Like a lot of people, the rising gas prices has had me doing a lot of thinking about energy. About our dependence on petroleum. And I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to give nuclear power another try.
In addition to being incredibly energy-efficient, petroleum is one of the most versatile substances around. That’s not entirely by accident; we’ve literally spent decades finding new uses for it, and ways to use it more efficiently. And what is the most common application? Burning. We take this substance that has all these wonderful uses and instead convert it into foul, toxic, corrosive fumes.
For all the hysteria and scare-mongering, nuclear power has a remarkable safety record in the United States and, for the most part, around the world. In over 60 years of research, development, and application of nuclear power, there has only been a single major incident — and I think we can safely lay Chernobyl at the feet of a corrupt, totalitarian, oppressive, Communist regime. (But I repeat myself a bit there.) Never in the United States or any other nation (such as France or Japan, both heavy users of nuclear power) has there been a disaster anywhere near that magnitude, and (to the best of my knowledge) not a single nuclear power plant mishap has claimed a single life in the United States.
For an even more impressive safety record, look at the United States Navy. By my calculations, the Navy has sent almost 250 reactors to sea in warships over the last 50+ years, and not once has there been a major reactor incident. The Navy is doing something very RIGHT with its plants, and we ought to see about adapting that particular bit of military expertise to civilian use.
Also, there have been tremendous advances in nuclear energy since the United States last really focused on nuclear power. Pebble bed reactors show tremendous potential for safety. Also, the notion of simply standardizing reactor designs, instead of making each a “one-off” unique design like we did in the 60’s and 70’s, could help keep the construction and operation costs more economical.
Nuclear power generation is not some horrible, scary, evil force that threatens the lives of every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth. And they are not run by Homer Simpsons. If we want to truly have affordable energy, we really need to look at building some new reactors.
Or, if you’ll forgive a “crude” metaphor (and a worse pun), we can keep ourselves bent over the barrel.
US Naval reactors, based on easily-found sources online and a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships, 19-77-78:
Class #vessels Reactors/vessel
Los Angeles 62×1
Seawolf II 03×1
Ethan Allen 05×1
G. Washington 05×1
Seawolf I 01×1
Long Beach 01×2
Grand Total: 240
(Truxtun and Long Beach added, thanks to jim in the comments. My apologies for overlooking them.)