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Emotions can get best of us in downplaying nuclear power’s risks

Steel and concrete containers used for dry storage of spent fuel at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Sequoyah nuclear plant near Chattanooga, Tenn., were shown to the media during a 2012 tour.Bill Poovey/Associated Press

In his argument for nuclear power, “It’s time to see nuclear power in a different light” (Ideas, April 24), Jeff Howe misses on two important points. First, he downplays the long-term political risks of the nuclear fuel cycle. Each step of the fuel cycle is fraught — from centrifuges that concentrate fuel that can also be used for bomb-making (think: Iran), to extremely toxic spent fuel, which hangs over humanity with hundred-year half-lives demanding stable and continuous management and political regimes (think: Chernobyl).

Second, Howe ignores the ongoing investment in energy storage that will enable safe, clean solar and wind energy to deliver baseload power less expensively than nuclear. This investment probably would follow a similar learning curve to that of solar panels, whose price over the last 10 years dropped nearly 90 percent, resulting in solar often now being the least expensive form of new electricity generation.


Early proponents of nuclear power claimed that the technology would be “too cheap to meter,” an emotional boast that turned out to be untrue. Howe follows the same worrisome tradition of emotional argument in downplaying nuclear power’s risks and ignoring the upside of new energy storage technologies.

William Osborn


The author is a retired venture capital investor in the clean energy sector who managed the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund.