But if energy is the lifeblood of our economy what are we to do? Wind? Solar? While anything we can do other than consume fossil fuels will help, these sources of energy are relatively diffuse and inconsistent. In other words, their "cost to calorie" ratios are not efficient and they are not always dependable. As James Kunstler points out in his intriguing book The Long Emergency, one of our best options out of these dilemmas is to do an "Apollo Project" type effort to develop additional, new nuclear energy capability. As it turns out, it just may be the greenest, viable alternate we have.
The U.S. currently produces about 20% of its electrical power from nuclear power. The advantages are; that there are no greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere, no visual pollution, it is cost relatively cost effective, quiet and we have sufficient supply of uranium here at home for the foreseeable future to provide for a major portion of our energy needs. Historically, at least, the problem with nuclear energy has been primarily two fold. First, the "China Syndrome" problem of a meltdown of a reactor which could release a large amount of radioactivity and second, what do we do with nuclear waste material that has a half-life of over 25,000 years! The perception of these two significant obstacles might doom a new nuclear drive and stand in the way of an energy-independent United States.
However, there are new technologies in this field that, like the cavalry, have come to our rescue- and none too soon. First, there is a new class of nuclear reactors that have their nuclear fuel so structured that they cannot do a melt down. Turn off the cooling to this new nuclear reactor and it only gets a bit hotter. No big deal. Turn the cooling back on and it runs more efficiently. Okay, one down. But what about all that radioactive spent reactor fuel? Let's see if we can put some perspective on it. If you gathered all the spent nuclear fuel in this country under one roof it would fill a typical high school gym. Not too unmanageable. Moreover, the spent fuel is encapsulated in super strong glass beads, which in turn are embedded into hardened concrete inside steel drums. This makes the waste product "transportable" and is designed to withstand the elements for 10,000 years. Nevertheless, even in it's tomb it is still relativity radioactive. Most of these drums are stored in water as radiation cannot penetrate more than about 3 feet of water. However, no one seems anxious to have it in their back yards. A political hot potato to be sure.