ALTERNATIVE ENERGY GADFLY AMORY LOVINS SEDUCES THE WEEKLY STANDARD INTO ANTI-NUCLEAR PIECEÂ
Years ago, the conservative Weekly Standard ran a cover story called “The Myth of Alternative Energy.” On the cover was gadfly Amory Lovins desperately pedaling a bicycle in an attempt to keep windmills and solar collectors going to generate electricity.
How times have changed. This week, in a brilliant coup, Lovins has persuaded the editors of The Standard to publish “Nuclear Socialism,” an anti-nuclear diatribe that follows the usual pattern of carefully selected facts, exaggerations and double standards, adding up to an argument that nuclear power couldn’t possibly get anywhere without government intervention.
Lovins rehearses the cost overruns of the 1980s, the bankruptcy of the Washington Public Power Supply System (WHOOPS!) and teases out figures suggesting that nuclear power is declining worldwide. What he misses is that there are 60 reactors under construction around the world, that Asia has embraced the technology and has jumped out to the forefront in developing it, that France has the cheapest electricity and lowest carbon emissions in Europe because it is 80 percent nuclear and that everywhere in the world except Germany people are deciding their fears of nuclear have been exaggerated and nuclear energy represents the future. If much of this is being undertaken by government-owned corporations, that is only because in most of the countries of the world the government owns just about everything.
To see why Lovins’ analysis doesn’t work, you only need repeat Milton Friedman’s dictum, “When government gets big enough, the only thing that can overcome it is more government.” General Electric, Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox built 100 reactors in this country in the 1970s and 1980s without a dime of construction subsidies or insurance because the government allowed them. Now the regulatory burden has become so overwhelming that nobody can do anything. Last August, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stopped site clearance for six weeks at the Vogtle plant – the only reactor that has received a federal loan guarantee – because Shaw, the major subcontractor, had failed to fill out written forms in questioning prospective employees about drug and alcohol abuse. No reactor will ever be built on time and on budget under such bureaucratic micromanagement and no construction project in the world could proceed under such oversight. Yet the TVA just completed the five-year rehabilitation of its Brown’s Ferry reactor on time and on budget – mainly because, as a quasi-government agency it has some push-back against NRC interference.
In the end, Lovins writes: "Here’s a principled alternative: Reverse the energy subsidy arms-race. Don’t add subsidies; subtract them. Take markets seriously. Not just for nuclear and fossil fuels but for all so-called ‘clean’ technologies, head toward zero energy subsidies, free enterprise, risk-based credit pricing, competition on merit, cheaper energy services, greater energy security, and dwindling deficits."
So let’s take him one better. Let’s also eliminate renewable portfolio standards, state renewable mandates and other government directives that distort the market far more than loan guarantees that costs the government nothing if the project is finished on time. Then we will stop building windmills, solar collectors and nuclear reactors and put up nothing but natural gas plants – the risky, regressive and potentially disastrous path of least resistance down which Lovins and all the other anti-nuclear advocates are pushing us.