Nuclear Power's Last Hope: Climate Change

Climate change is the one phenomenon that could overcome public opposition and economic obstacles to nuclear power, a former director of Argonne National Laboratory said Friday.
"In principle I don't think there's a real obstacle to" building a new fleet of reactors, said Robert Rosner, a theoretical physicist who directed Argonne from 2005-09 and founded its Advanced Reactor Technologies program. "The obstacle—because there's money and risk—is the will, and the will isn't there.
"The only thing that could sway it the other way is… at some point it’s going to penetrate to people that climate change actually is occurring, and there is something going on, and it’s going to be very costly to fix. In some cases it will be impossible to fix."
Rosner cited a 2015 New Yorker article that describes South Florida's plight: the land rests on porous limestone that invites the rising sea in from below, undeterred by dams or levees.
"Southern Florida on the long term is basically a goner," said Rosner, a founding director of the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, which sponsored his talk. "No one has a clue how to fix it. So at some point the impetus will be there, people will realize actually yeah it's worth the investment. But we're not there yet, certainly not in the United States."
Rosner spent most of his 90-minute talk detailing the practical obstacles to nuclear, many of which have been detailed on this page before:
The U.S. lacks a pool of labor skilled in building nuclear plants. Laborers are being trained at four reactors under construction in the American South now, but there are no new projects planned to keep those skills relevant.
There's nowhere to put the waste, though Rosner predicted the Yucca Mountain depository will be revived by the retirement of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and the ascendancy of Donald Trump.
Nuclear power exacerbates the threat of nuclear proliferation and is itself vulnerable to terror attack.
Utilities find it difficult to get loans to build new plants because of the likelihood of construction delays, cost overruns, and the possibility that a new plant may never generate enough revenue to pay back the loan.
Public opposition to nuclear power is strong, and public trust in the nuclear industry is low.
But Rosner argued these odds could be overcome by a public willing to pay the cost. To replace fossil fuels by 2050, the world would have to build 380 reactors per year—a staggering number but not, he said, an implausible one.
"None of these numbers are implausible," Rosner said. "The question is whether or not people are willing to put up the money. The answer in the United States right now is no."

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