Environmentalists for Nuclear Power

I’ve had occasion to write before about my enviro-dissident pals Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland (here, here, here, and here, and also in National Review), describing them on one occasion as “my existentially-challenged progressive pals.”  Well, now they’ve really done it: a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal on why environmentalists should support nuclear power.

Along the way, they really deliver some well-deserved smack on Robert F. Kennedy Jr and Bill McKibben:

The same environmental leaders point to Germany’s solar program as a model for effective action on global warming. Mr. McKibben describes Germany as “the only major country that’s really pursued renewable power at an appropriate pace” and points out that its state of Bavaria boasts more solar panels than the entire U.S. Germany’s solar panels were “enough to provide close to 50 percent of the nation’s power,” Mr. Kennedy wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times.

All of this has led many to conclude that electricity from Germany’s solar power is far cheaper than Finland’s new nuclear power will be. The opposite is the case.

The cost of building and operating the Finnish nuclear plant over the next 20 years will be $15 billion. Over that time period, the plant will generate 225 terawatt-hours (twh) of electricity at a cost of 7 cents per kilowatt hour.

Since 2000, Germany has heavily subsidized electricity production from solar panels—offering long-term contracts to producers to purchase electricity at prices substantially above wholesale rates. The resulting solar installations are expected to generate 400 twh electricity over the 20 years that the panels will receive the subsidy, at a total cost to German ratepayers of $130 billion, or 32 cents per kwh.

In short, solar electricity in Germany will cost almost five times more for every kilowatt hour of electricity it provides than Finland’s new nuclear plant.

This is all prelude to the release next month of a documentary movie entitled Pandora’s Promise, in which a number of leading environmentalists will tell how and why they have changed their mind on nuclear power.  The film played well at the Sundance Film Festival recently (I guess Robert Redford was asleep at his solar-powered switch when the application came in that day).  Here’s the trailer:

And if you have another five minutes, here’s the director Robert Stone explaining some background to the film.