Buffalo Environmental Law Journal

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The United States is currently experiencing what some have labeled a nuclear energy renaissance. This so-called renaissance responds in part to growing concerns about global warming and the need to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity production. A growing number of policymakers and scholars view nuclear energy development as one of the most promising means of slowing climate change because nuclear energy does not produce greenhouse gas emissions. They are increasingly advocating that nuclear energy receive policy treatment at least as favorable as that afforded to renewable energy strategies such as wind and solar energy. Some state governments are also citing global warming as a primary reason for investing millions to extend the lives of aging nuclear power plants and to keep these plants operational and cost-competitive in an era of low-cost natural gas. Unfortunately, in their zeal to save nuclear energy plants and promote additional nuclear energy development as a means of combatting global warming, policymakers are underestimating the true costs associated with nuclear power in ways that could adversely impact humankind for centuries to come.

This Article applies familiar principles of microeconomics and behavioral economics to analyze the nation's recent flirtation with nuclear energy as a primary response to global warming. Among other things, policymakers and the public seem to increasingly allow excessive optimism, myopia, path dependence problems, or intergenerational externality problems resulting in their under-consideration of the full social costs of nuclear energy. This Article ultimately argues that, when one considers all the societal costs of nuclear energy, renewable energy strategies such as wind and solar development are afar more cost-justifiable means of responding to global warming.