Nuclear power -- long considered environmentally hazardous -- is emerging as perhaps the world's most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.
It has been 13 years since the last new nuclear power plant opened in the United States. But around the world, nations under pressure to reduce the production of climate-warming gases are turning to low-emission nuclear energy as never before. The Obama administration and leading Democrats, in an effort to win greater support for climate change legislation, are eyeing federal tax incentives and loan guarantees to fund a new crop of nuclear power plants across the United States that could eventually help drive down carbon emissions.
Nuclear power may be low emissions, but that is not the whole story. In the United States, the Price-Anderson Act of 1957 limits the liability of the nuclear power industry in the case of accidents. In other countries governments own and operate the nuclear industry and, implicitly, insure themselves, thereby hiding the liability cost of nuclear power.
Without government-subsidized insurance, the nuclear power industry would have to buy private insurance, which would be prohibitively expensive. Thus the true costs of nuclear power are much higher than they appear. These costs must be balanced against any reductions in emissions achieved by nuclear power.