Safe Nuclear Power
As publsihed in the Sun Sentinel, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on May 25, 2007.
By Lois Lindstrom
While many countries are seeking to reduce their dependence on fossil fuel, France dramatically changed its source of energy supplies--it went nuclear.
The French leadership embarked on an ambitious nuclear energy program back in 1973. Now, France has 58 nuclear power plants and derives nearly 80 percent of its electricity from that source. In short, France is the world's biggest user of nuclear power plants -- most of them operating initially with American technology.
The United States imports 58 percent of its oil, a percentage expected to rise to 68 percent by 2020. Until recently, the United States had more oil independence because of the tremendous source of oil in our own hemisphere -- especially from Venezuela.
But Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez delivered a stunning blow to U.S. oil security. He seized control of the Orinoco tar sands, and because of the size of this deposit -- between 1.2 trillion and 1.8 trillion barrels of oil -- this was a true disaster for the United States. Orinoco represents 34 percent of all known world oil reserves, and 58 years of world oil consumption at current levels.
Oil in Alberta, Canada, looks promising but environmental considerations and the difficulty and cost of extraction mean that oil exported from Canada could have major delays. Also, the U.S. Energy Department's 2006 International Energy Outlook categorized the Athabasca oil in Alberta at only 2.8 million barrels a day in 2030, which is less than 10 percent of U.S. consumption in that year. Moreover, China's consumption is expected to have quadrupled by 2030, with that country importing 11 million barrels per day. If Chávez was not moving to become a dictator in Venezuela, Americans wouldn't need to think outside the box. But if Chávez moves towards dictatorship, his potential longevity increases. And Chávez will have oil revenue from his country's partnership with China.
Many Americans are starting to believe we must consider greater reliance on nuclear power.
The United States has 104 nuclear plants -- and licenses on 48 of the older plants have been extended for the next 20 years.
Still, many Americans worry about the dangers of a nuclear energy accident. The near-disaster at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and the major accident at Chernobyl in the old Soviet Union, demonstrate how seriously nuclear power should be monitored. But many countries now believe the advantages of nuclear power overcome its shortcomings.
The trend toward nuclear power is growing exponentially around the world. A hundred new nuclear power plants will be operating in China, India, Japan, and Russia within the next 12 to 15 years, according to investment newsletter publisher Doug Casey. Casey, who hosts seminars on natural resource investments, says China, India, Japan and Russia are not expecting Middle East oil to supply their future energy needs. And that means uranium, the element needed to develop nuclear power, is rising steadily in price. Currently, uranium is $120 a pound. In 1990, uranium prices were much lower, at $12.55 per pound.
According to Casey, nuclear waste is not a great problem. If all the nuclear waste that has been used by all the power plants around the world thus far were put in one place, it would only fill a football field 30 feet high. On the other hand, burning coal to power utilities would create millions of tons of waste.
Potentially, uranium deposits are all over the world. But the problem lies in finding enough uranium deposits in one place to put it into production. It takes 10 years to put a uranium mine into production, and that is one of the reasons for its high cost.
Many Americans like alternative energy solutions, such as solar and wind, but those industries are too small to pack a meaningful wallop. The green technologies of tomorrow hold great promise, but they have not yet demonstrated an ability to perform at scale. Nuclear power, however, has already demonstrated its safety, scalability and reliability. The need for more power is rising, and many believe nuclear is the only practical way to handle mass power.
France has done a good job of providing safe nuclear power to its population. Perhaps the United States should consider following France's lead: Use more nuclear power for utilities.
Lois Lindstrom is a journalist who lives in South Florida.