Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is urging his congressional colleagues and President Bush to get serious about curbing not only global warming but also porkbarrel spending. One excellent way to do both is to get serious about nuclear-generated electricity.
America has been in a nuclear-energy funk since things went haywire at the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennsylvania in 1979. It was a serious malfunction, that rightly led to a top-to-bottom shake-up of the nuclear power industry in this country. But it also should be noted that, as serious as it was, no deaths or injuries resulted, and there was only a minor release of radiation.
We never, ever want a repeat of Three Mile Island. But blocking any and all nuclear power plant construction is not necessary to ensure that end. Indeed, if curbing carbon dioxide emissions is a worthy environmental goal, increasing nuclear generation must be put back on the nation's energy table.
Environmental extremists are fond of couching the energy debate in either/or terms. Forget coal and nuclear energy and switch to solar and wind generation, they say. Yet that is physically and fiscally unfeasible. While solar and wind are promising sources of energy, harnessing them is still quite expensive — requiring subsidies that are also known as “pork.” Wind farms with rows of giant windmills are also popular with environmentalists — until one is proposed near where they live, as has happened recently near Flagstaff.
Then they are termed “unsightly” and “a threat to property values.”
Although nuclear power plant construction in this country has been at a standstill for 25 years, the technology has been advancing at an impressive clip. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, modern nuclear power plant designs are remarkably safe, as are the latest methods of handling, moving and storing nuclear fuels and waste.
As the University of Arizona's Barry Ganapol points out on the following page, reprocessing of spent nuclear fuels also has been perfected, and a federal ban on it should be lifted as one way of easing the looming energy shortage. With spent fuel being stockpiled at nuclear power plants around the country, including the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station southwest of Phoenix, it makes sense to recycle at least some of that material for reuse.
No source of energy is without environmental or political downsides. Coming up with a sane, practical energy policy requires carefully weighing the costs and benefits and acting accordingly. Congress and the president should draw up an energy bill that serves the nation's growing energy needs while also protecting the environment as well as the Treasury.
Sen. McCain is in an excellent position to help craft such a bill.