With nuclear power off the table, now what?
R. Glenn Vawter
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
The images of the destruction, suffering and fear in Japan have, in my opinion, closed the door on any near term expansion of nuclear power in this country. In fact, we could see some U.S. plants shut down as a result of the announced reviews.
I personally think nuclear power is safe here. But having been in the nuclear industry, I think public opinion and politics will rule the day. The fear of anything nuclear is an emotion that will not fade easily, no matter how the situation in Japan is resolved.
Since nuclear power has been an integral part of this and the past administration’s energy strategy, what is going to take its place?
There are those that naively believe that renewable sources such as wind and solar are the sole answer and the nation can forget coal, petroleum, natural gas and oil shale. Nearly every energy expert I see quoted believes that renewables are important, will at best be a partial solution, and will take decades to make a meaningful contribution.
Natural gas is being found in large quantities in the United States – which is very positive – and it will therefore play a key role in our energy future.
Even though some politicians seem to ignore it, natural gas is a fossil fuel, and produces carbon dioxide when burned in cars, homes and factories.
Nuclear advocates have touted nuclear power as a non-polluting energy source at the expense of fossil energy sources; basing their conclusion on the fact that nuclear power does not produce carbon dioxide. That is an argument that obviously has not taken into account the public safety concerns and the lack of a political solution to nuclear waste disposition.
It seems to me that our country needs to seek a balance between what some believe are the dire effects of carbon dioxide on future climate change, and the consequences we see daily by continuing to import larger and larger quantities of expensive foreign petroleum, and not using our own huge domestic supplies of oil shale, natural gas and coal.
Coal and oil shale are not dirty fuels. Their production will have to meet regulatory standards, or they will not be developed.
For example, “clean coal” technologies have come a long way, and the emissions from coal-fired power plants have been dramatically reduced over the past decades. Coal is the best alternative to nuclear for power generation, with natural gas and renewables also playing a key role.
The supply of transportation fuels is the biggest energy problem we face. More than 90 percent of the fuels used to power the U.S. transportation sector (cars, trucks, planes and trains) come from petroleum, and more than 60 percent of this oil comes from outside our borders.
Even though the U.S. does not get much of its petroleum from hostile countries like Libya, we still suffer the resultant gasoline price increases and shortages, along with the rest of the world, when supplies are disrupted or political tensions rise.
The lack of factual and credible information about energy is a real problem. We citizens should demand more credible information and less propaganda, so we can have the facts upon which to make judgments and advise our elected officials.
In summary, we need all the domestic sources of energy, plus conservation, to get us through to a secure future for our grandchildren. A balanced strategy is needed that does not exclude the responsible and economically viable development and production of all domestic fossil and renewable resources.
R. Glenn Vawter is a management consultant with experience in the nuclear, oil and gas, mineral and oil shale sectors. He lives in Glenwood Springs, where he owns and operates ATP Services, LLC. He is a graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, attended the Harvard Business School, and was an executive with energy, aerospace and mineral development firms. He serves on the BLM’s Northwest Colorado Resource Advisory Council representing energy and minerals.
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