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Nuclear energy: The way to transform our energy future
08.01.10

By Fred Tausch 

The catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has reinvigorated debate on our continued dependence on fossil fuels. It's clearly in America's best interests to develop alternative, non carbon emitting fuels and the technologies that will someday liberate our country from the obvious dangers associated with our reliance on oil and coal.

But for that transformation to succeed without causing unnecessary economic hardship and lower living standards we must be realistic about its prospects, and insist on feasible, market based, scientifically and economically sound solutions.

America imports 60% of our oil, much of it from countries where production standards are far more environmentally threatening than U.S. production standards, and which is transported by tankers that have caused more oil spills than have off shore wells. Yet, the U.S. government has never suspended tanker deliveries of imported oil.

Our first priority should be to reduce our reliance on imported oil, and that will require in the near term more, not less domestic production. We need to make certain companies that drill deepwater wells are held to rigorous safety standards; have planned for worse case scenarios; and have developed effective solutions to prevent another catastrophe from occurring.

But that doesn't require a six-month suspension of continued off shore drilling in the Gulf Coast and the additional hardship that imposes on the Gulf Coast economy. Nor does it justify continuing a moratorium on new off shore exploration and drilling. It makes no sense to continue to rely on more imported oil than our own abundant domestic reservoirs.

Most of America's electricity is produced from coal burning plants, a leading source of greenhouse gases. Wind and solar have made a dent in the problem, but only a small dent. Currently wind generates about 1% of our electricity and solar less than that. And each has disadvantages in terms of their reliability and the enormous space wind turbines and solar collectors would consume to provide as much as 20% of our electricity.

The most available and environmentally beneficial alternative energy is nuclear power, which emits zero carbon dioxide, is reliable 24-four hours a day, and consumes far less space than wind or solar. Almost a fifth of our electricity is currently generated by nuclear power plants compared to 80% of France's electricity. Other countries are rapidly building new nuclear power plants. Yet the United States hasn't completed construction of a new nuclear power plant in almost thirty years.

Why are we not moving more aggressively to take advantage of this renewable, reliable and carbon free energy source? The problem is one of will not means. Because of exaggerated fears about the safety of nuclear reactors and the radioactive waste they produce, nuclear power has been subjected to complicated, sclerotic federal and state regulatory regimes that make new plants enormously expensive to build and finance. The industry to supply parts and skills to construct new reactors is underdeveloped and lenders impose huge costs on financing because of the almost non-existent growth of the nuclear power market.

That would change as the industry grows and a new generation of smaller, standardized and cheaper nuclear reactors is developed. Once nuclear power plants are in operation the electricity they produce is relatively cheap. 

A single, streamlined regulatory regime is indispensable to ac celebrating our increased use of nuclear power. And the federal government must finally make a decision about how to dispose of the radioactive waste nuclear plants produce. 

The Obama administration has, for political and not scientific reasons, ordered an end to the construction of the nation's only permanent storage facility for nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. And it has also rejected reprocessing nuclear waste as France and other countries do, which greatly reduces the amount of radioactive waste reactors produce.

California, the largest electricity consuming state in the country, won't authorize a new nuclear power plant until Washington decides what to do with the waste. And yet the Obama administration acts as if the problem will somehow solve itself.

Were the U.S, like France, to produce 80% of our electricity from nuclear power we would remove billions of tons of carbon from our air every year.

And we would have the carbon free energy source to fuel the hugely increased demand for electricity that the long-term vision of a transportation system that runs on electricity and hydrogen rather than oil would require.

Americans have always had big dreams, but they have achieved them by the most practical, available and economically advantageous means at their disposal. That's how free people solve their problems, and their government should follow their example. Nuclear energy is the most sensible way to transform our energy future. It's long past time we took advantage of it.



Fred Tausch is the Founder of NH Steward, a grass-roots organization committed to holding politicians in Concord and Washington, D.C. accountable to taxpayers.

 

Website: http://fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100801/GJOPINION_0102/708019991/-1/FOSOPINION

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