The cost of keeping uranium out of the hands of terrorists and safe from natural disasters is sidelining nuclear energy, which officials once dreamed would power a Utopian future of cheap, almost limitless electricity.
The amount of power produced by nuclear reactors has dropped to a 32-year low, the International Atomic Energy Agency will tell its 162 member states meeting in Vienna today. The agency will also present lower forecasts for future output as governments in developed nations seek other sources of power.
“Where electricity markets are liberalized, nuclear is finding that it cannot compete on cost,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists. “The biggest external cost of nuclear power stems from its potential to be misused for nuclear weapons.”
With the shifting tides of history, the IAEA’s role has had to evolve. The agency’s budget to secure and verify nuclear material is rising while programs supporting power generation have been cut. After debunking false claims about an alleged nuclear-weapons program in Iraq before the 2003 war, the agency is now embroiled in Iran’s weapons investigation, pushing up the cost of operations.
“The cost of nuclear power cannot only be measured in dollars,” according to Lyman, who has testified before Congress about issues of nuclear security and proliferation. “The kind of catastrophic accident that Strauss and his successors believed could never actually happen have taken a significant toll.”