The end of nuclear-powered plug-ins?
Is nuclear power safe? That argument has raged for decades, and the possibility of a renewed embrace of nuclear power in the US seemed to be gaining popularity, even in some green circles. In fact, some have viewed nuclear power as a key enabling technology for plug-in vehicles.
However, the ongoing disaster in Japan is renewing nuclear fears, and the idea of nuclear-powered plug-in electric cars could be over.
With a number of US nuclear reactors built on the same technology as those failing Japanese reactors up for license renewal, calls for shutting these US plants down are already brewing in anti-nuclear circles. Similar nuclear discontent is also brewing in other green-focused countries, such as Germany.
Unfortunately, whether nuclear power is, or can be made, safe might be irrelevant. For now, the US has to utilize its current nuclear power plants as some 20 percent of US base load comes from nuclear power. Certainly, a more stringent licensing renewal process can be imagined, but a quick replacement of 20 percent of US electricity generation isn't going to happen over night.
Nevertheless, when it comes to new nuclear power plants fear is primed to rule, and numerous political forces are certain to seize upon the Japanese situation to sell the dangers of nuclear power. And nothing sells better than fear.
Certainly, plug-in electric cars are not dependent upon nuclear power, but new sources of clean electricity are critical to long term plug-in success. The debate about where that electricity comes from is now certain to be even more complex, but it couldn't come at a better time. Ever more a comprehensive US energy policy equally focused on today as tomorrow seems critical to US economic viability.
Hopefully, the tensions in the Middle East coupled with the catastrophe in Japan will push the US into a serious energy policy conversation because the status quo is certain to only lead to US-based catastrophes.