From my perspective, it is important to note there are two types of nuclear energy. One is fission, the type that has led to the atomic bomb and creates radioactive waste. The other is fusion, the type that powers the sun which does not have the same issues with waste but is incredibly complex and requires inconceivable heat to work (1 million degrees centigrade). So far, the research has not been able to create more energy than is used to achieve that heat.

Nuclear fission power has made great strides of late and there is much interest in those developments. One of those developments that has emerged recently is small, portable nuclear reactors that are proposed to generate 10 to 100 megawatts; however, it is a fission reactor that creates nuclear waste. In spite of the progress, it is still clearly necessary to steer clear of looking to nuclear fission as an alternative to other net-zero carbon alternatives. The main factor is the same issue that has driven the debate for decades, that is the failure to be able to deal with disposal of nuclear waste and potential accidents.

After the Three Mile Island near miss in 1979, the Chernobyl tragedy in 1986, and the Fukushima disaster in 2011 - the main three headline-getting nuclear events - the efforts toward developing long-term energy policy that includes nuclear (fission) plants has been mostly stymied. Chernobyl in Ukraine is still radioactive and is still an exclusion zone and generally uninhabitable 34 years later (about 1,000 people live there today). The radioactive water spilled in Japan at the Fukushima nuclear plant continues to plague the Japanese. These events have led to a great deal of skepticism regarding the safety of the plants that has led to the requirement of redundant safety practices and so adds to the cost. This is on top of the cost to store, for centuries, the radioactive waste.

There continues to be research and development of alternatives including, as noted, nuclear fusion. However, it has recently been acknowledged by many nuclear scientists that the likelihood of a viable fusion alternative is decades away, likely not until 2050. Further, the construction of the test sites has been incredibly expensive and over budget.

On the other hand, non-nuclear innovations in solar and wind technology have driven the cost of those carbon-neutral energy sources down; some would say they’ve plummeted. This topic can get very complicated due to the many variables to consider, but bottom line is that solar prices using photovoltaic are nearing parity with current grid prices. With other factors considered, the lifetime price per megawatt hour (MWh) is $60 while the same lifetime cost for nuclear is $77.5/MWh. For the average, we can look at the current Lake Region Electric Cooperative cost to the consumer for electric service, which is coal and natural gas generated, which is $.0122/Kwh in the summer and $.010.9/Kwh other months. Compare that to the figures provided by the “Sunshot” ( initiative that reports “In 2017, the solar industry achieved SunShot’s original 2020 cost target of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour for utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) solar power three years ahead of schedule, dropping from about $0.28 to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Cost targets for residential- and commercial-scale solar have dropped from $0.52 to $0.16 and from $0.40 to $0.11 per kWh respectively.” Those advances combined with new battery/storage capacity make the future look bright for solar.

Compare that with the safety and cost issues related to nuclear energy and it seems pretty clear to me, solar, including wind, not nuclear is the future in energy production.

Robert Lee is a retired social worker with interests in history and politics.

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