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Little Else Matters Without
Clean, Global Energy Plan

by Editorial Board
Tri-City Herald, April 29, 2009

President Bush's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership was right on about a couple of points -- solving the energy crisis will require a global approach and a massive nuclear component.

Of course, with a new administration in the White House, GNEP is old news, but recent developments have us thinking a lot about energy issues.

First, there was the Obama administration's decision to sideline plans for opening a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

Then, the Environmental Protection Agency declared that greenhouse gases from fossil fuel emissions threaten human health and the environment.

One development raises questions about whether America's nuclear revival can gain momentum while plans for permanent disposal of spent fuel remain in limbo.

The other makes the case for a rapid expansion of nuclear power on a worldwide scale.

Solar, wind, biofuels and hydropower all have roles to play, but any realistic option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions must include nuclear.

There's still an active and passionate opposition to the idea that human activities cause global warming, but the nation is moving beyond that debate.

Now, the battle is over what we ought to do about it.

Some restriction on emissions appear inevitable, through EPA rules or new laws from Congress or both, but simply mandating a reduction in greenhouse gas production won't work.

If we're going to reduce emissions in the U.S., we need alternative sources of energy, and we'll need other ways to move people and goods besides the internal combustion engine.

Even if the U.S. accomplished all that, it wouldn't be enough.

America could switch its entire transportation fleet to electric motors and replace all its coal-fired power plants with solar panels, windmills and nuclear plants.

And it would hardly matter.

Any reduction we made would soon be eclipsed by increased emissions around the planet.

By 2030, emissions from China's coal-fired power plants will equal the entire world's current production of CO2, according to a report published last year in the journal Science.

In other words, if every other nation could freeze emissions at today's levels, we'd still see a doubling of the carbon dioxide released worldwide over the next 20 years.

India's program for energy development is nearly as aggressive and as dependent on coal.

The rest of the developing world will follow India and China's lead as soon as it can.

And no wonder, since energy equals prosperity. That's true for about any measure of wealth you care to make -- income levels, productivity, amount of leisure time, infant mortality rates, life expectancy and more.

Any plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that doesn't include a way to extend alternative forms of energy to the Third World is doomed to fail.

Is it hopeless?

Energy expert Jim Conca doesn't think so.

Conca, the director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center in New Mexico State University's College of Engineering, thinks a rational global energy policy is possible.

He was in town last week to talk with community leaders and Energy Northwest officials in north Richland. He's made essentially the same case to the State Department.

A mix of energy sources -- a third nuclear, a third fossil fuels and a third from renewables like wind and solar -- could meet growing demands and keep greenhouse gases in check, he said.

All you need is about 1 million more wind turbines, 1,700 new nuclear reactors and 100 billion new barrels of biofuels.

As daunting as that sounds, it could be accomplished in about 30 years, according to Conca, but only if we start work on a global plan.

Decisions about recycling nuclear fuel and permanent disposal of wastes can be put off, since there's no shortage of uranium and no reason spent fuel can't remain in temporary storage for decades.

"We don't have a fuel crisis or a waste crisis. We have an energy crisis," Conca claims.

More people, especially in Washington, D.C., need Conca's sense of urgency.

Editorial Board
Little Else Matters Without Clean, Global Energy Plan
Tri-City Herald, April 29, 2009

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