Clean Energy: The Nuclear Solution: How the Black Sheep of Power Generation Could Solve the Energy Crisis

Article excerpt

Controversy over rising demands for "clean energy" and costs associated with it has made finding "alternative energy sources" a priority on Capitol Hill. THE NEW AMERICAN sat down with an expert in power-generation technology to discuss why nuclear is the safest, most efficient answer to the so-called "energy crisis."

Art Crino, P.E., is a retired licensed electrical engineer. He began his career in design and construction of gas-fired steam electric and large hydro stations. He later managed factories that produced switching equipment for the electrical utility industry. Crino has authored many papers on power-generation issues. He lives in Tigard, Oregon.

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THE NEW AMERICAN: Thank you for taking time to discuss energy sources. There is much controversy over electrical generation, largely due to negative publicity from the environmentalist lobby. Is there really a problem, and if so, what do you see as the solution?

Art Crino: First, it needs to be made clear that C[O.sub.2] is not a pollutant. It has a minuscule effect on Earth's temperature, and vegetation of all kinds depends on it. The more the better. Records from 30 of the world's most advanced economies show a positive correlation between C[O.sub.2] emissions and increases in national income. There's a similar correlation between per-person energy consumption and national income. Of course, C[O.sub.2] isn't the direct cause; the market economy causes the increase in energy use and emissions. But wealthier economies emit less per unit of production than developing nations, which translates to a cleaner environment and an economy prepared to control pollution.

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But there is a better alternative for electrical-power generation. The single greatest technological advance in recorded history was when we learned to make heat and electricity by converting mass to energy in nuclear reactors. This advance provided the safest, cleanest, and, except for hydropower, the most inexpensive and potentially most plentiful and useful energy in human history.

But the environmentalist lobby doesn't like nuclear any more than it does coal-fired generation, mainly because it works! The alternatives they give are non-solutions. Take wind turbines that require some kind of back-up--usually gas turbines with very high fuel costs. European studies show that when about 5-10 percent of grid electricity is generated by wind, the grid becomes unmanageable because of constant fluctuations. Fluctuations are a part of balancing the grid, but most can be anticipated. Not so with wind.

Moreover, the peak electricity usage in most of the United States is on summer afternoons, the very time that wind is at its minimum. The highest winds come on winter nights, the very time when there is an excess of inexpensive base load power being produced. Without laws forcing utilities to use "renewable energy" and without "production tax credits" and other subsidies, wind turbines would be found mostly at amusement parks.

Ocean wave and solar technologies are equally incapable of providing a consistent source of affordable, reliable electrical energy and, like wind, have a following only because of the hefty government subsidies available. Without government handouts, they would quickly die out.

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TNA: Are the gas turbines used as backup for wind generation also subsidized?

Crino: Government subsidies caused the frenzy over natural gas in the 1990s. It was an open secret that private firms could obtain a fixed-price gas source for five years, a contract with the local power company for five years, and end up with the plant "written off." The fully depreciated generating station is only five years old. All that construction was in part responsible for a significant increase in the price of natural gas. Now, many industries dependent on natural gas, such as fertilizer and plastic manufacturing, have moved to Mexico or Saudi Arabia where gas is cheaper. …