Home > Uncategorized > America’s Need for a Sane and Sensible Energy Policy

America’s Need for a Sane and Sensible Energy Policy

The talking heads, including me, have all taken their cracks at the anointed one. Aside from revelations that the administration altered scientific reports to serve a political end, there is little news to report. Although it is interesting to note that Obama campaigned vociferously about the need to allow science to operate independent of political pressure, and yet he is now hoisted by his own petard. It is becoming increasingly difficult to tell where Bush ends and Obama begins.

It has become apparent, at least to me, that there are two real problems demonstrated by the ongoing spill in the gulf drama. The first is the location of the well itself. The environmentalists have railed long and loud against near-shore drilling. Consequently, we have a pipe rupture a mile deep and miles out at sea. It strikes me that had this well been a mile offshore, in three hundred feet of water, the breach would have been contained already. The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

The real problem, though, is the lack of some sort of coherent, long term energy policy in this country. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but in this category, like baked goods and wine, we lag the French significantly. Half of America’s electricity is coal generated, 18 percent is hydro-electric. The rest is a combination of natural gas, some solar, and less than 2 percent wind. In this, the twenty-first century, there is absolutely no excuse for burning fossil fuels for electric power. There is also no excuse for mortgaging our national security to morons like Hugo Chavez or muslims like the Saudi ruling family. The French figured this out in the seventies.

France derives over 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy, due to a longstanding policy based on energy security. France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity due to its very low cost of generation, and gains over EUR 3 billion per year from this (about 3.7 billion in US dollars.) Next door is Italy, without any operating nuclear power plants. It is Europe’s largest importer of electricity, most coming ultimately from France. France has been very active in developing nuclear technology. Reactors and fuel products and services are a major export. It is building its first Generation III reactor and planning a second. As a result of these decisions, France now claims a substantial level of energy independence and almost the lowest cost electricity in Europe. It also has an extremely low level of CO2 emissions per capita from electricity generation, since over 90% of its electricity is nuclear or hydro.

France chose the closed fuel cycle at the very beginning of its nuclear program, involving reprocessing used fuel so as to recover uranium and plutonium for re-use and to reduce the volume of high-level wastes for disposal. Recycling allows 30% more energy to be extracted from the original uranium and leads to a great reduction in the amount of wastes to be disposed of. Overall the closed fuel cycle cost is assessed as comparable with that for direct disposal of used fuel, and preserves a resource which may become more valuable in the future.

Used fuel from the French reactors is sent for reprocessing. This has the capacity to reprocess up to 1700 tonnes per year of used fuel, extracting 99.9% of the plutonium and uranium for recycling, leaving 3% of the used fuel material as high-level wastes which are vitrified and stored for later disposal.

Imagine an America free of fossil fuel burning. Imagine, first of all, the national security implications. No wars in the mid-east to protect what has become a “national-interest commodity.” No need to rely on oil imports to run critical infrastructure. The possibility of reducing the size of our military would exist, since there would be less need to project our power to protect energy supplies.

Imagine an America where electricity is cheap enough to make electric cars a reality. Overnight charging, chargers at work, charging stations located as frequently as gas stations are now. Mag-lev trains running inter-city routes. Long distance freight hauling by electric railroads. The possibilities for transportation are almost limitless.

Imagine an America where home heating, cooking, and water heating are done by electricity; where the cost for doing that is less than the cost of using natural gas or oil.

All it would take is a commitment to implement an energy plan based on our real long-term interests. Our interests in a clean environment and a safer world. Wind power can’t supply the volume needed, nor can solar. Hydro can help, but the real answer lies in nuclear power. France has been a working laboratory for 35 years, with nothing but positive results. It is time that we take a lesson from one of our allies, and develop a serious and implementable plan to eliminate our need for oil imports.

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