Nuclear power as an alternative energy option for New York State was debated at a public forum organized by the New York League of Conservation Voters at New York University today. Actually there wasn''t much of a debate since it was apparent that no one on the panel thought that new nuclear power was in New York State''s short-term future. Even the nuclear industry''s representative, Mary Quillian-Helms, had to admit that new nuclear generation is not likely to be coming to New York State any time soon or to any of the Northeast states for that matter.
Roughly 19 percent of New York''s electricity is currently generated by nuclear power, versus 26 percent nationally. New York is home to 6 nuclear reactors at 4 power plants and the contract for the unpopular Indian Point 2 plant located in my home county of Westchester is set to expire in 2013. It speaks volumes that Article X of the New York State Energy Law allowing the state to override local concerns on siting power plants was allowed to expire. Local interests have clearly spoken although Quillian-Helms of the Nuclear Energy Institute did maintain that the people of Oswego County, New York''home to two nuclear power stations''are big fans of nuclear power and would like to see more built in their county.
Peter Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and former chairman of the New York Public Service Commission, said point blank that the cost of building nuclear power precludes new buildout in New York State. He noted that the state regulators have not forgotten the bad old days of huge nuclear power plant cost overruns. James Asselstine, senior high-grade utility analyst at Barclays Capital and another ex Nuclear Regulatory Commission member, noted that there are formidable financial challenges to building new nuclear power plants in both regulated and competitive markets''with estimates to build between $4000 and $8000 per kilowatt. Jared Snyder, Assistant Commissioner for Air, Climate Change and Energy for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, said that until the nuclear industry can resolve safety issues, including how to dispose of spent fuel rods, nuclear will not be a major player in the carbon solution.
Still the very determinedly upbeat Quillian-Helms countered that the long term future for nuclear power will be bright especially when proposed national cap and trade legislation gets enacted. Even taking into account its carbon footprint, including manufacturing and the uranium mining processes associated with nuclear power, nuclear compares favorably with wind and solar when measured in terms of carbon grams per kilowatt hour. Edwin Lyman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, had to agree in a backhanded way. A cap and trade system, he admits, will fail to factor in the potential external ''costs'' that worry the anti-nuclear movement. No financial engineer, for example, has yet figured out how to put a price tag on the chance of uranium enrichment being modified to produce nuclear weaponry or the catastrophic implications for human life and the environment of spent fuel rod contamination.