Saturday, May 19, 2007

Nuclear Investment

This is a summary of an article by Charles D. Ferguson on the viability of offsetting energy resources that have carbon emissions with Nuclear power. He comes to a few obvious conclusions, such as this won't be a near term fix, but he does go into some interesting points throughout the paper.
Nuclear energy is unlikely to play a major role in the coming decades in countering the harmful effects of climate change or in strengthening energy security, concludes a new Council Special Report authored by Charles D. Ferguson, Council fellow for science and technology.

To significantly combat climate change in the near term, the “nuclear industry would have to expand at such a rapid rate as to pose serious concerns for how the industry would ensure an adequate supply of reasonably inexpensive reactor-grade construction materials, well-trained technicians, and rigorous safety and security measures,” says the report.

The recommendations he speaks to are summarized as:
Among the recommendations:
  • “The United States should impose a fee on greenhouse gas emissions to leverage market forces in order to counter global warming.”
  • “Industry should devote adequate resources to cover safety and security costs.”
  • “To complement the safety assessments done by the World Association of Nuclear Operators, the nuclear industry in all advanced countries should set up a fund that would support developing best regulatory practices for both safety and security in all countries that use or want to use nuclear power.”
  • “To further improve security, the nuclear industry should transfer as much spent fuel as possible into dry storage casks that are hardened against attack while the United States moves forward with development of a permanent nuclear waste repository.”

Internationally, “the United States should work with partner governments to develop and implement rules that would apply equally to all countries and, thus, would move toward a less discriminatory nonproliferation system.” Such rules could include:

  • “Requiring any country in noncompliance with safeguards commitments to suspend suspect activities until the problem is resolved.”
  • “Encouraging any country seeking a nuclear fuel facility to consider the economic soundness of this activity before building the facility. An economic test would be whether the proposed nuclear project could secure financing by private capital.”
  • “Urging any country wanting to develop nuclear power programs to factor in all environmental, safety, and security costs as compared to other energy sources; to support these assessments, the IAEA and the International Energy Agency could work together to provide comprehensive energy analysis for any country, including all costs for each energy source.”
  • “Offering assured access to nuclear fuel based on competitive market prices as long as a country meets rigorous safeguards criteria and can secure private financial support for its civilian nuclear program.”
The topic of carbon taxes I find the most interesting topic. Mainly because it is a way for politicians to get involved in the problem, and completely screw it up.

The use of taxes for any activity that has been seen as needing control or elimination has typically gone into a spiral of tax increases and the use of those tax dollars for projects unrelated to the problem. Cigarettes are the perfect example. Federal and State taxes generally start out being designated for fixing the problem and end up with being a cash cow with the taxes diverted. I can't see there being any difference with this topic.

The tax question could be addressed by disciplined legislation, but I find that almost funny in that I've yet to see any legislation that is disciplined, especially when it comes to taxing and spending. If a system could be implemented that taxed the high-carbon energy sources and used those funds to subsidize low or no-carbon sources, focusing on development of ever cleaner sources, it would encourage a shift in behavior.

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