Nuclear Revivalism as Cult and Culture…and its Cure
[This morning on January 24, 2023, the science and security board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved their famous Doomsday Clock to read 90 seconds to midnight, 10 seconds closer than it’s ever been before. This essay examines some of the forces making this clock tick.]
Situational Awareness at Our Future’s Edge
“Madness is the exception in individuals, but the rule in groups.”– Friedrich Nietzsche
“You have to understand, the nuclear industry and the people that run it – and I say this advisedly – they have a religious belief in nuclear power. So facts don’t interfere. You know, religion is belief. They believe in nuclear power….” – S. David Freeman – 2011 – Former Director of the Tennessee Valley Authority
“A striking characteristic of leading figures throughout America’s Atomic Brotherhood is an almost religious devotion to atomic energy and all for which it stands. These men share a deep faith in the essential goodness and above all the historical inevitability of atomic energy.” – Mark Hertzgaard, Nuclear Inc., 1983
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together…. We must also be alert to the…danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell address. 1961
“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” – James Madison
The Age of Cognitive Dissonance
Worldwide data indicate that the commercial nuclear power industry has been in decline since at least the turn of the century. Construction schedule and budget overruns, combined with cheaper and faster deployment of wind and solar energy sources make the nuclear energy future look increasingly dim.
According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 425 active reactors worldwide, providing approximately 10% of the world’s electricity supply, about the same as three decades ago.
Once upon a time, amid breathless predictions of a “nuclear renaissance,” 34 new reactor projects were announced. Of those, only two in Georgia are expected to eventually come on-line, years behind schedule and at costs more than double the initial estimate.
Back in 2016, the Nuclear Energy Insider warned,
“Nuclear plant operators should start decommissioning activities of shutdown reactors as early as possible as the deferral of decontamination and dismantling (D&D) exposes operators to delay-related costs, investment risks and loss of crucial expertise as workers leave the industry, Geoffrey Rothwell, Principal Economist at the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, told Nuclear Energy Insider.”
The highest number of nuclear reactor closures happened in 2021, and, according to Reuters, a ‘Green Surge’ of renewable power sources is going on, far out-competing nuclear development on speed and costs.
In a 2019 Forbes article American physicist Amory Lovins wrote,
“Most U.S. nuclear power plants cost more to run than they earn. Globally, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019 documents the nuclear enterprise’s slow-motion commercial collapse—dying of an incurable attack of market forces. Yet in America, strong views are held across the political spectrum on whether nuclear power is essential, or merely helpful, in protecting the Earth’s climate—and both those views are wrong.
In fact, building new reactors, or operating most existing ones, makes climate change worse compared with spending the same money on more-climate-effective ways to deliver the same energy services. Those who state as fact that rejecting (more precisely, declining to bail out) nuclear energy would make carbon reduction much harder are in good company, but are mistaken.”