A nuclear power headline this week deserves attention, and it is not about South Carolina’s nuclear debates. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report that was extremely favorable about nuclear energy: “New public policies are needed to properly value low-carbon energy and prevent the replacement of nuclear plants with large quantities of natural gas.”
Good. The emission-free nature of nuclear energy has been well understood within the energy industry and it is terrific for UCS to acknowledge it like this.
Here’s another way to look at nuclear energy, borrowing a concept used by Warren Buffet, and from investing icon Benjamin Graham: “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”
Price is not the same as value. The dollar measurement of nuclear assets on the books of a company do not reflect the value of non-carbon baseload power to us all.
Just our sense of it. Take a look. The UCS report said, “As of the end of 2017, 99 reactors at 60 power plants provided 20 percent of US electricity generation.” That is 60 plants = 20 percent of our generation. The smart employees running the plants and the civic engagement they create are freebies.
The UCS report notes other issues. “The primary reasons for these early closures are the economic challenges brought on by cheap natural gas, diminished demand for electricity, falling costs for renewable energy, rising operating costs, and safety and performance problems. The possibility that the nation will replace existing nuclear plants with natural gas and coal rather than low-carbon sources raises serious concerns about our ability to achieve the deep cuts in carbon emissions needed to limit the worst impacts of climate change.”
All of these deserve attention:
- Diversity of low and no-emission energy; balance
- Safety of all kinds of energy
We would add: Acknowledge and leverage new nuclear technologies. Now. Time is not on our side.
Of course, just by virtue of the report, remember it is useful – essential – to understand both the price and the value of all reliable, carbon-free power sources. Nuclear is one of them.