The nuclear option

Some feel nuclear power is dangerous, expensive and unclean. The incidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have tainted public opinion of the energy alternative to a point where politicians, like those in Minnesota, passed moratoriums banning the construction of any new nuclear facilities. The Minnesota Senate just made the initial step toward lifting MinnesotaâÄôs moratorium on nuclear reactor construction, and the House, while showing greater hesitation, should follow suit. Last yearâÄôs unprecedented rise in oil prices will undoubtedly resume once the economic troubles reside. If America truly aspires to free itself from the clutches of costly foreign oil, nuclear energy is the most realistic place to start. Clean coal remains a pipe dream, at least until carbon-sequestration technology advances. Wind, solar and geothermal are wonderfully clean alternatives, but promise nowhere near the efficiency nuclear already delivers. Unless the looming disaster of global warming is mere government-scientific conspiracy, a position this Editorial Board refuses to respect, America should enthusiastically throw its weight behind the nuclear option. No new nuclear reactors have been built in this country since 1974. For Greenpeace and other anti-nuclear activists, the National Public Radio story that aired March 28 âÄî the thirtieth anniversary of PennsylvaniaâÄôs Three Mile Island nuclear facility âÄî raised an interesting point: Three Mile Island represented a success in nuclear safety, not an inevitable, catastrophic danger from nuclear power many intuitively conclude from the event. Indeed, the nuclear catastrophe killed no one, nor did it cause any serious injury. Subsequent studies have not been able to link radiation exposure to increased cancer rates. In the face of disaster the team at Three Mile Island was able to respond quickly and effectively, minimizing damages and ensuring the safety of local residents despite the frightening occurrence of a worst-case scenario. Drastic reduction of carbon emissions dominates the green agenda, so itâÄôs high time we get real about the benefits of nuclear power. Today, 87.5 percent of FranceâÄôs electric power is generated by its 59 nuclear power plants. And as 60 minutes reported in 2007, the French now enjoy the cleanest air of any industrialized nation and the cheapest energy in all of Europe. Nuclear power has undeniable advantages. ItâÄôs almost perfectly clean, producing no carbon, methane or any other greenhouse gas. Anyone whoâÄôs played SimCity knows the advent of nuclear power brings unmatched cost-effectiveness. Of course, nuclear power is not without its disadvantages. Nuclear plants are more costly to build than alternatives. While the construction cost of a new coal-fired power plant can run upward to $1300 per KW, nuclear plants cost $2,000 per KW. Advances in technology have drastically reduced this cost since the French began their nuclear advance in the 80s. But with its $787 billion stimulus package and more than $3 trillion budget, this Federal Administration shows no unwillingness to invest unprecedented sums of money in AmericaâÄôs future. It is unlikely public funds will be necessary to get nuclear construction underway, anyway. Finally, there is the sticky problem of what to do with all the nuclear waste. The fact remains, nuclear waste can be safely stored behind meter-thick containment, in deep and dry locations. After already having invested $10 billion into the disposal facility at NevadaâÄôs Yucca Mountain, our nation is allowing NIMBY whiners like Nevada Senator Harry Reid to hold our green energy future hostage. The outmoded fear of nuclear waste is keeping Nevadans from enjoying an incredibly lucrative opportunity. What more, those short-sighted local âÄònot in my backyard-ersâÄô are basically requiring existing nuclear waste to remain at far more dangerous locations like populous New York City, wet Washington State and hurricane-prone South Carolina. Unfortunately, the same Barack Obama who courted moderates throughout his campaign by standing behind nuclear power as part of an overall basket of clean energy alternatives has practically reneged his support by opposing waste storage at Yucca Mountain. But slowing global warming, increasing fiscal efficiency and attaining energy independence are urgent needs. Regardless of whether our President is willing to set back years of progress on nuclear waste storage for NevadaâÄôs five electoral votes, Minnesota should set its own path toward clean energy. The Minnesota Senate and House must overturn our stateâÄôs moratorium on nuclear power plant construction. Nuclear power promises unmatched cost-effectiveness, basic cleanliness, and yes âÄì with proper practices – safety; itâÄôs time to leave old notions of nuclear fear aside for a truly green future. ItâÄôs time for the nuclear option.