Marketplace decided to broach that touchy, touchy subject this morning, running a brief segment on the nuclear debate and the support it’s been getting from some greens.

For the most part, it’s your standard, run of the mill coverage: Some greens are reconsidering because of global warming; others aren’t so keen.

However, there was one item that caught my attention. Southern Nuclear, which runs three plants in the South, is considering filing a site permit, the first step to a new reactor. The whole process will take about ten years before the reactor is operational, according to the report.

The report then jumps to an interesting corollary:

It’s that timeline that forced some greens to reconsider nukes. They figure if it takes a decade to get a plant going, the debate better get started.

While I have no problem with the debate getting started, I see the lag time as a huge strike against nuclear. Professor Martin Parry, the IPCC scientist, said on Talking Point that thirty, forty, fifty years down the line, it’s reasonable to expect that we will have clean, low-emission technologies to meet the world’s energy needs. Parry left it open as to whether nuclear would be included in these technologies (he listed nuclear, clean coal, and renewables).

My point is that when we don’t plan to build a reactor this year, we are ensuring that no new reactors will be built for the next ten years. By the time a reactor gets online, the other available technologies will be that much better, and we might say hey, maybe we don’t really want to have to deal with all the costs of nuclear when we’ve got renewables to beat it. Reading sites like Treehugger and WorldChanging makes me more optimistic every day that the day is coming fast when those who choose to do so can easily live an emissions- and isotope-free life.

We might regret settling for a single with a compromise on nuclear when we won’t see benefits until after we’ve already hit the grand slam and found really clean alternatives. Sorry, it’s baseball season.

Update [2005-6-14 16:10:2 by Dave Roberts]: Sorry to butt in on Andy’s post here — hi Andy! — but Jim Harding and Denis Hayes just published an op-ed in the Seattle P-I that makes exactly the same point:

Changes in electric market structure — generally termed deregulation — have only added to the risks that utilities and investors must consider. In a deregulated market, there is no certainty that costs incurred will be recovered. Even in fully regulated markets, utilities must consider the possibility that any number of technologies — fuel cells, photovoltaics, coal with carbon sequestration, gas-fired combined cycles, geothermal, conservation or wind — could undercut their investments long before the capital costs are recovered. Peter Bradford, former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member, argues that nuclear power is fundamentally incompatible with a deregulated industry, and he is probably right.

They also make a good point about proliferation. Check it out.