Nuclear Energy’s Second Coming

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(Image: lanl.gov)

Remember 3 Mile Island? Love Canal? Chernobyl, perhaps?

If not, it would behoove you to avoid education on these disasters. As oil supplies grow scarce, companies like the bluntly-named NRG Energy, Inc., of New Jersey are doing something they haven’t done in 30 years: Building nuclear reactors.

From a Spiegel interview with NRG Energy CEO David Crane:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Republican presidential candidate John McCain has proposed building 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030 with a longer term goal of 55 more. His Democratic opponent Barack Obama is also in favor of more atomic energy. Is the US experiencing a nuclear power renaissance?

CRANE: There is a perception that the American public is ready for nuclear. It’s a combination of things and one of them is generational change. The overriding concern in this country, just like in Europe, is global warming. The recognition by most pragmatic people is that nuclear is the only advanced technology that exists to replace coal-fired power plants on a significant scale. This has jump started the renaissance.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Couldn’t one achieve just as much by conserving energy and improving the efficiency of conventional power plants as well as improving the efficiency of automobiles and buildings? There seems to be quite a bit of potential for that kind of thing in the US.

CRANE: That’s what I call the “Gore Approach.” It’s based on self-denial: Let’s all go back to living without air conditioning and to drying our clothes on the clothes line. There’s another option though. The “Schwarzenegger Approach.” It’s the American Dream, but it’s the carbon-free American Dream…The American Way is based on consumption. You don’t want to change the American way of life, you just want to show them a better way to get there, and nuclear power is a key part of that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Imagining for a moment that many new nuclear reactors do go on line, what is to be done with all of the radioactive waste? Even after years of debate on the issue, there is still no solution regarding final disposal.

CRANE: A lot of people talk about a final solution and we do need one. But this solution of storing it on site, it is deemed to be safe for a long time. Global warming is an immediate issue that nuclear energy can help solve. We should solve this issue now and solve the nuclear waste issue over the next 200 years.

Excuse me, Mr. Crane. I’d rather have a new form of energy that doesn’t involve a future crisis. If nuclear power is unavoidable while we find more sustainable solutions to the energy crisis, I’m all for it–in a limited form. The side effects of mining and enriching uranium, releasing tritium into groundwater, and unstable storage, however, are casualties we can ill afford, either now or in the future.

Nukes may be clean, but they’re not sustainable. I vote against this particular renaissance.