The Short Answer: No; too many problems, too many protests.
Bias warning: As a young reporter I covered the anti-nuke movement, specifically the protests at Seabrook Station on the seacoast of New Hampshire. I was also married to a physicist. So I’ve probably spent more time than the average reader talking and thinking about nuclear power.
I remember Three Mile Island and the nearly lethal blow that accident dealt to the nuclear industry. Its impact is still felt today; no new nuclear power plant has been constructed or even approved in the U.S. in the last 20 years.
The recent catastrophe in Fukushima Japan is widely acknowledged to be a far more serious accident than TMI. So there is reason to believe that it will have just as strong an effect on the industry.
Sure, the climate-change crisis has boosted the reputation of nuclear as an alternative to coal and oil. To many people it seems like a cleaner alternative. But the nature of the Fukushima problem has highlighted the one argument nuclear advocates have never had a good answer for: Where do you put the waste?
Waste Deep in a Hot Problem
Typically, spent fuel rods stay at the plants at which they were used, stored in pools of water for the 5 years or so it takes them to cool off. But there is no off-site storage available for the cooled spent fuel, so it is commonly left in the cooling pools for long term storage. As a result, the cooling pools are becoming crowded and potentially dangerous. The potential for disaster increases if there is damage to the pools, which is what has happened at Fukushima. See the posts at All Things Nuclear for explanation and discussion.
Sure, the problem can be mitigated with better planning, better plants, and better precautions. And sure, the price of oil may change the economics a little bit. And, yes, the nuclear power industry does seem to have an unlimited PR budget.
But the recent run on iodine tablets on the west coast of the U.S. is a pretty good indication that people are still nervous about nuclear power. This means the industry will face more protests, more opposition, and longer approval cycles. Nuclear will become a more and more expensive alternative fuel. (Remember, the protests at Seabrook Station were a major factor in driving the largest owner of that plant into bankruptcy.)
My hunch—and hope—is that by the time the storage problems are solved and people’s concerns go away, we will have found far cheaper energy alternatives. —KDP
Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine is a dynamic and experienced speaker on public relations and social media measurement. Click here for the schedule of Katie’s upcoming speaking engagements.