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It’s A Gray Area:

Let’s look again at nuclear energy

April 20, 2008|By JAMES P. GRAY

With all of the debates and even diatribes today about the harms of our oil dependency, environmental pollution and global warming, it surprises me that there have not been more open and honest public discussions about nuclear power.

Why is that? In my view it is a combination of mostly needless public fear of nuclear power, and the self-interested promotions of the oil companies. So let’s look at the facts.

Today by far the largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere is the burning of coal. Why? Because it is plentiful and relatively cheap. The United States is the world’s largest consumer of coal, and today we generate a full 50% of our electricity from it.

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But look at what this means. We now are burning about 1 billion tons of coal in our country every year. That is enough to fill 50 million freight train cars, and is double what we consumed in 1976. But the burning of one ton of coal spews about 3 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and this produces about 40% of the world’s so-called greenhouse gases, and about 20% of its carbon-dioxide emissions.

What is even worse is that coal is one of the most environmentally destructive substances we can use as a fuel. In addition to the substantial pollution problems, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that coal kills about 30,000 people in our country alone each year as a result of diseases incurred by miners and others who work with it.

On the other hand, nuclear electric generating plants require only a few flatbed trucks every two years carrying loads of fuel rods, and these are only mildly radioactive such that they can be handled simply by using special gloves. And these rods will stay in the reactors for about six years (Most facilities replace one-third of their rods every two years.)

Yes, the replaced rods are more radioactive than before, but they can be stored in a 3-foot deep water storage pool, and actually can safely remain there almost indefinitely. It is also true that a residual amount of the spent material needs special handling, but most of that could be used for other commercial purposes if only that were politically feasible.

There is no exhaust from the generating of nuclear power, no carbon emissions, nor any sulfur sludge to be carted away like that caused by the burning of coal.

In fact, there is no pollution at all except for some non-tainted hot water that is a by-product of the cooling process.

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