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The Nuclear (nü-klE-r) Option

February 2, 2005

In the past I have maintained a distaste for using nuclear energy for the following reasons:

  • Nuclear waste remains dangerous for thousands of years and we don’t have
    a proven safe method of handling/storing it.
  • There is the potential for accidents like 3 mile island, or Chernobyl.
  • The enrichment process, if not carefully and strictly regulated, will certainly lead to proliferation of nuclear weapons.

There are a few other factors to look at that would seem to favor nuclear power:

  • Nuclear plants do not produce air pollution or acid rain as coal plants do.
  • Nuclear energy can be used to make hydrogen for use in fuel cell motors, and reduce our dependence on, and the pollution from, petroleum use.
  • Both of the above lead to less carbon dioxide production and global warming.

There is an article in the February issue of Wired magazine that deals with all of this. Nuclear Now! – Wired

After reading the article and learning of the prospect of using advanced breeder reactors to make the process renewable, solving the waste problem, perhaps with a space-race type program, seems quite possible. Also, with the advent of pebble bed reactors it would seem that advances have already been made in respect to the safety problem, and again, with a space-race type program, further advances could surely be made.

Problem 3, and to some extent the first two items, are down to regulation. And the inevitable politics of regulation. Is there a common sense compromise to be reached in the area of the necessary regulation/oversight that must be inherent in a broad nuclear policy?

Would a heavy tax on nuclear waste be acceptable? A tax heavy enough to eventually make anything less than a 100% renewable process undesirable, and less than, say, 95% cost prohibitive? Will stringent safety regulations be acceptable? What about the proposal regarding the enrichment process put forward in the Wired piece to “..create a global nuclear fuel company, possibly under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency [that] would collect, reprocess, and distribute fuel to every nation in the world, thus keeping potential bomb fixings out of circulation”?

I can already hear the shouts of ‘big government’ and ‘regulation kills innovation’ and ‘why would we give up sovereignty to the IAEA (read: the hated UN)?’ However, I sincerely don’t think these issues should be left to an unbridaled, and opportunistic (read: dishonest), market to handle. The solution, I think it could be agreed, is to foster the innovation that the US is capable of driving, by leveraging our intellectual and financial resources. We just have to do this in a responsible way.

Investment in this area, with the goal of reducing pollution, CO2 emmissions, and our costly dependence on oil, is worthwhile and morally justifiable. Much moreso than selling what remains of our souls in the interest of maintaining our oil-thirsty economy.

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