RALEIGH – America’s power companies are going to build a lot of new nuclear-power capacity over the next two decades. Most of this capacity will be in the Sunbelt, including the Southeast. Some of that will be in North Carolina. Most of the public will be fine with that, if they take much of a notice of it at all. And some anti-nuclear activists will fuss and fume along the way, perhaps increasing the eventual cost of construction but not stopping it.

I make these predictions with confidence because I truly don’t see any other, more-likely outcome. Rapidly growing areas, such as North Carolina, are going to need substantially more capacity for power generation. Even slower-growing areas are seeing increases in power usage, as households add more electronic gadgets and leave them on for more time.

I can’t say that I approve of recent federal legislation that offers tax credits to power companies that lead the pack in getting their nuclear projects completed – put “federal” and “tax credits” in the same sentence and it’s likely to be unwise policy – but the financial significance of the credits is surprisingly small. The bill offers a credit of 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour of generation capacity, for only eight years after it opens, capped at $125 million per facility. Given that irrational political rhetoric and obstructionist litigation have conspired to limit past nuclear development, I’d call things about even as far as government and sensible energy policy is concerned.

Oh, sure, when I say opponents will “fuss and fume,” I may be understating the volume and viciousness of the verbiage. The opposition’s current arguments comprise at least these:

Progress Energy and Duke Energy are overstating future electricity demand in North Carolina so as to justify building more nuclear plants. The evidence for this is unpersuasive, but what really puzzles me is the alleged motivation here. The tax credit isn’t enough of a prize to justify taking on the massive costs and risks associated with new power plants. Why would the utilities do it unless they believed they’d be short sufficient power generation without the plants?

We don’t need more power generation, we just need more energy efficiency and conservation. Well, there’s nothing at all wrong with pursuing more efficiency and conserving energy. These efforts pay off with dollars in the bank. And America has gotten more and more efficient over time. But it’s also been growing, in population and in demand. The situation is akin to fuel efficiency in automobiles: environmental extremists say that more fuel efficiency means less gas consumption, but often it simply means that motorists feel comfortable driving more miles at a lower cost per mile. The unstated truth here is that the causality works the other way – higher energy prices will certainly lead people to conserve more and invest in energy-efficient devices. But rarely do environmental extremists say what they really mean, that higher energy prices would be a good thing, because they know that the vast majority of the population would never agree.

Maybe we need more power generation, but it can be in the form of renewables such as wind and solar. Not really. These may play a larger role in the future to offset some peak demand – though wind tends to peak precisely when demand does not, and vice versa – but they will remain a small percentage of the base load for technical and economic reasons.

We have nowhere to put the nuclear waste. Please. The same folks saying this are often the folks against the Yucca Mountain project or on-site storage options. Fear of nuclear waste has more to do with Incredible Hulk comics and giant-bug movies than it does scientific literacy.

Building nuclear power plants won’t reduce air pollution because of all the construction vehicles using diesel fuel. Self-evidently ridiculous. I’ll offer a prize to the reader who comes up with the most logical flaws in this argument.

Expect to see more nuclear plants in about 20 years or so. Expect them to provide reliable energy with virtually zero emissions. And expect fulmination.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.