Thursday, May 11, 2006

California Can, and Must, Be a Leader in the New Nuclear Era

Across the world, public and government opinion is crystallizing in favor of nuclear power. And it’s already evolving into practical action.

In Florida, Louisiana, and other states with significant nuclear workforces and histories of safe operation, nuclear power is being pursued aggressively. These people recognize a great deal when they see it: jobs, clean technology, inexpensive energy, economic growth, and a safety track record better than almost any other industry they can attract. In the federal government, the shock over oil prices and threats to energy security by rogue states have changing nuclear power from an option to a “must have’. If you have any doubt about the seriousness of government planners, read this.

The next phase of the nuclear world…what we like to call the iNuclear era, has started.

But here in California (the home state of this humble blogger) we seem to be a bit behind. This is based perhaps on a misunderstanding.

Californians, environmentally aware and comfortable with advanced technology, have been agressively pursuing solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources. This has seemed the obvious complement to the clean, dignified, high-technology lifestyle which we want to create. Many of us, so focused on renewables, have made the understandable mistake of viewing renewables are the only valid solution, which are always and inherently opposed to nuclear power.

This view is incorrect.

The reality is, nuclear power and renewables (and of course aggressive conservation) can and in fact MUST be pursued together. This is the only possible way that our nation, and the rest of the world, can survive the coming centuries. Renewables and conservation, by themselves, are simply not up to the task.

This is not just an opinion, it is simple reality, shown by decades of headlines. In 30 years of hard work, despite constant government funding and tax credits, the growth of actual generating capacity by wind and solar energy sources has been horrifically slow – a tiny fraction of what was promised by promoters of the technology.

While we should try for better results in the next 30 years, we must, as responsible stewards of this planet, make intelligent and appropriate decisions. We must assume, as reasonable people, that renewable energy will continue it’s snail-like pace. We cannot allow massive coal burning in Wyoming, or natural gas burning in local generating plants to become the “lowest common denominator” energy sources. We must choose a practical, realistic mix of earth-friendly energy sources. And that means both renewables and nuclear power must be active choices.

Plus, nuclear power and renewables are a great fit. Two peas in a pod.
Renewables tend to be variable, sporatic, and local in nature. They work great when the wind is blowing or sun is shining, but otherwise need a back-up baseload grid to depend on. Nuclear power is great for the baseload grid. Reactors, especially the new designs, can ramp up or ramp down when not needed. Those are the engineering reasons, and there are economic and social ones as well. The bottom line is, we need them both.

So what’s the point? California needs nuclear power. With the problems in our grid, we need it sooner than later. As a start, double all capacity at the existing plants, and talk to other states about buying their “doubled” power as well.

But let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about business. In addition to more nuclear power in our grid, California also needs to be a significant part of the nuclear business. We need to get our industrial and high-tech resources into the building, equipping, maintaining, supplying, or staffing of nuclear infrastructure. It’s going to become a much larger industry, an industry perceived as an essential piece of the high-tech future. Nuclear power is inherently and by definition a high-technology energy source. So California, if it wants to maintain it’s status as a leader in the high-technology world, needs to be a significant player in the new nuclear power industry. It’s a simple as that.

How? That’s a big topic and we’ll cover it more later.

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