Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Nuclear Renaissance Awaits, But...

In solving America’s problem of too much dependence on foreign oil, the Bush energy plan places a significant emphasis on the re-emergence of nuclear power plants. While in principle this is reasonable, it is important to solve existing problems, ranging from cost overruns that plagued the construction of reactors in the 1970s and 1980s after Three-Mile Island; a flood of safety, construction and environmental regulations that need to be considered before even starting to dig on a site; terrorist attack scenarios; as well as the long-term problem of storage of nuclear waste. Until all this is done, it may be a number of years before we see the first new reactor in almost three decades built and operating (perhaps in ten years, perhaps longer). New technologies make this a safer and more cost effective source of energy than existing reactors (of which there are nearly 100 operating facilities), but there is no technology that deals with the waste issue effectively. With some 50,000 tons of nuclear waste in the country already spread around at over 100 facilities, and the Yucca Mountain “solution” up in the air, this is an enormous problem from both an environmental and national security perspective.

If the money and resources for R&D are put into these problems, I am confident our scientists and engineers will be able to one day solve such problems. In addition, one cannot forget to commit and push in other directions of energy production, whether it is solar, wind, geothermal, or others that get beyond the use of limited natural resources that will cease to exist one day. The long-term prosperity of civilization ultimately depends on energy and the environment, so it is vital that our leadership truly get serious about all the issues that will lead to actual progress in this area.

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