Is the Nuclear Renaissance Fizzling?

MAY 29, 2009, 8:08 AM
New York Times

Nuclear power may be making a comeback, but long-standing problems with the technology still could lead to canceled orders and renewed public opposition.
One problem is what to do with the highly dangerous waste produced by reactors. Currently waste is stored above ground in pools of water or in vast dry casks, but neither of those methods is regarded as adequate over the long term.
Finland may be the first country to use a different method: burying the waste deep underground in clay and stable rock. You can see some images from the proposed Finnish site, Onkalo, in a slide show that I have narrated as part of a broader look at the challenges facing the industry in Friday's New York Times.
Another recurring problem is the high up-front price tag of nuclear technology compared with other sources of energy. Utilities were already canceling nuclear power plants before the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. The reason? Huge cost overruns.
Governments are now putting low-carbon technologies like nuclear power back on the agenda. But nuclear's difficult history with financing could be repeating itself, as the first two reactors that were meant to lead a comeback have been delayed and are running over-budget.
And even if stars do align for nuclear, it still could take some time for it to play a significant role in lowering greenhouse gas levels, according to Paul L. Joskow, a professor or economics and management at M.I.T. and the president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic organization supporting science and technology.
In 2003, Mr. Joskow co-wrote an influential report on the future of nuclear power.
"If nuclear is going to be a large wedge in the overall portfolio of technologies cutting greenhouse gases, then it's going to be a post-2025 wedge," Mr. Joskow said in a telephone interview last week. "In the near term, we are going to be using more energy efficiency measures, renewable sources and even cleaner burning natural gas to meet our climate goals," he said.