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... Or ... Reviving the Nuclear Power Plant Program and Other Horrors

There's a lot of buzz these days about "The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Future," including thoughts about how we'll get the energy needed to create the hydrogen fuel that millions of us will pump into our hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles.

We can't exactly build a pipeline to the sun to use the ample stores of hydrogen there, so we'll have to develop our hydrogen supplies the hard way, and that means having other energy sources to create our hydrogen fuel source. Additionally, overall electricity use is projected to rise, which suggests the need for increased generating capacity---i.e. we'll need more power plants. The current focus of some energy planners is on reviving the building program for nuclear power plants.

It's been a couple of decades since anyone seriously tried to get a new nuclear power plant approved. Incidents like those at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have made the public wary of building more nuclear power plants in the United States. The problems of nuclear waste disposal and the threat of terrorists targeting nuclear power plants adds to the hesitancy.

The political debate may seem a little abstract right now, but there is a practical question that can be asked: "Would I rather see energy picture of nuclear power plant efficiency and conservation increase over the next 20 years, or would I rather have a new nuclear power plant built in my town?" Except for the clinically insane and that X-Files guy who fed off radiation, the votes come in strongly against the Backyard Nuclear Program. Granted, nuclear power plants rarely leak radiation, but the nuclear waste problem and the threat of terrorist attacks seem like reason enough to leave fission-based nuclear energy on the road to elimination.

No one really wants a coal-fired power plant in their neighborhood either because of coal's pollution problems. "Clean coal" technologies exist and hold some promise for the future, but they are currently too expensive to be implemented widely. Natural gas is cleaner than coal but still causes some level of pollution and global-warming gases, and natural-gas price fluctuations have been a problem recently. And we all know about that dependence-on-foreign-oil thing, so building more oil-fired power plants isn't a good solution either

These facts make the argument for increasing energy efficiency and conservation even stronger, and also make obvious the need for more investment in renewable energy technologies like wind, solar, and wave/tidal power.

Your five-year-old might think it would be cool to have foot-long glowing ants and mutant nuclear earthworms in the back yard, and maybe your Uncle Zeek stands to lose millions if we start deviating from the 1960s fossil-fuel-based playbook. But even so, it might be better to switch to energy-saving light bulbs, tweak the thermostat a couple of degrees, and start working on REAL energy solutions.

Publish date: 14-OCT-2003


The United States has 103 nuclear reactors that currently supply about 20 percent of the country's electricity. Several nuclear plants began operation in the 1990s, after taking many years to complete. No new nuclear power plants have been commissioned since the early 1970s.


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Songs for a Better Planet

History shows again and again
How nature points out the folly of man.   more

Song: "Godzilla"

Artist: Blue Oyster Cult

Album: Spectres

Category: Classic Rock



He was left over from the age of dinosaurs and reanimated by nuclear testing. His atomic breath was worse than your spouse's the morning after a night of tequila and nachos. But he's the monster we all love to fear. Blue Oyster Cult's musings on "Godzilla" are mostly limited to the great green giant's in-city rampages, but the above lyric provides a pointed reminder of the law of unintended consequences. Overall, "Spectres" is a classic of BOC's middle period—dead-centered rock 'n' roll but still retaining progressive-rock underpinnings.

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"Nuclear power as a solution to global warming is theoretically possible, but the proliferation problems and accident risks it would create would, I think, be intolerable because you have to build an immense number of nuclear power plants—one large plant a week around the world for the next 40 years—to make a significant dent in the global warming problem."

— Arjun Makhijani,
President, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research


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