Prior to the onset of the legislative session in Oklahoma, the buzz was all about our potential to lead the nation in renewable energy development and its economic impact on our state.
Capacity crowds at the Oklahoma Wind Energy Conference in December illustrated the desire of thousands of Oklahomans to participate in the new energy economy. Led by Speaker of the House Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, Oklahoma legislators are diligently working to put Oklahoma in a position to lead the nation in this arena, while reducing our overall energy consumption. Such initiatives include providing tax credits for installation of wind and solar systems (House Bill 2247), including wind industry jobs as eligible for Oklahoma Quality Jobs Act incentives (HB 1953), requiring state agencies to meet energy conservation goals (Senate Bill 833) and tax credits for installation of geothermal systems (HB 1948). Our legislators should be applauded for supporting such proactive initiatives.
Rather than maximizing development of our abundant natural gas, wind, solar and geothermal resources, some legislators are turning toward nuclear as a solution to our energy needs. Oklahoma needs the cheapest, cleanest, most readily available sources of energy, and nuclear energy fails on all accounts.
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nuclear reactors have historically cost around $4 billion up to $15 billion to complete. Not only is the construction of nuclear reactors far more expensive than cleaner energy alternatives such as renewables and efficiency measures, but under Senate Bill 831, utilities would be allowed to pass on the costs of regulatory approval, planning and construction of a nuclear facility to the Oklahoma ratepayer.
Proponents of nuclear energy tout its potential impact on global warming due to fewer carbon emissions than traditional coal-fired power plants. For nuclear energy to play a significant role in reducing global warming pollution, a new nuclear reactor would have to be production ready (come online) every 15 days between 2010 and 2050, and storage capacity the size of Yucca Mountain would have to come online every three to four years.
The U.S. government has already spent $11 billion on the controversial storage site at Yucca Mountain. The site was originally estimated to cost $57.5 billion to complete, but 2008 estimates put that number at more than $96 billion. Adding to the expense of storing nuclear waste are the expected liability claims from utility companies seeking compensation for storing high-level radioactive waste on site.
That being said, a nuclear facility in Oklahoma will almost certainly store its waste on site, which means potential contamination of your water and your community. In its report "The Future of Nuclear Energy," an interdisciplinary panel of scientists and economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that, although they ultimately supported nuclear energy, they "do not believe it is realistic to expect that there are new reactor and fuel cycle technologies that simultaneously overcome the problems of cost, safety, waste and proliferation."
Nuclear is not the only low-carbon energy option available to us, yet it is certainly the most costly and the most dangerous. Rather than burden Oklahoma's families and small businesses with the ecological, health and economic costs of nuclear energy, let's focus our efforts on leading the nation in this new energy economy.
Scott is the president of Oklahoma Progress Government Relations and represents the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club.