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Are nukes the future?


George Bush’s vision for a nuclear renaissance edged a little closer to becoming reality this week, with eleven nations signing up for the US-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). The pact is intended to open up the international nuclear industry while preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

Under the deal, America and four other nuclear-fuel producing nations will open an atomic-lending library. Would-be nuclear states will be able to check out uranium, use it to power specially designed plants, then return the waste for reprocessing. The aim, ultimately, is to allow developing countries to reap the benefits of cheap, clean nuclear power, while preventing them from gaining the technology needed to turn the leftovers into atomic bombs.

At face value,, that’s a laudable goal: The world’s appetite for energy is set to almost double by 2030, and all that extra electricity is going to have to come from somewhere. Environmentalists are rightly queasy about nuclear energy, but if it’s done right, it could prove far greener and cleaner than coal, which is currently the next-best option.

The problem is that, like Bush’s other proposed environmental panaceas, the GNEP framework is heavily dependent on technology that doesn't yet exist. The fuel-recycling processes posited by GNEP are still little more than wishful thinking. Even if they can be developed, they would likely create substantial radioactive chemical byproducts, while leaving tens of thousands of tons of spent uranium to be disposed of in landfills or nuclear dumps.

Given that the US currently lacks even a vestigial waste-reprocessing infrastructure, and is still struggling to figure out how to safely store her own radioactive waste, pledging to take other people’s nuclear detritus off their hands seems either rather brave or rather foolhardy. Actually, there’s a third option: It may be a smart political gambit aimed at boosting America’s domestic nuclear program. So far, Congress has proven reluctant to adequately fund Bush’s domestic nuclear ambitions. By internationalizing the debate, and framing it in terms of nuclear proliferation and national security, the White House may finally be able to convince lawmakers to play along.

But with 30 new American nuclear plants currently in the pipeline, and dozens of countries around the world eager to sign up for GNEP borrowing privileges, America is going to need to give some serious thought to how to handle the resultant mess. Wishful thinking may help Bush get his nuclear renaissance off the ground, but it won’t help to make it safe or sustainable in the long run.

 


Comments

It seems to me that the author has NOT read Dr. Helen Caldicott's book "Nuclear Energy is Not the Answer". She is still the leading anti-nuclear advocate and co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Thusly, entertaining nuclear power is the most dangerous, misguided and worst investment possible. It has the highest carbon footprint, larger than coal by far. I encourage all environmentalists to get the book and read it. The slick propaganda put out by the industry is seducing greenies by the score. If you were too young to remember the Anti-nuke Movement of the 70's , do some homework, please.