Friday, June 18, 2010

From Nuke 'em to Nuke it

Sixty-five years ago, at the end of a war that had already claimed upwards of fifty million lives, two hundred thousand Japanese (mostly civilian) lives provided the horrific exclamation point to the declaration of the nuclear era. It was providential that it was the United States whose scientists won the race to split the atom, as our principled preeminence in nuclear power assured that, to this late date, nuclear power's peaceful application has claimed far less lives than would have been otherwise lost had the unprincipled likes of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union crossed the fission finish line first.

Four generations ago, the promise of the peaceful application of nuclear power was unlimited. It has not been allowed to fulfill even a minuscule fraction of that promise. It is time to unleash nuclear power and fully employ its potential.

In 1945, and for a couple of decades thereafter, the world did not fully understand the enormity of the dangers inherent in the use of nuclear power. Some underestimated the safety requirements. Luckily, the United States' head start and preeminence in the nuclear arena allowed us, as we uncovered the asps hidden in the sands of fission, to move forward with an abundance of caution. The Soviet Union's approach was not so cautious. If the Russians had the likes of our brilliant, albeit highly eccentric, Admiral Hyman Rickover, they didn't pay attention and suffered scary accidents as a result.

Today, we benefit from two-thirds of a century of nuclear experience. We know how to safely harness fission. Companies like Japan's Toshiba (irony of ironies) are on the brink of marketing (in partnership with none other than Bill Gates) small community-sized reactors whose use of depleted uranium produces relatively minuscule amounts of waste--most of which can be recycled. Shouldn't the United States be the leader in this market?

Why, yes. Yes we can.

Think of it. Each community with its own non-polluting power source--with no need to network with other communities via a fragile and ugly transmission infrastructure.

Instead of spending the trillions of dollars necessary to build solar and wind generation facilities, and the needed transmission lines, whose land use is enormously wasteful and frightfully unsightly, why not bury a small self-contained reactor in every community, at a fraction of the total cost.

It's a no-brainer. The Colonel would not have considered it otherwise.
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