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Time to re-think nuclear power

By Katie M. Scholz | 8 February 2013

The search for alternative energy options is growing frantic. Especially as growing economies, like China, increase their reliance on coal. In fact, coal’s share of the global energy mix is still rising. Alternative energysources, like wind or solar, suffer due to their intermittent and weather-dependent nature. However, another important energy source is overlooked which could provide an important treatment for the global addiction to fossil fuels. This energy source, like coal, is abundant and provides consistent electricity. In light of the need to end dependence on fossil fuels quickly, America needs to re-think nuclear power.

Moving to a 100% renewable energy mix is crucial for the future and actually supports national economies. Nuclear energy has been used since 1951 and generates electricity for 31 countries at 437 nuclear power plants. However, in light of the Fukushima disaster, nuclear energy is received with mixed reactions, but, nuclear energy may be the best hope to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Respectful wariness of nuclear energy is understandable as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima are now household names. In light of the risks presented, any steps toward building more nuclear plants must be met with caution. Unfortunately, in the wake of Fukushima, some countries took a very reactionary stance. Germany is shutting down all of its nuclear power plants and Japan is replacing the Fukushima plant with a wind farm. However, closing plants was an overreaction for Germany, which is not at risk for earthquakes or tsunamis and has since seen its annual emissions increase. However, it is important to remember that the Three Mile Island incident is really a safety success story – only minimal radiation escaped and the core was contained.

Another argument against nuclear energy is the waste. In the past few decades there have been significant breakthroughs in minimizing and even recycling nuclear waste. America and China are on the verge of a reactor race to bring thorium reactors, which generate less waste than conventional reactors, to market. The U.S. has had thorium reactor technology since the 1960s, but has never built one due to anti-nuclear opposition. Additionally, the Department of Energy now has a plan for a permanent nuclear waste repository by 2048.

The developing world is leading the way in nuclear power generation. Many developing countries are agreeing to peaceful nuclear energy exchange and the International Atomic Energy Agency is assisting developing countries to build infrastructure for nuclear programs. With global progress stalled on a new climate change treaty, many countries are making individual pledges to increase renewable energy, including nuclear. Additionally, across the globe, leaders and scientists are attending conferences to further nuclear innovation.

It’s time for America to re-think the role of nuclear power in the nation’s energy mix. Despite anti-nuclear sentiment, America has an important role regarding nuclear energy as it has more commercial reactorsthan any other country. Refusing to lead the way on nuclear energy production and carbon emission reduction will force Americans down a much longer road to sustainable, renewable energy production.



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