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Reactor talk

| July 29, 2005 12:00 AM

Nuclear energy, long missing from public discussion on energy production or clean energy, has been quietly gaining a foothold among prominent environmentalists and it even escaped the president's lips recently during a speech.

Now its prominently displayed in the so-called "energy plan" which is really just an energy consumption bill because it contains little if any conservation measures or attempts to consume less.

With the country struggling to deal with a repository for spent fuel rods and other waste from existing and previously operating nuclear facilities, there has been very little talk of new nuclear generating plants outside of Iran or maybe North Korea.

Apparently, the growing urgency about climate change — with exception of the U.S. government — has prompted some mainstream, prominent environmentalists to write articles that nuclear should be reconsidered as a remedy for global warming.

Three Mile Island, Diablo Canyon and, of course, Chernobyl were daggers in the heart of the nuclear generating business. People were flat out afraid of the downside of nuclear. It could be argued that safety was just one reason nuclear has been put on the back burner for energy production. It's not oil being another reason and the cost of building the huge generating stations being yet another.

Not untypical, we Americans tend to do things big and then wonder why it doesn't work well. Instead of constructing smaller regional power plants, we have to build mega-plants and then legislate and lobby for lighter environmental laws to make it work. How about if we build smaller plants and more of them?

As of two years ago, nuclear plants were producing about 20 percent of this country's electricity. Interestingly, nuclear power produces more electricity than oil, natural gas and hydropower, according to the Congressional Research Service. Of course, coal produces more than 50 percent of the nation's power. And coal is considered one of the villains in the global warming issue.

No new nuclear plant has been ordered for construction since the late 1970's and about 100 generating plants have been closed. The cost of building the Tennessee Valley Authority's last nuclear power plant was in the $2 billion to $6 billion range.

Industry officials said the cost of construction could come down drastically if the same design were used in the construction of many plants.

The real bugaboo for the nuclear industry is handling nuclear material and waste. We have the ability to deal with it safely, we just seem to lack the will.

Don't be surprised to hear this become a growing issue. It's a national discussion that needs to happen. — Roger Morris