President Obama’s recent speech on energy policy continued his administration’s policy of setting a very high bar when it comes to energy. He wants to reduce by one third the importation of foreign oil within a decade. There are two parallel paths to this goal. First, find more oil at home. Second, reduce consumption through the use of cleaner alternatives and greater efficiency.
In his speech, President Obama also threw cold water on those who believe that changing America’s energy profile will be quick or easy. “So here’s the bottom line: There are no quick fixes. Anybody who tells you otherwise isn’t telling you the truth. And we will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we finally get serious about a long-term policy for a secure, affordable energy future.” He could have gone one step further. This was to say that there was no hope for a cleaner energy future without significant investment in nuclear energy.
Just look at the numbers. All renewable energy sources account for just eight percent of energy production. This is less than nuclear power at nine percent. Moreover, half of the renewable energy production comes from hydropower and wood. Only four percent of all renewable energy production comes from new technologies such as wind, solar and biomass. Now, there are some real opportunities for improving the contribution of renewables, particularly in areas such as solar photovoltaics. But given the magnitude of the problem and the low starting point for renewables, there is no way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels in general or foreign imports, in particular, without a significantly greater investment in nuclear power.
The President acknowledged the importance of nuclear power in his speech: “So those of us who are concerned about climate change, we’ve got to recognize that nuclear power, if it’s safe, can make a significant contribution to the climate change question.” What he did not say was that there is a new generation of nuclear power plants on the horizon that are essentially immune to the kinds of problems we saw at Three Mile Island or that occurred recently at Fukushima. With a combination of loan guarantees for utilities and a relatively modest investment to support ingenuity, nuclear power can make a much greater contribution to U.S. energy independence and a cleaner energy future.
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