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Robert J. Shapiro
Chairman, U.S. Climate Task Force

Robert J. Shapiro

Robert Shapiro, Under Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration, is chairman of the U.S. Climate Task Force and Sonecon, an economic advisory group. ALL POSTS

A policy-in-waiting for a serious climate-change program

Q: Are Obama's proposed $36 billion loan guarantees for nuclear plants a smart option?

The administration's budget proposal to double current loan guarantees for nuclear plants directly reflects the impact of the climate debate on progressives' views on nuclear power. Once the bane of environmentalists, nuclear power is now seen as not only a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels, but as a relatively low-cost one at that.

As such, expanded use of nuclear power is fast becoming a critical element in progressive strategies to fashion a response to climate change that will be acceptable economically to moderate and middle-income Americans. It also helps that nuclear power has established a reassuring safety record since the days of Three Mile Island and the "China Syndrome" -- that is, apart from the distinctively Soviet approach of building a nuclear power plant (at Chernobyl) without containment structures for the nuclear core.

But the President's proposal will remain a policy-in-waiting, since nuclear power will be truly cost-competitive only when a hefty carbon-based tax or strict cap-and-trade program increases substantially the price of more conventional and carbon-intensive fuels.

By Robert J. Shapiro  |  February 11, 2010; 10:49 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Smart option - or smart gesture? | Next: Let competition choose energy sources


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China is building a coal plant or two every week, and our projections of future demand show we will need to add a GigaWatt a week or so from now to 2050 to meet that demand. This will require all the conservation, solar, wind, nuclear and every other source of energy we can supply, w/o even tackling climate change.

Meeting demand for that much growth, plus tackling climate will require phasing coal out completely. That will make nuclear even more essential than many people yet realize. Throw in answering the question as to where all that electricity for electric cars, hydrogen production or fast rail trains is going to come from, and you see there is no competition here. It is going to take it all the greenest sources. Solar, wind, and nuclear, not just one or the other.

Posted by: fabco | February 15, 2010 2:23 PM
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The basis for the statement, "nuclear power will be truly cost-competitive only when a hefty carbon-based tax or strict cap-and-trade program increases substantially the price of more conventional and carbon-intensive fuels", is none existent.

What needs to be emphasized and bring to the attention of the public is the real motivation behind the Global Warming support of the Obama Administration.

And as we speak, a blogger has just broken the latest of the Climategate from England. They make a clear point of Obama's irrational push for climate legislation in America, which doesn't after all seem so irrational, but not for the reasons that most people imagine.

The piece has just been posted at

Obama’s motivation is rather unsavory.

Posted by: JohnGalt9 | February 14, 2010 3:23 PM
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Helen Caldicott's "Nuclear Power is Not the Answer" is a critique of today's antique model T uranium burners.

When will we start thinking outside the box? There are other types of reactor designs here people. Burning Uranium always leads to Plutonium which always leads to problems.

There is another fuel cycle besides uranium/plutonium here people.

It is called the Thorium cycle.

More information can be found here:
And here: see the archives

Posted by: fabco | February 14, 2010 10:19 AM
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It is disappointing to have to prove this all over again. Helen Caldicott's excellent "Nuclear Power is Not the Answer" provides all the evidence and science one needs to understand why nuclear is a false hope. Overlooked, for example, is the fact that there would not be enough raw material uranium in the world to sustain nuclear power over the long term. Reprocessing unlocks even worse possibilities. And in the end, you only get one one mistake in this game - a catastrophic accident or a terrorist attack far outweighs any benefits.

Posted by: lilith1 | February 14, 2010 1:56 AM
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Although I totally agree that nuclear is the most efficient way to produce electric power in the near future, I suspect that Obama's proposal for massive loan guarantees for it are driven by the huge campaign contributions made by Excelon and its executives who have spent a lot of time in the White House. WIth all the profits to be made, we do not really need government loan guarantees to build nuclear plants.
As for the danger, remember that a long half life means low amounts of radiation.

Posted by: tenshi1 | February 13, 2010 9:17 AM
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