Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Office of Technology Assessment on Nuclear Power

From the Office of Technology Assessment's Nuclear Power in an Age of Uncertainty, February 1984:

Without significant changes in the technology, management, and level of public acceptance, nuclear power in the United States is unlikely to be expanded in this century beyond the reactors already under construction. Currently nuclear powerplants present too many financial risks as a result of uncertainties in electric demand growth, very high capital costs, operating problems, increasing regulatory requirements, and growing public opposition.

If all these risks were inherent to nuclear power, there would be little concern over its demise. However, enough utilities have built nuclear reactors within acceptable cost limits, and operated them safely and reliably to demonstrate that the difficulties with this technology are not insurmountable. Furthermore, there are national policy reasons why it could be highly desirable to have a nuclear option in the future if present problems can be overcome. Demand for electricity could grow to a level that would mandate the construction of many new powerplants. Uncertainties over the long-term environmental acceptability of coal and the adequacy of economical alternative energy sources are also great and underscore the potential importance of nuclear power.

A significant passage:
The use of coal can and will be expanded considerably. All the plausible growth projections considered in this study could be met entirely by coal. Such a dependence, however, would leave the Nation’s electric system vulnerable to price increases and disruptions of supply. Furthermore, coal carries significant liabilities. The continued combustion of fossil fuels, especially coal, has the potential to release enough carbon dioxide to cause serious climatic changes. We do not know enough about this problem yet to say when it could happen or how severe it might be, but the possibility exists that even in the early 21st century it may become essential to reduce sharply the use of fossil fuels, especially coal.

On the whole, a very interesting historical document. It will take me awhile to fully digest it in light of the events of the past 24 years.

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