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Going Nuclear?

2 Feb

Over the past month and a half I’ve been educating myself about nuclear energy, delving into the pros and cons, the ins and outs, the ups and downs … you get the picture.

While there’s still a lot I don’t know, I think I’ve learned enough to get a decent handle on the most pertinent issues relating to renewable energy and, more importantly, to pose some questions that I think are at the heart of the nuclear “problem.”

So, in no particular order, here goes …

1. Is nuclear energy a “renewable” energy? Either way, what role, if any, should or will it play in our energy future?

2. The US currently gets around 20% of its electricity from nuclear plants. France gets something like 80%. Why the gap? Can or should the US ramp up its nuclear portfolio?

3. Part of the answer to Question 2 is that the “accidents” at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986) scared the crap out of the public and put the nuclear industry on its heels. But have reactor designs and safety measures improved since TMI and Chernobyl? If so, should these improvements result in renewed interest in nuclear power?

4. Again, playing off of Question 2 … why has France been so relatively successful in pushing and developing nuclear power? How successful is the French nuclear program? What are its drawbacks?

5. Is there even a halfway decent idea out there about how to handle nuclear waste? Yucca Mountain seems dead. Or is it? Recycling waste is costly, although France seems to recycle with some success. Could this work in the US?

6. A main argument against building more nuclear power plants is that the waste can be reprocessed and used to make material for nuclear weapons. So first, is there any way to treat or process waste that renders it useless for weapon building? And how does this work? If, God forbid, a terrorist cell were to hijack a shipment of nuclear waste, how simple would it be to turn the stuff into a weapon?

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