Start with the fact that we haven’t built a new nuclear plant in over a generation. That means that the profession of nuclear engineering has not been much of a draw for at least that long. Our best and brightest STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students went into other fields, like computer science, biology, or even finance. The breakthroughs they achieved over the last generation have transformed the way we live, giving us the Information Age, the biotechnology revolution, and the financial meltdown. Oops, can’t win ‘em all.
As a consequence, we do not have the cadre of engineers to build and operate lots of new nuclear plants. People with experience are a vanishing breed: at the ends of their careers, retired, or dead. We really have only three choices: import experienced engineers, outsource to foreign engineers, or educate our own engineers.
Shoot, I’m ready to give up. No point in trying.
Then there is the still unresolved problem of what to do with the nuclear waste. There is much to say on this topic, but I will limit myself to one observation. The amount of time we need to watch over nuclear waste is longer than the longest-lived human civilization – including China.
Proof that having a PhD doesn’t make you an expert on everything. During the thousands of years that the professor will watch over the waste, he might take a few days at the beginning to study exponential decay and then he’ll realize that the “problem” is vastly overblown.