NATION WARMS TO NUCLEAR POWER

May 16, 2007

Regulators recently gave the green light to restart an old Alabama nuclear power plant, signaling the rebirth of an industry put into the deep freeze by the 1979 accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant, says USA Today.

But now even some environmental groups have come to realize that a new generation of safer nuclear plants is the best option for addressing the nation's mounting energy needs. The decision to restart the unit in Alabama is just one of several markers measuring how much has changed:

  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approved the Alabama restart, expects applications for as many as 11 new units this year, and for as many as 28 by the end of 2009.
  • This comes as electricity demand is projected to jump more than 40 percent by 2030 -- not including potential demand from a shift to plug-in hybrids and other forms of electric cars.

What's changed?  A lot, says USA Today:

  • Burned by the ruinous expense of custom-building nuclear plants, the industry has settled on a handful of standard designs, which are much safer.
  • Regulators also have streamlined the permitting process -- instead of requiring separate permits to build and operate a plant, which invited two rounds of litigation, a utility now gets one permit for both.

Perhaps the biggest single factor is growing anxiety about global warming, says USA Today.  Nuclear units emit no greenhouse gases from plant operations, which makes nuclear a compellingly green alternative to coal, oil and natural gas.  There's still no getting around nuclear's downsides.  A meltdown at a nuclear plant could be catastrophic. But there has been no repeat of Three Mile Island, and many new safety measures are in place.

Source: Editorial, "Our view on atomic energy: As globe heats up, nation warms to nuclear power," USA Today, May 16, 2007.

 

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