Claims that nuclear energy can reduce oil use are largely hokum

President Bush hearts nuclear — or in the argot of the day, nucular — claiming that a boost in nuclear energy could reduce oil imports and help America reach the Shangri-la of “energy independence.” But people who, um, know stuff about nuclear energy are highly skeptical. There are some ways that nuclear could make a small dent in oil use — “indirectly, but very indirectly,” says Lawrence Goldstein of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation. Thing is, nuclear is primarily used to generate electricity, and that’s not what we’re using most oil for. Fewer than 600,000 of the roughly 20.5 million barrels of oil the U.S. uses every day go to generating electricity, and replacing that amount wouldn’t make much of a dent in imports. Nuclear might free up some of the natural gas now used to produce electricity, but other uses for natural gas are highly underdeveloped. Nuclear could also help make heavy oil into more usable light oil, but that application is speculative at best and extremely expensive. Or we could conserve energy … but what fun is that?