Back to the Future?
Fort Belvoir Virginia located just down the Potomac River from Washington DC was the location of the first nuclear plant producing electricity that was sent to the grid. One year later in 1958 Dwight Eisenhower opened the first commercial scale nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. Scotland’s Calder Hall power plant was the first commercial scale nuclear plant worldwide, it opened in 1954.
Power companies in the U.S. kept building nuclear plants up until the mid 1980’s when higher interest rates torpedoed the economics and not much building has gone on until we, in Georgia, decided to keep pushing for the completion of 2 new Vogel Plants. One of which just opened.
It’s crazy how politics and nuclear energy have been intertwined over the years. The Three mile island accident was a big deal when I came along. Jane Fonda and the movie industry got a hit movie from it. When it was all over no real long-term damage to the environment occurred. Chernobyl was bad, really bad; you still can’t go near there. The Russian’s thought it was just fine to not bother with a containment dome over the plant genius. Then came the Japanese, who for good reason, were paranoid about nuclear fallout and radiation. Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Maybe because of that they had a real bad case of, Not in My Back Yard, syndrome. They built Fushimi’s power plant right next to the ocean, a long way away from Tokyo. They forgot Tsunamis and earthquakes are an issue over there. After all, Tsunami is a Japanese name. Fushimi’s Tsunami was an epic disaster. I still have that image of ocean water pushed up bay and the river just devouring everything. They also did not have pumps and power to the pumps much above sea level. You have to keep the nuclear fuel cool and be able to slow down the reaction. The consequences of these disasters were terrible and humane costs have no dollar value you can attach to it.
Despite these accidents, Nuclear Power over the long haul has proven itself to be safer by far than Coal power generation. Nuclear Power has taken the place mainly of Coal generation. Mining, transporting, processing, and finally burning the coal has multiple points of humane costs. Whether it’s a mining accident, train derailment, lakes of sludge, bad lungs, the list goes on. Nothing good other than having electricity comes from it.
That brings us back to today and Climate change policy. You see, using nuclear power to produce electricity puts minimal to no CO2 into the air. Nations around the globe are just now recognizing that to reduce CO2 emissions in electrical generation, Nuclear must be a bigger part of the power generation mix. Solar helps, but the sun is not out all the time. Wind, well it does not blow all the time. Hydro works great, but we only have so much water.
Our need for electricity is only going to go up. Efficiency helps, but it only goes so far. Our high-tech needs have created a new way to use vast amounts of electricity. AI and everything internet need more and more data centers to keep things rolling. Data centers are power hogs, using up to 50 times the electricity of the typical office building per square foot. It’s hotter, we will need more air conditioning.
President Biden along with 27 other countries just signed an agreement to triple nuclear power production worldwide by 2050. That’s not that far away. Building Nuclear power plants needs to come down in price to reach that goal. The only way to bring prices down is to assembly line most of the process. Companies have kicked around this idea for years now and so far, it’s been a real dead end. Rate payers just don’t want to pay for their grandkids’ power plants.
Right here in Georgia, Plant Vogel has been an economic boom. Unfortunately, unless someone else steps up, all that reinventing we just went through to get it built will just wither away. We’ll see if reducing CO2 in the environment will get enough political juice to keep nuclear power generation growing.
Thanks, Andy McClung CFP®
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