Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lamar Alexander and Natural Nuclear Energy

55520310 We always like to hear what Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has to say about nuclear energy. Now, obviously, that has something to do with his all-in attitude – in fact, his call for 100 nuclear plants in 20 years shows him to be quite a fan – but does not pitch every other energy source our the window. Well, maybe he does a little, in this op-ed co-written with Health Physics Society’s Theodore Rockwell:

Make no mistake — solar, wind and other “renewables” have their own environmental impact as well. Solar and wind farms will occupy dozens — even hundreds — of square miles to produce ordinary amounts of electricity. The Nature Conservancy has labeled this “Energy Sprawl.”

What he says here is true, but, if care is taken, there’s a lot of territory in the United States in which to sprawl. His real argument, though, is that nuclear energy is “green” energy:

The natural case for nuclear power is compelling. Today nuclear power produces 19 percent of our electricity and 70 percent of our carbon-free electricity. Nuclear plants occupy a fraction of the land required for wind or solar and can be built in locations near where the actual power is needed rather than being transported from faraway places where wind and sunshine are stronger. And nuclear reactors operate 90 percent of the time while wind and solar are only available about a third of the time.

It’s a simple set of points, but the points are on-point, so to speak.

You can read the rest yourself, but here’s the conclusion:

When properly understood, nuclear energy is as clean and natural as wind, sunshine or any of the supposedly more “natural” alternatives.

We like the idea of “natural energy” – Alexander finds a way to join renewable (wind and solar) and sustainable (nuclear) clean energy sources in a way that makes sense.

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Alexander and Rockwell start off their op-ed with a reference to the movie Avatar – a way to bring their audience into their arguments – and we were amused to see that this very popular movie has caught hold, at least a little, in the imagination of nuclear advocates. For example, here’s Jason Rebeiro at Pro-Nuclear Democrats:

We can see from the Avatar movie trailer and website the plot is set in the future where humans have traveled through space to a planet some 4 light-years away, Pandora, to recover a rare mineral that sells for $20 million dollars per kilo that yields a tremendous amount of energy.

His point?

Now that's interesting, we already have a mineral on Earth that yields a tremendous amount of energy that sells for around $50 a pound (.45 kilos), uranium.

Ribeiro goes on to make some good points and to question some of the science of the movie – the element unobtainium would seem to be unable to exist in the form we see it. This is what movies, and other arts, can do at their best – spark imagination beyond the contours of their own existence.

Sen. Lamar Alexander. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to do an Avatar photo.

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