April 8, 2013 9:46:37 AM
The logic of nuclear energy
Sometimes it helps to take a look back and see just how far we have come.
Now, 60 years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his historic "Atoms for Peace" address to the U.N. General Assembly, history has shown that the world has benefited from nuclear energy.
In his 1953 speech, Eisenhower counted out "the awful arithmetic of the atomic bomb," and gravely warned of "the probability of civilization destroyed" if the world plunged ahead into nuclear showdowns. Eisenhower sought more than the reduction or elimination of nuclear weapons. "A great boon for the benefit of mankind" is on the horizon if that energy is harnessed for peace. His proposal took the form of an ambitious Marshall Plan for nuclear energy, a program of international pooling of nuclear technology and fissionable materials.
Today America has the world's largest nuclear energy program. Around 100 nuclear plants are in operation in the United States, and ground has been broken for the construction of five more reactors in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Operating licenses for more than two-thirds of the nuclear plants have been renewed, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering doing the same for other plants, including Grand Gulf here in Mississippi.
Worldwide, 68 new nuclear plants are being built, another 150 plants are planned and more than 340 are proposed. This is in addition to the 437 operating nuclear plants that are meeting the electrical needs of more than one billion people.
Nuclear plants supply more clean energy than any of the alternative power sources. Despite billions of dollars in government subsidies for renewables, the combined output from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal sources currently meets only 4 percent of our nation's energy needs. By contrast, nuclear power supplies around 20 percent of our electricity and 70 percent of our carbon-free power.
A new generation of small modular reactors -- competitive with natural gas and designed for safety and limited use of water -- will be necessary to extend the benefits of nuclear energy in the United States and abroad. The rewards will be substantial.
C.T. Carley, Ph.D., P.E.
Professor Emeritus of
Mississippi State University
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