Friday, September 30, 2005

Nuclear power: Americans still haven't warmed up to it

Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard - Opinion

September 30, 2005

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Is it time to seriously think about nuclear energy as the nation's primary power supply?

The future of electrical generation is assuredly not in fossil fuels, which most scientists and even politicians agree are the source of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. So what does that leave us? Solar and geothermal, while clean and renewable sources of energy, fall far short in supplying the nation with the power it voraciously consumes. Coal is not found in quantities large enough and also produces pollution.

While nuclear energy is certainly renewable, it can be argued that it really isn't green power in the true sense of the word. Why? Well, Yucca Mountain ought to suffice as the answer. Nevada politicians are fighting the repository's development to see that the byproduct of nuclear energy and weapons development is not stored in Nevada.

That's the problem with nuclear power, it produces waste and not just any waste, but potentially dangerous and long-lived waste. Nuclear energy also has a terrible image problem that has not been rehabilitated much since the Three Mile Island reactor meltdown in 1979.

There are certainly proponents of a greater use of nuclear power generation. An organization pushing for nuclear energy that calls itself, literally, Nuclear Power Now, argues that splitting atoms is the world's largest source of emission-free energy, and the nuclear industry generates only a fraction of the solid waste that is produced by power plants burning coal.

The organization notes that nearly 20 percent of electricity generated in the United States today comes from nuclear power plants, and in 40 years not a single death has been attributed to the operation of a civilian nuclear power plant.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are more than 400 nuclear plants located around the world.

No county has embraced nuclear energy quite like France, which generates 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors. It has achieved a high level of self sufficiency that has greatly reduced its dependence on foreign energy sources and fossil fuel.

Maybe France and its widespread use of nuclear power is the future as the clamor about greenhouse emissions grows louder. But we're not quite there yet.

This country certainly has to find a way to deal with nuke waste beyond entombing it in the earth. Only then will nuclear power gain acceptance as a relatively benign source of power.


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