The use of nuclear energy to generate electricity promises great benefits to you as an individual, to the nation, and to the world. These include the following.
1. Clean Air: Of all practical means for generating large amounts of electricity, nuclear power is the least harmful to the environment. It emits no CO2 to cause the greenhouse effect as do coal and natural gas. It emits no sulfur compounds to cause acid rain as does coal nor nitrogen compounds as do both coal and natural gas. Nuclear power plants cause no silting of pristine river systems and no large loss of farms, homes, and wilderness to reservoirs such as do hydroelectric plants. A strong argument can be made that nuclear power has no significant harmful effect on the environment at all. In 1994, America's 109 nuclear plants spared the atmosphere about 500 million tons of CO2, five million tons of sulfur dioxide, and 2.5 million tons of nitrogen oxides. It is obvious that substitution of nuclear electricity for fossil fuel electricity would result in a cleaner atmosphere.
2. Resource Conservation: Coal, petroleum, and natural gas represent precious natural resources built up over millions of years. They have many uses, such as feed stocks for medicines, plastics, and other industrial products, and we should not squander them when substitutes are available. Uranium, in contrast, has no use except for power production, atomic weapons, and a few minor applications such as to serve as ballast in ships.
3. Saving Lives: As discussed previously, nuclear power has been demonstrated to be safer than power from coal. The evidence indicates more people lose their lives in the United States each year from coal electricity than will lose their lives worldwide over the next 60 or 70 years as a result of the Chernobyl accident.
4. Preventing Wars: Along with battery-driven or hydrogen-driven automobiles, nuclear power has the potential to prevent world wars over Middle East oil supplies. Middle East oil is crucial to the well-being of many nations as long as they rely so heavily on gasoline-driven automobiles; the United States led the Gulf War in 1991 (at a cost of tens of billions of dollars) to prevent loss of control of that oil. The Middle East currently supplies 30% of the world's oil; this will likely rise to 50% within a few years. Development of practical, inexpensive storage batteries for electric cars, coupled with nuclear electricity to charge the batteries, could greatly reduce our need for gasoline.
Development of hydrogen-driven automobiles would accomplish the same objective. In this case, nuclear electricity would be used to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen in water. Hydrogen is not normally available as a separate material. The hydrogen would then be recombined with oxygen in a fuel cell to release energy and propel the car.
The financial cost of preparing for and fighting wars is very high; we could gain by subsidizing heavily the cost of battery or hydrogen-driven autos. The human cost of fighting wars is also very high; philosophically, it should be unacceptable in modern society.
5. Improving Our Economy: The use of battery or hydrogen-driven autos would also drastically decrease the cost of importing oil. At the present time, we spend about $50 billion per year as a nation to import petroleum; some economists predict this will climb to $100 billion per year in a few years. Many economists believe these expenditures cause a serious drain on our economy — that they cost many jobs and lower our standard of living.
6. Further Improvement of Our Air Quality: Gasoline is a major contributor to smog formation and air pollution. Substitution of battery or hydrogen-driven autos for gasoline-driven vehicles would obviously have a great impact on air quality. For example, in the fuel cell mentioned in item 4 on page 88, the waste from the cell would be ordinary water — when the hydrogen and oxygen combined, water would be formed again. It is difficult to envision a more environmentally friendly system.
7. An Almost-Unlimited Power Supply: It is vital that our nation (and every nation) have an ensured, long-range supply of electricity; there is enough uranium underground and in the oceans to meet our electricity needs for centuries using advanced reactors.
8. Lower Electricity Costs: Newer plants will be less expensive to build and operate than the present first-generation units. Further, large additional savings in electricity costs could come if the question of whether low level radiation is harmful could be resolved. If it is not harmful, current power plant design, construction, operation, and management are grossly conservative; electricity costs could be reduced substantially. At a minimum, costs could be reduced considerably if the public were simply less fearful of radiation.
In the 1960s and 1970s before nuclear power costs climbed, people dreamed of many benefits of cheap electricity. One dream was that it might make possible the desalination of water at affordable prices — that low-cost water recovered from the oceans could be used to irrigate the world's deserts and grow food. This dream still exists — that we could make the deserts bloom.
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