Next-generation nuclear technologies represent one of humanity’s best hopes for developing sustainably over the coming decades, but thus far they’re having a difficult time getting out of the gate. Bloomberg reports:
So-called generation III+ reactors were supposed to have simpler designs and safety features to avoid the kind of disaster seen in Japan almost six years ago. With their development, the industry heralded the dawn of a new era of cheaper, easier-to-build atomic plants.
Instead, the new reactors are running afoul of tighter regulations and unfamiliar designs, delaying completions and raising questions on whether the breakthroughs are too complex and expensive to be realized without state aid. The developments have left the industry’s pioneers, including Areva SA and Westinghouse Electric Co., struggling to complete long-delayed projects while construction elsewhere gains pace.
There’s a lot to look forward to when it comes to further progress in nuclear power. Deep-pocketed investors, chief amongst them Bill Gates, are backing exciting new reactor technologies like molten salt, thorium, or modular reactors. Nuclear power needs to be the cornerstone of any future low-emissions energy mix. And yet even the latest generation, available now, is mired in a regulatory morass.
One of the biggest problems new nuclear faces comes from a “societal risk aversion to nuclear causing ultra-restrictive regulatory requirements,” according to former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission official Lake Barrett. That’s a major issue, and it’s one for which modern environmentalism shoulders much of the blame. The environmental movement was partly born out of a deep fear of nuclear technologies, but that emotional rejection of nuclear power is looking increasingly farcical as greens focus more and more of their attention on averting climate change. After all, nuclear reactors are one of the only sources of zero-emissions baseload power. The fact that this next generation of nuclear power is faltering because of a skeptical public—a public that has been swayed by decades of green fear mongering—is sadly ironic.
Maybe the Trump Administration will take note of the regulatory gridlock and help move things along. It would be a smart way to help save the planet.