The return of nuclear power

President Obama earlier this week announced a loan guarantee for the first nuclear power plant in the United States in nearly 30 years. His decision is in line with his State of the Union address in which he called for “a new generation of clean, safe nuclear power plants.”

I guess I am reluctantly in agreement with what he is doing.  If we want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, if we want to stop emitting greenhouse gasses that burn up the planet, we have to find alternatives to fossil fuels, and nuclear energy is an alternative source we have available right now.

Nuclear power is dangerous, as the Chernobyl disaster showed, if you don’t follow elementary safety precautions, but like many dangerous activities, it can be carried on safely if operated by people who know what they’re doing and who don’t gamble with margins of safety.  The U.S. Navy runs on nuclear power.  France generates 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants, and has electricity to export. In contrast, the United States is a net importer of electricity.  This isn’t likely to change any time soon, because a lot of our alternative energy plans, such as development of electric cars, depend on abundant electricity. I of course favor development of photovoltaic electricity, wind energy, geothermal power and other renewable sources with all deliberate speed.

I think that the United States someday will have to rethink its policy on reprocessing of nuclear fuel. This would be a way of reducing the amount of nuclear waste (in terms of total radioactivity; the physical volume would be greater) and of burning up the nuclear material in nuclear weapons.  We discontinued reprocessing under the Carter administration because reprocessing technology can be used for nuclear bombs as well as nuclear power plants, and we wanted to set a good example. It would set a better example to use the nuclear bomb material to produce useful electricity.

Here is commentary on President Obama’s action, and here is some background information on nuclear power in the United States.

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