Thu, Dec 20th 2007 1:12pm
For a long time I held a fairly unpopular view: I thought that the United States had made a big mistake by tabling its nuclear power industry in the 1970s. Surely, I thought, researchers and operators would have found ways to make nuclear plants clean and safe by now, had the industry continued its growth. Building new nuclear power plants was never made illegal, but it became unpalatable. A new nuclear plant has not been developed in the U.S. in more than 30 years. While interest in building additional nuclear power capacity has recently reemerged, I have found myself with a complete change of opinion: not only has the 30-year hiatus not dampened hopes that nuclear power might yield a safe and secure energy source, but the effective prohibition has actually provided incentives for innovation in the industry. A number of other nations have continued their nuclear power programs and, while there hasn't been a major nuclear accident in more than 20 years, nuclear plants built in recent years share the same basic design as the last plants built in the U.S. Now, to win over nuclear skeptics, a number of companies from upstarts to multi-nationals are developing the next generation of nuclear power technology. These new technologies are intended to address concerns over plant safety, nuclear waste, and security through innovative new designs and materials. Thus, it appears the hiatus actually drove more innovation in the space as innovators had to design around the worries from people. These firms are hoping not only to compete not against wind, solar, geothermal, etc. for a share of alternative energy investment capital, but also to go head to head once again against coal and natural gas power plants as a primary source of new energy. With the opposition to nuclear power forcing companies to explore innovative new designs and materials, they stand a good chance against a legacy energy industry that has had very little incentive to innovate over the past three decades.
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