Obama’s Nuclear Energy Ambitions Are Spot On

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Almost exactly 5 years ago, ran an article chronicling the various reasons why nuclear energy was a decent idea. At the time, I was skeptical upon reading the headline, but once I dug into the article I was swayed and considered this alternative more seriously.

It was definitely a controversial piece, but it was hard to refute the conclusion: nuclear energy is essential to our long term “green” plans…

On a cool spring morning a quarter century ago, a place in Pennsylvania called Three Mile Island exploded into the headlines and stopped the US nuclear power industry in its tracks. What had been billed as the clean, cheap, limitless energy source for a shining future was suddenly too hot to handle.

In the years since, we’ve searched for alternatives, pouring billions of dollars into windmills, solar panels, and biofuels. We’ve designed fantastically efficient lightbulbs, air conditioners, and refrigerators. We’ve built enough gas-fired generators to bankrupt California. But mainly, each year we hack 400 million more tons of coal out of Earth’s crust than we did a quarter century before, light it on fire, and shoot the proceeds into the atmosphere.

The consequences aren’t pretty. Burning coal and other fossil fuels is driving climate change, which is blamed for everything from western forest fires and Florida hurricanes to melting polar ice sheets and flooded Himalayan hamlets. On top of that, coal-burning electric power plants have fouled the air with enough heavy metals and other noxious pollutants to cause 15,000 premature deaths annually in the US alone, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study. Believe it or not, a coal-fired plant releases 100 times more radioactive material than an equivalent nuclear reactor – right into the air, too, not into some carefully guarded storage site. (And, by the way, more than 5,200 Chinese coal miners perished in accidents last year.)

Burning hydrocarbons is a luxury that a planet with 6 billion energy-hungry souls can’t afford. There’s only one sane, practical alternative: nuclear power.

Sure, we had the boogeymamn of Three Mile Island, but that was a blip on the radar of this new energy revolution. Also, when you consider that many other first world nations have embraced this tech (including France…in a big way), it becomes even more compelling.

Maybe that’s why we didn’t see too many objections in the left blogosphere to Obama’s nuclear energy proposals in the State of the Union speech? After all, there are over 100 nuclear reactors in operation right now in the US and they provide almost 20% of the nation’s electricity.

Well, now we hear he’ll be freeing up some tax credits to catch up with the rest of the world…

President Barack Obama next week will announce a loan guarantee to build the first nuclear power plant in the United States in almost three decades, an administration official said Friday.

The two new Southern Co. reactors to be built in Burke, Ga., are part of a White House energy plan administration officials hope will draw Republican support. Obama’s direct involvement in announcing the award underscores the political weight the White House is putting behind its effort to use nuclear power and alternative energy sources to lessen American dependence on foreign oil and reduce the use of other fossil fuels blamed for global warming.

Loan guarantees for other sites are expected to be announced in the coming months, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the decision had not yet been made public. The federal guarantees are seen as essential for construction of any new reactor because of the huge expense involved. Critics call the guarantees a form of subsidy and say taxpayers will assume a huge risk, given the industry’s record of cost overruns and loan defaults.

I think criticism is fair when it comes to cost overruns, but as far as the science goes…this is essential. We need to put the demons of the past in proper perspective and focus on the future. Nuclear is safer than many energy technologies and we should pursue it until something can replace it. So, for the next 50 years, this will help us move away from “clean” coal and to a more productive, environmentally responsible solution.