even if this were not the case, such a move only reduces the waste, rather than eliminating it.
Waste disposal, though, is not the only issue facing nuclear power. Nuclear power plants are prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to build. The last such plant built in the United States opened in 1996 in Tennessee after 22 years of construction and cost a whopping $7 billion.
In comparison, outfitting a typical home to process solar power costs approximately $30,000, according to a Reuters report. Many states offer incentives to ease this purchase price, reimbursing installers up to half that amount. Should the aforementioned $7 billion be allotted to this cause, it would support nearly 500,000 installations. Of course, even more installations could be supported if that $7 billion figure were adjusted for 11 years of inflation.
Supporters of nuclear energy argue that wind and solar power are impractical in Florida because of its frequent hurricanes. This is a valid point: Damage to wind and solar power sources could prove expensive. On the other hand, damage to a nuclear plant could result in a situation far more devastating than a mere monetary loss.
Nuclear power is a tempting answer to the global warming crisis we face. In the end, though, the price – fiscally and otherwise – is simply too high.