Renewable Energy | December 03, 2008 |
Nuclear: A Boon or Bomb for Obama?
During the Presidential campaign, Barack Obama said: "I've put forward a plan to make sure that, in 10 years' time, we have freed ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil." Whether that decidedly aggressive timeline includes the use of nuclear power remains to be seen.
As global warming has become a more pressing issue, the profile of nukes has risen and become more contentious. Proponents call it safe, domestic, and carbon-free while opponents brand it as expensive, dangerous, and unnecessary. Here are some of the major pro and con arguments in the debate:
- None of the 104 operating commercial plants in the United States has suffered a radioactive leak.
- Plans for 26 modern reactors are awaiting approval.
- Tons of regulatory requirements have made nuclear energy safer.
- We can put the nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain.
- No CO2.
- Nuclear disasters are still possible and plants are relatively easy targets for terrorists.
- The public is still scared of nukes. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are still anxiety triggers.
- Regulatory red tape makes building a plant a long, expensive undertaking.
- Obama campaigned against Yucca and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (of Nevada) hates the idea.
- Nuclear weapons.
Obama has hedged his bets, saying that "It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power as an option," while conceding that "what we've got to figure out is can we store the material properly. Can we make sure that they're secure? Can we deal with the expense?"
In a recent blog, The Huffington Post maligned nuclear, arguing that studies confirm America can pursue clean energy without splitting atoms, concluding that "nuclear propagandists have and will continue to attempt to spin the climate crisis."
It's a great notion to think of an America buzzing with windmills, solar panels, and electric cars. The truth, I believe, is that these advances are going to take longer than 10 years to bloom and boom, but might it take equally long to churn up nuclear plants, even on a fast track?
As usual, politics will determine how this situation plays out. The nuclear lobby knows this is its last chance to get back in the game, the President-elect has shown some support, and highly-scalable renewables are still on the cusp. This vista tells me that nuke-tech will play at least some role in our zero carbon future.
Photo by Flickr user Marshall Astor