This article is cross posted from Babeled
By now I’m sure we have all heard the election year colloquialisms: energy independence, climate change, renewable energy, drill here drill now, environmental stewardship, etc.
One campaign promise from one candidate leaps out at me as a sure fire way to accomplish or negate all of these. That is the pledge made by John McCain to build 45 nuclear power plants over the next 20 years.
Now, as both a Republican and a young nuclear professional I am obviously in favor of this pledge. But all my feelings aside, I can honestly say that this is the one pledge that actually has the potential to accomplish all of those popular colloquialisms at once.
The new Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) from General Electric has the capacity to produce 1,500 Megawatts of electricity. Multiply this capacity by the 45 plants McCain proposes and we are looking at 67,500 Megawatts of new generating capacity in the US!
Contrary to what interveners will tell you, nuclear power is safe. Even the worst nuclear accident in United States history at Three Mile Island did not result in one single human death! This statistic coupled with the advances in safety technology incorporated in the ESBWR makes nuclear one of the safest means of power generation available.
Also consider the fact that nuclear power is a zero-carbon energy supply. Regardless of your stance on global warming, there can be no doubt that zero-carbon is the preferable means of generation. Couple this with the magnitude of electrical generation that nuclear has the capacity for and you quite simply have both energy independence and environmental stewardship all in one package.
It is widely believed that Hydrogen Fuel Cells hold the key to transportation energy. The biggest hurdle to this of course is where do we get Hydrogen? With electricity prices so high, electrolysis from water (H2O) is not practical and hence removing the Hydrogen from Natural Gas (C2H5) is the only alternative. The down side to this of course is your byproduct from natural gas is CO2 instead of just the pure O2 that electrolysis produces. Nuclear generated electricity would be cheap enough to allow electrolysis to produce enough hydrogen to power the nation’s vehicles. Not only that, but the only byproducts would be the O2 produced by the process and the steam (H2O) from the car’s exhaust. Yet another CO2 reduction!
But what about that growing mountain of highly radioactive, long lived nuclear waste?
Mr. McCain has also pledged to both open the Yucca Mountain repository and pursue spent fuel recycling. Currently, spent nuclear fuel is stored at the plant that produced the waste. The Yucca Mountain Repository is a multi billion-dollar project that has been long-delayed by political maneuvering and is yet to open.
Spent fuel recycling will not only provide additional energy to the cycle without further mining, but it will also reduce the burden placed on Yucca Mountain by slowing the rate at which the waste is produced.
The media has referred to Barack Obama as “lukewarm on nuclear.” Sadly, this is a fallacy. By refusing to open Yucca Mountain, refusing to allow spent fuel recycling, and failing to support new plant construction Mr. Obama is, by definition, anti-nuclear. With Obama’s lack of support for each of the three issues that would allow nuclear to fulfill the nations energy demands his policy might better be described as “ice cold on nuclear.” Obama cannot come out publicly and say this of course, for fear of exposing his inability to go against radical leftists.
Energy is at the core of nearly every major issue today. The economy, national security, the environment: all are contingent upon meeting our growing energy demands. Nuclear can meet those needs if our government would only allow it.
John McCain will allow it. Barack Obama will not. Consider this in November.