This Nuclear Option Is Nuclear

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, April 19, 2010 | Go to article overview

This Nuclear Option Is Nuclear


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

The costs of fads and superstition.

The 25 people killed last week in the West Virginia coal-mine explosion will soon be as forgotten by the nation as are the 362 miners who were killed in a 1907 explosion in that state, the worst mining disaster in American history. The costs of producing the coal that generates approximately half of America's electricity also include the hundreds of other miners who have suffered violent death in that dangerous profession, not to mention those who have suffered debilitating illnesses and premature death from ailments acquired toiling underground.

Which makes particularly pertinent the fact that the number of Americans killed by accidents in 55 years of generating electricity by nuclear power is: 0. That is the same number of Navy submariners and surface sailors injured during six decades of living in very close proximity to reactors.

America's 250-year supply of coal will be an important source of energy. But even people not much worried about the supposed climate damage done by carbon emissions should see the wisdom--cheaper electricity, less dependence on foreign sources of energy--of Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander's campaign to commit the country to building 100 more nuclear power plants in 20 years.

Today, 20 percent of America's electricity, and 69 percent of its carbon-free generation of electricity, is from nuclear plants. But it has been 30 years since America began construction on a new nuclear reactor.

France gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power; China is starting construction of a new reactor every three months. Meanwhile, America, which pioneered nuclear power, is squandering money on wind power, which provides 1.3 percent of the nation's electricity: it is slurping up $30abillion of tax breaks and other subsidies amounting to $18.82 per megawatt-hour, 25 times as much per megawatt-hour as the combined subsidies for all other forms of electricity production.

Wind power involves gargantuan "energy sprawl." To produce 20 percent of America's power by wind, which the Obama administration dreamily proposes, would require 186,000 tall turbines--40 stories tall, their flashing lights can be seen for 20 miles--covering an area the size of West Virginia. The amount of electricity that would be produced by wind turbines extending the entire 2,178 miles of the Appalachian Trail can be produced by four reactors occupying four square miles of land. …

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