Candidates’ Views on Nuclear Power

McCain and Obama support nuclear energy as part of an overall strategy to reduce US dependence on foreign oil.  McCain hopes to greatly expand the use of nuclear power, by building 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030.  By contrast, Obama is more cautious about the role of nuclear.  In a post on TreeHugger.com, Obama is reported to have said that “before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed including security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage and proliferation. ”

Neither candidate has mentioned the enormous costs involved in building a new power plant or refurbishing an old one.  Well, one did, but he’s no longer in the race, John Edwards who rejects nuclear as not being economically viable.  “We haven’t built a nuclear power plant in this country in decades.  There’s a reason for that.  The reason is that it is extremely costly.  It takes an enormous amount of time to get one planned, developed and built.”

According to an article in the NY Times, Nuclear Endorsements Differ in Detail, the cost of building just one plant is estimated at 6-8 billion.  The construction time could take 4-6 years conservatively.  Utility companies would have to receive some sweeteners (not Aspartame) from the government to take on a new nuclear project.

Is nuclear the answer?  I don’t know.  I am not as concerned with the safety issues as I am the cost factors.  We do need to build more plants, there’s no question.  The US currently has 104 nuclear plants operating in 31 states.  Every state should have at least one.  45 new ones?  No.

Currently only about 7% of the energy consumption in the US is met by renewable sources, and mostly from hydroelectric and biomass.  Therefore, we do need to invest billions in new technology like wind and solar.  Wind could produce up to 20% of electricity in the US by 2030, for example.  It’s clean.  The only problem is getting a wind turbine built and installed might take as long as it would take to build a nuclear power plant.  The US does not have an established manufacturing base to supply parts for a large scale wind project.  Current orders for turbines are delayed.  See a recent article in the Boston Globe Projects in the Wind.

What is the answer?  All of the above, but more importantly “my friends” we need to take drastic steps to lighten our own carbon footprints to become less dependent on fossil fuels.  As Americans, we are 5% of the population and consume 26% of the world’s energy.  That’s embarrassing and frankly unjust given that worldwide 2 billion live without electricity. We need a new mantra, (sorry Sarah) –  instead of “Drill Baby Drill” how about “Walk Baby Walk” or “Bike, Baby Bike” or “Bus Baby Bus” provided those buses are CNG fueled.  If you must drive, buy a hybrid, or a fuel efficient vehicle – buy a Honda Fit.  Don’t travel so much if you can avoid it.  Take day trips instead of long distance vacations, if you take any vacation at all.  Use Zipcar.  Recycle, if you don’t already.  Take short showers.  Install low flow shower heads and aerators at your home or apartment.  Mow the lawn with an electric mower, or solar mower (I like the sound of that) but I’m not sure they exist.  Turn off the lights.  Turn your computers off students – yes it matters.  Be good to the environment.  This is how we can all put Country First!

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