Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A discussion about nuclear energy as a solution to global warming

The German magazine Spiegel Online interviews David Crane, the CEO of NRG Energy about nuclear energy:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Republican presidential candidate John McCain has proposed building 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030 with a longer term goal of 55 more. His Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, is also in favor of more atomic energy. Is the US experiencing a nuclear power renaissance?

David Crane: It's still in the early stages. Clearly, the defining incident when it comes to the acceptance of nuclear energy in Europe was Chernobyl in 1986. But in this country, it was Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which was seven years earlier than Chernobyl and a much less serious incident. You basically have to be 45 or 50 years old in the US to remember Three Mile Island.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You mean to say that people are beginning to forget about the dangers of nuclear power?

Crane: There is a perception that the American public is ready for nuclear. It's a combination of things, and one of them is generational change. The overriding concern in this country, just like in Europe, is global warming. The recognition by most pragmatic people is that nuclear is the only advanced technology that exists to replace coal-fired power plants on a significant scale. This has jump-started the renaissance. ...

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What should the energy mix of the future look like?

Crane: Obviously, we Americans are the most wasteful people on Earth. Right now, coal produces 50 percent of our power and nuclear 20 percent in the US. It would be nice over time — by 2050, the year most global warming legislation is aimed at — to have these percentages reversed. Right now, the US consumes 4.5 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity. Maybe you can get that down to 4 trillion, but that would demand a huge push towards conservation, which will be very difficult. If you turn all 240 million cars and light trucks in the US to electric-powered vehicles while boosting the share of nuclear power, the amount of carbon emissions that would be saved overall would be enormous.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Imagining for a moment that so many new nuclear reactors do go on line, what is to be done with all of the radioactive waste? Even after years of debate on the issue, there is still no solution regarding final disposal.

Crane: A lot of people talk about a final solution, and we do need one. But this solution of on-site waste storage is deemed to be safe for a long time. Global warming is an immediate issue that nuclear energy can help solve. We should solve this issue now and solve the nuclear waste issue over the next 200 years.

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