October 3, 2007

More New Nukes!

I’ve thought, since at least my college years, that we need more nuclear power plants in this country. Reading this week’s New York Times Freakonomics column – which cleverly blames Jane Fonda for global warming – only reinforces that belief. Nuclear power provides about one-fifth of our national electrical power; coal provides more than three-quarters. (Alternative sources like hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, and solar power total the remaining less than one-twentieth of the watts powering your computer right now.) As a functional matter, we burn no oil for household or commercial electricity – every drop of oil burned in America is used to power vehicles and other kinds of internal combustion engines, because until we make cheap, tiny cold fusion reactors to put in everything from airplanes to weed whackers, there just isn’t going to be any substitute for oil-based fuel for energy density and portability. Sure, we can create more windmills and solar panels, but we’ve capped off all the geysers we’re ever going to and we’re tearing down dams rather than building new ones. And our demand for electricity is only going to increase in the future as our population grows and our industries continue to transform.

Nuclear power carries risk, to be sure. But if the Greenland ice cap continues to melt, the runoff into the ocean could raise sea levels as much as 23 feet within a century. (That doesn’t count the melting that would take place in Antarctica or on the polar cap in the Northern Ocean – because if Greenland heats up and melts, so will those areas.) I don’t want to join the chorus of global warming alarmists, but the fact of the matter is that global warming is happening. Proof: the legendary Northwest Passage has opened. Maybe this is not happening because of anything humanity is doing, maybe there’s nothing we can do to stop it. But I suspect that reality will turn out to involve a complex dynamic and that three centuries of industrialization will turn out to play a part in it – so if this phenomenon is going to be abated, there needs to be some kind of change in the way industrial activity takes place. Most of the scientists studying this seem to think that burning carbon-based fuel is a big factor in this – and nuclear power does not burn carbon-based fuel.

Burning less coal and more uranium would result in less carbon going into the atmosphere, and the risks of pumping more carbon into our air seems to exceed the risk of a Chernobyl-like disaster occuring in the U.S. And you know, if we’d been burning more uranium and less coal since Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas’s hysterical anti-nuke rant in 1979, things might be substantially less bad today than they are now.


Orange Phantom said...

Well, we seem to agree on this subject.

zzi said...

I'm sure you heard this before.

"When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything.
-- GK Chesterton