A couple weekends ago, The New York Times Magazine ran an epic cover story on the resurgence of nuclear power: "Atomic Balm?" (And when I say epic I mean it: I printed the sucker out and it came to 17 single-spaced pages.) It’s invaluable if you want a broad overview of the current state of the nuclear industry, which is (boosters allege) on the verge of a resurgence.
Here’s the basic lay of the land: power companies care about one thing and one thing only: cost. Right now, coal is cheap, so power companies burn coal. They will create power some other way when the money looks right. The rising cost of natural gas, the prospect of CO2 caps, and massive Energy Department subsidies are nudging them toward nuclear. What holds them back is the astronomical price of constructing and decommissioning plants — well over $2 billion to get a plant up and running, and that’s without mistakes and cost overruns, which have been ubiquitous throughout the industry’s history.
Though the author, John Gertner, is scrupulously balanced, one comes away with the distinct impression that nuclear power just doesn’t make sense to investors or power companies, but that the government is determined to ply them with money until they submit.