Citizens Guide to Sustainable Energy: Nuclear Energy

Citizens Guide to Sustainable Energy

Nuclear power

3 Mile IslandProponents of nuclear power argue that it is both a safe, clean and renewable energy source argue which should be given a prominent part of the overall mix of energy sources to help feed the region's growing demand for energy.

Opponents point to Chernoybl as a tragic example of the threat to human and environmental health posed by deadly radioactive pollution. The critics claim that no matter how sophisticated the design and management of safeguard systems, the immensely destructive consequences from a single mistake disqualifies nuclear power from consideration as a "sustainable energy" source.

Candidate views

In the presidential campaign, both Obama and McCain have included nuclear power as a viable part of the national energy mix, although highlighting the differences in their approaches.McCain proposes building 45 new nuclear plants by 2030, which would "provide 7,000 jobs for American workers." His ultimate goal is to construct 100 such plants. In his Lexington Project strategy, McCain says:

Nuclear power is a proven, zero-emission source of energy, and it is time we recommit to advancing our use of nuclear power. Currently, nuclear power produces 20% of our power, but the U.S. has not started construction on a new nuclear power plant in over 30 years. China, India and Russia have goals of building a combined total of over 100 new plants and we should be able to do the same. It is also critical that the U.S. be able to build the components for these plants and reactors within our country so that we are not dependent on foreign suppliers with long wait times to move forward with our nuclear plans.

McCain's proposal to subsidize the building of nuclear plants has beencriticized as simply too expensive, especially in comparison with public investment in other energy alternatives. Other problems with nuclear beyond their high cost and safety risks, are its radioactive waste products, as well as the security aspects. One of the byproducts of reprocessed nuclear fuel is plutionium -- a key ingrediate in making nuclear weapons.Rejecting the charge that he is "anti-nuclear," Obama has instead said (in his acceptance speech in Denver) he will "find ways to safely harness nuclear power." In his "New Energy for America" plan, Obama calls for "safe and secure nuclear energy," pointing out that:

Nuclear power represents more than 70 percent of our non-carbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power as an option. However, before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed included: security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation.

This more cautious approach highlights the need to safeguard nculear material abroad and in the U.S. as "a top anti-terrorism priority." On nuclear waste, Obama opposes storage at Yucca Mountain, while calling for "federal efforts to look for safe, long-term disposal solutions based on objective, scientific analysis," while also developing requirements "to ensure that the waste stored at current reactor sites is contained using the most advanced dry-cask storage technology available."

Other views

New York Times - "Two endorsements of nuclear power, but sharp differences on detail," Larry Rohter, October 9, 2008.American Nuclear SocietyChristian Science Monitor - America warms up to nuclear powerDepartment of Energy - Moving ahead with a new nuclear ageEnergy Information Administration - U.S. dataFrontline - Why do Americans fear nuclear power?Greenpeace - End the nuclear age

How Stuff Works - How nuclear power works

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - ABCs of nuclear scienceMassachusetts Institute of Technology - The future of nuclear power

New Scientist - The nuclear ageNuclear Energy Institute - the clean air energy

Nuclear Files -Nuclear Information and Resource Service -Resources for the Future - The future of nuclear powerSustainable Energy Working Group

Sustainable Energy Coalition - Nuclear safetyTaxpayers for Common Sense - Nuclear industry subsidies

Union of Concerned Scientists - Nuclear safety

US Nuclear Regulatory CommissionWikipedia - Nuclear power

Wilson Quarterly - Nuclear power: Both sidesWorld Wildlife Fund - Why not nuclear power?

Worldwatch - Nuclear power inches up

World Resources Institute - Nuclear energy consumption

Energy and Climate Change

In the United States, as in other parts of the world, citizens are increasingly concerned about the threats to our future posed by climate change and our addiction to fossil fuels. In turn, many US citizens recognize the need to take responsibility for ourselves and our country in transforming the ways we produce and consume energy -- in our households, communities, regions and nation.