Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A growing number of global experts make the case for this cheap, abundant, clean-burning energy option.

There have been no new nuclear reactors built in the U.S. since the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island shut down that electrical generating plant forever. Even though no injuries or deaths among plant workers or members of the nearby community were directly attributed to the disaster, it changed dramatically both the domestic perception of nuclear power as an energy source and the public policies that govern it in the U.S. Construction of new plants became cost prohibitive. Public fear and distrust exploded, but in the three decades since, the anti-nuke sentiment has gradually softened. Even many Democrats in Congress who have traditionally opposed the production of electricity from nuclear power have recently indicated a growing willingness to incorporate the nuclear option into an energy strategy to wean our country from imported oil.

And then came Fukushima which, ironically, means “good fortune island.” In the wake of Japan’s earthquake, aftershocks and tsunami, the story of the damaged nuclear power plant at Fukushima has become an evolving tragedy, causing governments across the globe to react and reassess. Financial markets, too. In the weeks following the disaster in Japan, uranium prices dropped 30 percent. And those within the industry realize that reality has shifted along its own fault line. John Rose, chairman of Exelon, the biggest nuclear utility in the U.S., spoke to the American Enterprise Institute in March of this year. He argued that building new nuclear power plants in the U.S. would be prohibitively expensive today and that new Environmental Protection Agency rules limiting carbon emissions would require costly scrub technology in coal-powered plants. He predicts that utilities will increasingly switch to natural gas. “Natural gas is queen,” he said.

According to a mid-March story in The New York Times, the clean burning fuel is gaining ground among a wide array of supporters, including Bank Societe Generale (which dubbed it “a fuel of no choice”), the Bipartisan Policy Center, and the American Clean Skies Foundation, which predicts increased consumption spurred by low prices resulting from growing reserves. Indeed unstable pricing in years past has been a problem for natural gas commercially, but with production rising globally, it is expected to settle in at an attractive, affordable level. The article also quotes Lawrence J. Goldstein, an economist at the Energy Policy Research Foundation, saying: “At the end of the day, when you look at the risk-reward equation, natural gas comes out as a winner. It’s a technical knockout.” Regarding the pending permits for 20 new nuclear reactors in the U.S., Goldstein adds: “We are likely to do to nuclear licensing what we did to offshore permitting. We will delay and stall.”

From political conflict in the Middle East to a nuclear catastrophe in the Far East, earth-changing events demand that we finally articulate and embrace an energy policy that allows us to be more independent, efficient and environmentally responsible. Until our sources can be truly green and renewable, natural gas is still our best option.

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