British scientist James Lovelock, the father of the living earth Gaia theory, has stated that nuclear power is the only way to have a large human population on planet earth without causing global warming and destroying the environment. Nuclear power is the only technology that can produce an extremely high volume of energy using just a tiny amount of land and at reasonable cost, all without emitting any significant amounts of greenhouse gases. Energy conservation, solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, and other energy schemes can help the cause, but nuclear power is the only major, core solution to global warming available to human beings.
Using nuclear power we can make synthetic gasoline and jet fuel directly from atmospheric carbon dioxide. This new energy scheme may be cheaper and more practical than using hydrogen as fuel, because it would require no changes to our existing energy distribution infrastructure. Intense heat from nuclear reactors is used to break down carbon dioxide into its component parts, carbon monoxide and oxygen. The carbon monoxide can then be combined with water in a catalytic process to make either pure hydrogen gas or more easily transportable liquid synthetic fuels that can be used in ordinary automobiles.
One of the benefits of nuclear power is that the United States already owns huge stockpiles of nuclear fuel in the form of nuclear weapons materials, which can be converted into fuel rods for civilian power production. If you consider the amount of uranium easily available in the earth’s crust for mining, plus the use of much more plentiful thorium as fuel in breeder reactors, then the world has enough nuclear fuel to last for thousands of years; an essentially endless supply. Nuclear power plants efficiently output at least 93 times more energy than they consume over their lifespan, including the energy used in their construction and decommissioning.
Nuclear fuel rods can be reprocessed over and over again because only a tiny portion of the nuclear material is actually used up during each fuel cycle. When you reprocess fuel rods there is very little high level nuclear waste that needs to be stored at the Yucca Mountain Repository. The nuclear “waste” is simply reused as nuclear fuel, and that is part of the reason why France’s nuclear power program has been so successful. France relies heavily on nuclear power plants and nuclear fuel reprocessing, and France has the cleanest air and lowest electricity rates in Europe.
The fears Americans have about civilian nuclear power plants are largely unfounded. One lone disaster that occurred at an obsolete Ukrainian reactor is insufficient reason to be eternally afraid of all nuclear power plants across the board. The old Chernobyl reactor used a dangerous design that has never been used in the West, and which did not even have a containment vessel. The 1986 Chernobyl accident was caused by Soviet engineers conducting irresponsible experiments that were unrelated to normal civilian power production, and which would not be allowed in the USA. The Chernobyl accident killed a total of 56 people, a great tragedy, but not a nation killing disaster.
Nuclear power plants in America have an excellent record for safety and pollution free operation. By contrast, the over 600 coal burning power plants which produce 49% of our nation’s electricity unleash tremendous pollution. They emit sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen which cause acid rain, tons of toxic mercury, and an enormous skyward bound river of carbon dioxide gas which represents 10% of all CO2 emissions worldwide. Coal power plants also spew out thorium and uranium, both radioactive metals which naturally accumulate in coal. The potential nuclear energy value of these metals far exceeds the energy value of the combustible carbon content of the coal itself. Coal power plants also release microscopic particulate matter, which clogs the lungs and is attributed to causing approximately 24,000 premature deaths in the United States every year; 428 times the Chernobyl death toll.
Why is there so little fear of coal burning power plants, but so much hysterical fear of much safer and healthier nuclear power? The answer is that nuclear power has been unfairly demonized by a Hollywood entertainment industry trying to make a quick buck, and by scientifically undereducated politicians and environmental activists. There has never been a single death attributed to American civilian nuclear power plants, which produce electricity at an average cost of about 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, a rate comparable to hydroelectric power and less than natural gas or coal.
Building new, more efficient standardized nuclear power plant designs using mass production techniques for major structural and control components can make nuclear power a bargain. Just like manufacturing television sets, the more you build using the same design the cheaper they become. For the total long term cost of the Iraq War, estimated to be about 2 trillion dollars, we could build 670 1,500 megawatt nuclear power plants outputting a total of 1,005,000 megawatts. Gas cooled pebble bed reactors with containment structures can be used in areas without sufficient water for conventional water cooled designs. Pebble bed reactors are inherently meltdown proof due to the basic laws of physics. If the reactor’s cooling system should fail, the core temperature automatically lowers itself to safe levels without mechanical intervention.
This plan would give the United States virtual energy independence, more than doubling our current national electric generating capacity of 906,155 megawatts. Nuclear power has the potential to save us from desertification of our heartland, increased storm damage and coastal flooding. Unlike producing biofuels, use of nuclear power will never cause food shortages, erode topsoil, or be exquisitely dependent on climatic conditions for reliable energy production.