Monday, August 13, 2007

Energy Policy: Part IV

So far nobody has suggested a workable plan that I’m aware of. Let me give you a plan in one word: nuclear. I know that word strikes fear in the hearts of many, but safe and well-run nuclear plants may be the only long-term solution. I’m not going to go into the details of justifying nuclear plants, except to point out a few facts:

Most of France’s electric power comes from nukes (I think around 78%), and they have done well, with no incidents.

We have 102 nuclear plants in operation in the US, and except for a relatively minor (but overblown by the media) incident at Three Mile Island many years ago, they have run for years without a problem.

How would this new world of abundant nuclear power work?

First of all, we today believe science and technology can solve any problem. Science has become our god in many ways. Yet when it comes to nuclear power, this avid faith in science dissipates. Yet I believe science and technology (as well as enlightened government policies) can resolve the issues of nuclear waste disposal and safety. All we lack is the resolve to make it happen. By focusing on the objective, we built the atom bomb and we put a man on the moon. Can’t we have the same focused effort today?

One way to make nukes safe is to have only one or two standard designs for plants (as I believe the French do), have very good industry-wide government-approved procedures, intensive and frequent training, and constant monitoring and auditing by regulatory officials. These plants would also be built in less populated and safe areas (no earthquake faults). These are doable, and are prudent policies for the safety of the population. If the French can do it, so can we.

As more nukes come on line, older coal-burning plants could be retired or kept in reserve for peak demand times such as the hot summer months. Moreover, wind and solar could be more extensively used, which can start immediately. The results of this policy will eventually be abundant electric energy, much less air pollution, and slower depletion of non-renewable natural resources. As the same time, the electrical grid must be updated and modernized to handle the predicted load.

As electricity becomes more abundant, all-electric and hybrid vehicles should become the norm, with traditionally-powered cars being phased out. These new cars would recharge at night using off-peak electricity, and could continue to recharge while driving using their brakes (as hybrids now do) and solar panels. Most trips are short, such as commuting or shopping, so most travel would be well within the range of these vehicles. For long trips, batteries could be traded in and replaced on the road with freshly charged ones. In hybrids, the gasoline engine would be available as needed. More on energy policy in a future posting. Stay tuned.

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