The Nuclear Power Solution

Does anybody recall when or why we created the U.S. Department of Energy? It was created in 1977 to “lessen our dependence on foreign oil.” Thirty-two years later its annual budget tops $25 billion, it employs 16,000 federal employees and over 100,000 contract employees, and hasn’t even made a dent in achieving its original goal. There hasn't been a new reactor built from the ground up in the United States in 30 years.

The United States ranks 16th in the world in the percentage of its total power produced by carbon-free nuclear power – a mere 19%  (compare that to France’s 76%). South Korea, Switzerland, and Hungary are far ahead of us in the rankings and Asia is rapidly building new nuclear power plants to solve its energy shortfalls.

As an example, Wisconsin passed its moratorium on new nuclear plants in 1983, and still uses the tattered excuse of no suitable storage site. On the other hand, the Minnesota Senate recently voted 42-24 to repeal its state moratorium on any new nuclear plants originally passed in 1994, leaving Wisconsin and a handful of other head-in-the-sand states in the proverbial dust.

Legislative attempts to repeal Wisconsin's moratorium on new nuclear plants in 2003, 2005, and 2007 all failed, but the political landscape has changed. Governor Doyle is on his way out the door and Governor-elect Scott Walker spoke in favor of lifting Wisconsin's moratorium during his successful campaign. The Republicans took control of both houses of the Wisconsin legislature, so the chances of lifting the moratorium are looking up.

Across the country, we are facing electricity shortages, fossil fuel price increases, and an escalating need for national energy security and independence. The demand for clean and safe nuclear power has never been greater, yet the public has been intentionally misled into believing that clean energy sources like wind and solar can simultaneously grow the economy, fight the myth of anthropogenic global warming, and cease our dependence on foreign oil.

Our president has perpetuated this absurd, farcical delusion. Excluding conventional hydroelectric, renewable energy sources contributed 3.1 percent of total U.S. net electric generation in 2008. Even if Obama’s goal of doubling that output were realized, this would take us to a whopping 6% of total production. That's a long way from ending our dependency on foreign oil and domestic coal.

But the political worm in Washington has turned also. In one corner is the challenger. The new Republican majority in the House is poised to flex its muscle on nuclear waste issues in the upcoming Congress. In the other corner is the reigning champion, newly re-elected Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, poised to defend his title by blocking every effort to move forward with the Yucca Mountain solution. Another infamous "blue ribbon" commission set loose by our president last year to study the issue and make recommendations is set to release a draft report next summer, with a final version due early in 2012 -- in time for the presidential election.

We must stop making technology-related decisions based on politically correct points of view. In refusing to look at the viable option of nuclear energy, it appears President Obama and the nuclear power deniers plan to leave our grandchildren both broke and powerless.