Sunday, March 29, 2009

More U.S. Nuclear Power on Deck?

As the U.S. government moves closer to some type of carbon management regime, one industry player -- nuclear power generators -- is very interested in the eventual outcome.  For example, J. Wayne Leonard, Chairman and CEO of Entergy Corp., the number two generator of nuclear power in the country, is fully in support of a cap and trade or tax on carbon emissions.

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview ("The Carbon Cap Dilemma," March 28, 2009), Mr. Leonard says that America sees itself "as a market economy, and that's created great wealth for society over time.  But we're a market economy that doesn't have price signals for carbon dioxide."  As such, Mr. Leonard supports the Obama Administration's goal of an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

The catch, and not surprisingly since this was published in the quintessential pro-business Wall Street Journal, of course is what to do with the waste generated by nuclear power plants.  Are there lessons that could be learned from France, where nearly 80 percent of electricity is generated from nuclear?  Perhaps so, but it's worth noting that in France the government largely owns and operates the nuclear plants while in the U.S. the private sector has taken on that role.  As a Frenchman once said, "We're comfortable with the nuclear industry since the government runs it and what benefit would the government possibly have from cutting corners.  In America, with your economic system, private businesses are constantly looking for ways to lower their costs and in some instances this means cutting safety-related corner."

Stay tuned. The role of nuclear in a carbon managed economy is only beginning to be debated.      

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