I was writing a post about nuclear energy based on an article in Scientific American when I noticed an interesting comment on one of Dave’s posts on global warming, which all somehow tied together. From Scientific American:

Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste [ ENERGY ]
Fast-neutron reactors could extract much more energy from recycled nuclear fuel, minimize the risks of weapons proliferation and markedly reduce the time nuclear waste must be isolated

Sorry, you can’t read the full article without a subscription. Not to worry, the gist of it is that fast breeder reactors could eliminate most of the problems associated with today’s reactors (bomb grade material, nuclear fuel shortages, and large amounts of long-lived waste). I learned long ago not to get worked up when reading articles on imminent scientific breakthroughs that are going to save the world, but this technology (unlike fusion) is actually within reach.Now, from L.A. Weekly via Kit Stolz:

It is widely accepted that one nuclear power plant spares the atmosphere the emissions of 93 million cars.

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To put this into perspective, the emission reductions of one power plant is twice that which can be achieved from biodiesel if you planted soybeans in every square-inch of cropland in the U.S. Then there is this sobering statistic:

At the United Nations, a multinational panel on climate change suggested reversing the carbon trend would require an average of 75 new nuclear reactors every year for the next century.

This really makes the push for biofuels seem misdirected. Not to mention that nuclear power plants have little potential to destroy rainforests. In fact:

In the absence of human impact, the land [downwind of Chernobyl] has reverted to one of the most robust wildlife refuges in the world.

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“How it could be possible that the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, releasing between 100 and 200 million curies of radiation into the environment, could produce positive ecological consequences?” …

“The answer [is] simple … [h]umans have evacuated the contaminated zone. …It’s not that radiation hasn’t harmed the animals … it’s just that the benefit of excluding humans from this highly contaminated ecosystem appears to outweigh significantly any negative cost associated with Chernobyl radiation.”

That’s just sad.

The anti-nuke movement in the U.S. has been a good thing. It has limited the amount of long-lived nuclear waste we must store and it has forced engineers to come up with better technology. But the time may be drawing near when we should not only accept some forms of nuclear power, but start pushing for them. Time to take global warming seriously. Solar and wind power can only hope to supplement our power grid and people who own coal reserves have every intention of using them. The free market could force coal plants out the door, replacing them with the fast reactors described above. No more mountaintop mining, no more CO2 emissions, no need to feed the rainforests to our cars.