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April 22, 2005

Money to burn

It’s not just environmentalists who have made nuclear power a pariah in the U.S. It’s a different kind of green—the kind that Congress understands.

For those of you who’ve been following closely, FuturePundit and Disinterested Party have been mulling the relative costs and environmental impact of coal-fired and nuclear-power plants—and concluding that fission is starting to look more favorable.

It’s not a slam dunk. There’s always the chance of another Chernobyl, but that was almost two decades ago and brought to you by the same fine engineers who built the Moskvitch. Nuclear waste is a headache, but then so is climate change. As for costs, it’s probably a wash. Drawing on new estimates from the Nuclear Energy Agency and International Energy Agency, the NEI Nuclear Notes blog reports that the levelized lifetime costs for nuclear, at 2.1 to 3.1 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), are not much better than coal’s 2.5 to 5.0 cents per kWh. Particularly when you take into account nuclear’s higher capital costs, which mean that its slim advantage swiftly evaporates when interest rates rise.

But hey, at least the nuclear-power industry has joined the conversation. Where’s coal?

Answer: behind the scenes, where it usually is. Forget, for a moment, all those cuddly sounding front organizations such as the Global Climate Coalition (now "deactivated") and the International Climate Change Partnership, which primarily exist to defend the energy status quo. What really distinguishes the coal lobby is how wide it opens its wallet.

From 2000 to 2004 the electric-utilities industry (which for the most part is the coal/carbon lobby) stumped up $56.2 million in political contributions and lobbying, two-thirds of it to Republicans. The coal-mining industry chipped in another $9.7 million, for a grand total of almost $66 million. For perspective, that’s about three times as much as the tobacco lobby managed to cough up. You can find all the numbers at the Center for Responsive Politics.

With so many shades of green coloring its reputation, it’s a wonder the nuclear-power industry exists at all.

Posted by Stephen at 1:17 AM in Energy + environment | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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