Finally, public communication about nuclear power — on the part of both government and industry — will need greater effort. No matter what specific technical outcome emerges, increased investment in nuclear safety will increase the costs of capital investment and operations. To be sure, the economics of new nuclear investment, at least for the first few facilities (which, by definition, face the steepest learning curves), are currently challenged by low natural gas prices. But taking a longer-term view on energy supply — in which a balanced portfolio is a preferred outcome — shows us that it would be premature and risky to turn away from nuclear power. The cost of investing in increased safety will probably force energy prices somewhat higher, but not nearly as high as would a wholesale shift away from nuclear power. Ultimately, energy customers and regulators alike will need to better understand the causes of price changes, the trade-offs involved among energy supply sources, and the recognized risks of related policies.
One potential positive legacy of this situation — a way to commemorate those who have been personally affected by it — would be a comprehensive and thoughtful energy policy that would align government objectives, industry development, and consumer impact. Such a result is going to require more tempered and extended conversation than the current debate has elicited. Instead of arguing for immediate advantage, energy advocates and industry leaders have a chance to think pragmatically about the future. Crises have sometimes led to breakthroughs in capability. Is there some similar possibility here? If so, it must include a recognition of the platform that nuclear power provides for the world’s economy already — and all the ways in which the world’s energy mix needs to develop over the next 15 to 20 years.
- Tom Flaherty is a senior partner with Booz & Company based in Dallas. He works with clients in the electric and gas sectors.
- Joe van den Berg is a partner with Booz & Company based in Washington, D.C., who focuses on strategic opportunities available to energy companies.
- Nicolas Volpicelli is a principal with Booz & Company based in Florham Park, N.J., who works with the aerospace and defense industries. Previously, he served with the U.S. Navy as a first lieutenant and reactor propulsion division officer.
- Also contributing to this article was Booz & Company Senior Associate Owen Ward.