mark hertsgaard

Independent Journalist & Author


Blair’s Nuclear Dream

(Host intro) Energy security will also be on the G-8 agenda this weekend. Russian
President Putin and George Bush have urged endorsement of nuclear power.
Earlier this week, Britain‘s Tony Blair also came out for nuclear. But
commentator Mark Hertsgaard says there‘s a big catch in Blair‘s nuclear plan,
one that could settle the question of whether nuclear makes sense as a
response to global warming. …


(Mark Hertsgaard) … The catch is that Britain will not subsidize nuclear power.
Private investors alone must pay to build and eventually dismantle any new
nuclear plants. They also must help pay to dispose of radioactive waste.

This no-subsidy pledge amounts to a revolution in nuclear economics. Not one
of the 440 nuclear plants now operating worldwide was built without sizable
public subsidies. Governments have subsidized nukes both
directly—through R&D
funding and cheap insurance—and indirectly, by allowing electric companies to
pass billion dollar cost overruns onto consumers. The US government has
historically spent ten times more on nuclear subsidies than it has for solar,
wind and other renewable energy sources.

Nevertheless, nuclear power remains forbiddingly expensive. A recent MIT
study calculated that in the U.S. nuclear costs fifty percent more per
kilowatt hour than natural gas. And nuclear costs vastly more than the least
polluting form of electricity, energy efficiency.

Investors know this. That‘s why nuclear power survives today only in countries
like Russia, China and France, where state-controlled electricity systems can
ignore market forces.

If G8 leaders want to honor last year‘s pledge to fight climate change, they
need to understand that going nuclear would actually make things worse.

Because nuclear power is so expensive, it delivers seven times fewer
greenhouse reductions per dollar invested than boosting energy efficiency
does. Some say, why not have both? But in the real world, capital is scarce.
To divert it to nuclear power when efficiency can work so much faster would
delay our transition to a low-carbon economy when in fact we need to
accelerate it.

It‘s hard to believe Blair doesn‘t know this. In any case, he‘s in for a big
surprise if he truly expects any nuclear plants will be built anywhere,
without continued subsidies from the public purse.

Mark Hertsgaard is the environmental correspondent for The
Nation. His article on global warming, While
Washington Slept
appeared in Vanity Fair’s May 2006 “green issue”.



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About Mark

Independent journalist Mark Hertsgaard is the author of seven books that have been translated into sixteen languages, including Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden; HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth; and A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles. He has reported from twenty-five countries about politics, culture and the environment for leading outlets, including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Time, Mother Jones, NPR, the BBC and The Nation, where is the environment correspondent. He lives in San Francisco.