Saturday, December 10, 2011

Just What the Struggling California Economy Needs, A Proposal to Shut Down Its Nukes

A California ballot initiative proposed for next fall would force California's two nuclear power plants to shut down immediately.  The initiative was approved for signature-gathering in mid November.  If supporters can collect 504,760 signatures by April 16, it will qualify for the November 2012 ballot. 

It will be interesting to monitor how much support this initiative obtains.  
The Nuclear Waste Act of 2012 would prohibit nuclear power generation in California.  The fact that California's two nuclear plants generate 16% of the state's electricity would probably doom this sort of initiative in most other states, but with California, one never knows.

The irony of shutting down nuclear plants and efforts to reduce carbon emissions is that their primary impact is to shift energy intensive manufacturing to Asia.  Thus, European cap and trade laws end up being a job killing tax on the economy without producing much a benefit in terms of reducing global carbon emissions.  In the case of shutting down nuclear plants in Germany and Japan, the lost electricity is being replaced by burning fossil fuels.  Thus, potentially dangerous nuclear power generation is being replaced by sources that positively contribute to air pollution and cost more to produce.

While it is easy to poke fun at California's tendency to veer to the looney left, America's backward policy on nuclear energy is leaving us behind in the race to develop breakthrough technologies.  Current nuclear power plants are are  based on 1950's designs that were considered advantageous because they generate weaponizable plutonium.  Development of new nuclear technologies that are safer and generate less waste are stymied in the U.S. due to licensing issues.

Bill Gates potential investment of up to a billion dollars in modern nuclear technology will go to China, India, Russia, or South Africa due to the U.S. having its head buried in the ground in regard to advanced technologies for generating electricity via nuclear.  Fourth generation nuclear technology could be the most important new technology of this decade, and the U.S. is missing out on an opportunity to get in on the ground floor. 

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