Thursday, November 10, 2005

Overview: The New Case For Nuclear Power

Why are people changing their minds on nuclear power? Here’s a summary:


The reasons “for” nuclear are more compelling

• Soaring energy demand

• Entry of 2 billion human citizens (China and India) into world economy – even larger spikes in energy demand

• Stagnant oil output

• Painfully slow construction of wind/solar

• War and terrorism – concerns about the “price” of overseas energy sources

• Global warming – still hotly contested, but the people who believe it are probably in the majority.


The reasons “against” nuclear are weakening

• Waste – not as big a problem as people have claimed. Plus, people are now beginning to acknowledge the bigger problem of billions of tons of waste from coal and gas-fired plants. Compared to the threat of global warming (the destruction of entire nations) a few barrels of nuclear waste looks trivial.

• Safety – nuclear industry has built a great record, especially compared to the coal, oil, and chemical industries, which cause many more deaths. Even some of the anti-nuclear advocates admit that Chernobyl was not representative of nuclear energy in general, but was a fluke based on very old, very bad Soviet designs.

• Radiation – again, people are viewing this with more perspective. There are thousands, (perhaps millions) dying of lung cancer or other respiratory illnesses caused by choking coal/oil pollution. There are automobile accidents, viruses, and the million other daily hazards. Compared to that, the odds of getting sick from the miniscule amount of radiation emitted by nuclear plants is insignificant.

• Uranium supplies – some studies claim “we’re running out of uranium.” It’s simply not true.

• CO2 emissions– some studies claim that nuclear power emits almost as much carbon dioxide as fossil fuels. This isn't true either; in fact, it's quite the opposite.

• Economics – The price of gas-fired electricity just tripled in some areas. Amazing how economics can suddenly reverse. Many people are recognizing the advantage of nuclear: it’s not the cheapest, it’s not the most expensive, but it’s rock-solid, unaffected by world events. Stability in energy prices provides significant social and financial benefits. Plus, of all the energy technologies, nuclear has the biggest upside, the most room for order-of-magnitude cost reductions from new technology.


The “for” or “against” debate is irrelevant anyway

• Wind/solar/conservation can’t do it alone – many decades of experience has shown us that conservation, wind power, and solar power, while very desirable energy strategies, are just not capable of handling energy demand growth in even the developed nations. If we consider China and India, where energy growth is in overdrive, then the situation is even more impossible. Conservation, solar, wind, and other renewable technologies must be partnered with more “muscular” energy source. Which partner will it be…nuclear or coal? That’s the real debate.

• Nuclear power is like the automobile – like it or not, it’s a technology that is here to stay. The new focus won’t be “yes/no” but will be “how do improve it and eliminate the flaws?”

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