The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


With the exception of the debate about off-shore drilling, both presidential candidates appear to be aggressive about this country’s desperate need to become energy independent. Both seem to say the right things, and differences between their positions appear to be small.

However, if you probe just a bit, you will find that there are question marks about the pragmatic steps that Barack Obama would take to move toward energy independence in the mid-term (the next 10 years). For all the talk about high tech, alternative energy (excellent ideas that will need time to develop), the best mid-term solutions are to augment our electricity generation capacity with clean coal, wind, solar, and nuclear energy. Obama is an advocate of wind and solar technologies, and that’s good. But he tries to avoid discussions of coal (so as not to rile his environmental backers), and is very slippery when he discusses nuclear power. He always uses the phrase “safe nuclear power.”

If you’re not paying attention, his use of the term slips by without a thought, afterall, we all want "safe" nuclear power. But in reality, this phrasing provides him with an excuse for not supporting one of the cleanest and safest power generation options. With the backing of radical environmentalists, I believe he will deem nuclear power not safe enough. The use of the word “safe” allows him to appear to be for it, but actually have no intention of supporting it.

Those of us who were alive in the aftermath of Three Mile Island will remember that those on the Left effectively killed nuclear power development in this country. Using scare tactics that were not supported by either past history or science, they encouraged so many regulatory restrictions that litigation effectively stopped the construction of new nuclear power plants. An unintended consequence was that oil-fired electricity generation grew and our current massive dependence on foreign oil resulted at least in part because of this.

Is nuclear power safe? Barack Obama is dithering, but many industrialized countries think it is and use it as a primary mode of electricity generation. From Wikipedia:
In France, as of 2002, Électricité de France (EDF) — the country's main electricity generation and distribution company — manages the country's 59 nuclear power plants. As of 2008, these plants produce 87.5% of both EDF's and France's electrical power production (of which much is exported),[1] making EDF the world leader in production of nuclear power by percentage. In 2004, 425.8 TWh out of the country's total production of 540.6 TWh was from nuclear power (78.8%).

The French are sometimes used as an exemplar for the kind of governmental policies that Obama could support. Are the French so irresponsible that they’d use an unsafe power source for 87.5% of the electrical generation capacity?

What about Japan, one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet?
There are currently 53 operating nuclear power plants in Japan. The ten FEPC member companies own and operate 49 Light Water Reactors (LWR). Three more LWRs are operated by the private company Japan Atomic Power Corporation (JAPC) and the Monju Fast Breeder Reactor (a prototype) is run by the semi-governmental organization Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC). There are also three more nuclear plants currently under construction, as well as another six that are in advanced planning stages. One of those reactors in the planning stage will be owned and operated by another semi-private corporation, The Electric Power Development Co, Inc. (EPDC).

Are the Japanese so irresponsible that they’d use an unsafe power source for 28% of the electrical generation capacity and have three new plants under development and six in planning?

Nuclear power generation technologies have come a long way since TMI. The technology is “safe.”

Will Barack Obama cut regulatory constraints, limit vexatious lawsuits and actively encourage this important element of our approach to energy independence. Like so many other things about the Senator, we simply don’t know because he is ambiguous when he answers straightforward questions.

My guess is that nuclear power would not be part of his mid-term energy strategy and as a consequence, we’ll struggle to achieve the energy independence that we so badly need.