Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nuclear Power

While not buying into global warming, and certainly not buying into man's responsibility whatever climate change has occurred, (contribution yes, sole responsibility no) I would like to think that I am never the less concerned for the environment in my own way. I am probably more concerned however about this nation's reliance on fossil fuels and dependence for those fuels on bunch of countries who I truly do not believe are our friends. 

I know that going to more fuel efficient vehicles will help, as will solar and wind power; but I have to ask myself why we insist on ignoring nuclear power as an alternative. France, who purchased their reactor technology from Westinghouse (a US company), now has 56 nuclear power plants generating 76% of their electricity. With an additional 12% of their power generated from hydroelectric plants, this leaves France in the position of being almost completely energy independent. In fact, with this program begun in 1973, France is now exporting power to other European nations. 

Now I don't want to be the guy who admits that France might be doing something right (hell, I drink California wine), but I might have to admit that in this respect I am jealous of them. How does the US match up then? After all, we brought nuclear technology (for good or evil) to the world. The first nuclear reactor to generate electricity was done on December 20, 1951 at the ERB-I experimental station near Arco, Idaho. Today, though currently we have 103 nuclear power plants in the country, they are capable of producing only 20% of the electricity required. As for construction, no new nuclear plant has been ordered since 1973, and none has come online in the US since 1996. This means that the following countries have built more nuclear power generation plants than the United States during the vacuum of that period (that I was able to track during just a quick check):
  • China
  • South Korea
  • North Korea
  • Japan
  • India
  • Pakistan
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • (and now maybe) Syria
Everyone in the world seems to be climbing on the nuclear power generation bandwagon except the world's largest consumer of power. Is it just me, or does this not seem more than slightly bizarre?

Most of our power currently comes from power generation plants using oil or coal. Coal still seems abundant in this country, but also seems to be the source that generates the most pollution. Oil is a source whose cost seems steadily on the rise, and presents a whole other set of concerns as well. We apparently have only limited interest in drilling for oil in the places where it exists in any significantly amount in this country (for environmental reasons). 

Much of the rest of the world's oil is in places of political instability and will be problematic to obtain. The politics of the Middle East does not promise to get better any time soon, and the governments that run these countries are monarchies and dictatorships that we would not normally put up with unless they had something that we really, really needed. 

Meanwhile, nobody is going to call Russia, Mexico, or Venezuela our friend; and our opportunities of obtaining oil from these nations are going to remain limited at best.
Solar, hydroelectric, and wind power generation can and are filling some of those needs in an environmentally friendly way. I cannot believe however that we are ready to replace the blighted scenery of oil derricks crowding out the skies in our past with that of dams, solar grids, or wind turbine farms becoming the bane of our future. That leaves the re-exploration of nuclear power generation as an alternative.

Now I admit that nothing is life is danger-free and that no technology is foolproof, but I believe that we do have the ability to use this technology safely (or at least as good as the French). I also believe that we are running out of choices. We had better begin to address this situation soon, or the impending power crisis will be beyond our control.


Hooda Thunkit said...

What bugs me is that nobody is talking about coal gasification.

We have hundreds of years worth of inferior coal that we can use.

The process becomes economically viable when the price of gasoline rises above $2.35/gal.

Oh, and the resulting fuels (there are an infinite variety possible) can be synthesized without the bad stuff.

Let's recap:

Viable when gasoline is above $2.35/gal., Cleaner burning, and our money stays here, instead of soaking into the shifting sands of the Middle East.

What am I missing?

As for the nuclear power, it's also a "no-brainer."

Tim Higgins said...

I hadn't remembered coal gasification in my rush to pontification. The case that you make is compelling.

Unfortunately, we have entered an area where the facts and logical discussion are irrelevant. The only solution that appears to be acceptable is a return to pre-industrial revolution society.