Saturday, August 19, 2006

In Favor of Nuclear Power

With gasoline at $3.00/gallon and climbing, we’ve got to think seriously about building some new nuclear-powered electricity generating stations.

I suspect that there are millions of us Americans who would drive electric vehicles to work if the economics make sense. The vehicle needs to have the necessary features, of course. It needs to be comfortable for at least two people, have a little room for cargo, be able to operate at freeway speeds, can be recharged in six hours or less, have air conditioning and a decent sound system, and be available at a price point that makes sense.

A good deal of the freight in our country could be hauled between cities on the railroads, using trains powered by electric locomotives.

All the public transportation in our cities could be electric trolleys and buses.

If the electricity for all those applications comes from nuclear power plants, then we will make a huge dent in our demand for oil. The objective is not to lower the price of oil by reducing our demand, it’s to substantially eliminate the need for oil in our economy all together. Instead of being dependent on good relations with the oil-rich countries of the Middle East, we can tell them to keep their oil and find someone else to terrorize.

It is possible to have a safe nuclear powered infrastructure. The French have been doing it for years. One of the keys is their standardized reactor/generator design which can be replicated over and over. You get continuous improvement in both safety and efficiency only when you can apply your learning across the whole installed base of technology. In fact, I would be in favor of licensing France’s reactor design so that we get a head start with a known model.

What about the waste? We have to stop letting a few folks dictate the strategic energy policy of the whole country. We seem to have built a safe storage facility in
Yucca Mountain, and we have safe mechanisms for transport. If we put the power plants in the right places, we don’t have to run the shipping casks through populated areas to get to the storage facility. What about the potential for bad guys high jacking a shipment? Why don’t we deploy troops to guard the power plants and the shipment trains instead of protecting our oil interests in the Middle East?

The alternative is to keep competing with the Chinese for oil until we both suck the world dry and end up going to war over what’s left.

Yes, keep working on all the other alternative fuel sources: wind, hydro, fusion, solar, etc. And let’s get serious about conservation. Tell my neighbors, commercial and residential, to turn off all the damn lights that create light pollution and waste energy. Let’s figure out how to store energy on a massive scale so don’t have to match generator capacity to the peak demand. The guys who designed the
Niagara Power Project figured out a neat way to do this.

In the mix, there is still a need for an electrical power source which functions when there is no wind, or it’s cloudy, yet doesn’t rely on oil as an energy source. Nuclear power fits that bill.

Opponents of nuclear power – cut back your electrical energy consumption by 80% and your fossil fuel consumption by 100% for a month or two. That’s what life would be like when the oil runs out. Then let’s talk about the best way to make lots more power.

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