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Jewish World Review
July 11, 2006
/ 15 Tamuz, 5766
Historically speaking, energy crisis is America's opportunity
In the past I've paid little attention to world oil shortages and the consequent increases in oil prices because they tend to end naturally, when supply catches up with demand. But in the current instance no such rectification by the market has taken place, so more fundamental remedies must be studied.
As the world's biggest consumer of energy as well as the one power with the technical resources, capital and experience in leadership to apply bold measures the U.S. has a duty to think on the largest possible scale. It should contemplate becoming the world's supplier of electricity generated by nuclear reactors.
The world's biggest technical failure over the last half-century has been the refusal to make full use of nuclear power. Following the explosion of the two atomic bombs in Japan in August 1945, I recall vividly the speculation that the peaceful use of nuclear energy would replace the world's dependence on fossil fuels with a cheaper, cleaner and inexhaustible source of power. But this has not happened. It's not because the technology or the capital resources are lacking but because public opinion has been stampeded into the antinuclear camp by scare tactics, helped along by a minor accident in the U.S. at Three Mile Island and a major one in the old, inefficient, corrupt and careless U.S.S.R. at Chernobyl. In fact, for the long term nuclear energy is by far the cheapest, cleanest and most trustworthy way to produce power. The safety procedures for nuclear energy can be improved upon indefinitely, while the risks involved in continuing dependence on fossil fuels are intrinsic.
DOUBT IS RETURN TO NUCLEAR ENERGY
The present oil crisis the longest on record is forcing the governments of many nations to drop their craven deference to the antinuclear lobbies and tread the path of realism. France, thanks to the foresight of President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, has always stuck with the nuclear option. Finland, at one time thoroughly shaken by Chernobyl, is now following suit. Britain has just decided to build a score of new nuclear power plants.
I'd like to see the U.S. not only building many more nuclear power plants but also taking a leap forward in the game, to become a major supplier of nuclear-generated energy to the whole world. The U.S. was the first nuclear power and is still well ahead of other countries in nuclear technology. It is capable of building nuclear generators on a scale hitherto undreamed of and concentrating them in remote areas that would provide the maximum geographical safeguards and, in the unlikely chance of attack, allow for antimissile defenses to be set up.
This is, of course, a long-term plan that would involve colossal capital expenditures and extensive work to produce entirely new supergenerators and long-range distribution systems. But the U.S. has shown itself to be capable of thinking big, for its own sake and for that of humanity. The Manhattan Project is a case in point.
That project was conducted under wartime conditions of secrecy, or it might otherwise never have been accomplished. The doubters, the faint-of-heart and the safety-obsessed are always noisier than are the innovators and visionaries. Yet even under conditions of public debate, great engineering feats can be accomplished. Witness the way in which the U.S. built its first transcontinental railroad and the Panama Canal, or how Britain, even in the Depression-riddled 1930s, built the first national electricity grid.
DOUBT IS MEETING RUSSIA'S CHALLENGE
Russia, a nearly third-rate economic power a decade ago, has leapt back into the race through its large-scale export of natural gas and oil. The U.S. could consolidate its superpower status with a Global Nuclear Energy Supply System, which, in time, would not only solve the world's energy problems but would also generate unimaginably vast export earnings, thereby providing a permanent solution to America's balance-of-payments deficit.
It's worth remembering that the U.S. has not entirely neglected the potential of large-scale use of nuclear energy. Its fleets of aircraft carriers and submarines, which form the core of its capacity as the world's only superpower and are the means of making its global military outreach a reality, are almost entirely powered by nuclear reactors. These have performed over many decades with spectacular efficiency and superb safety records.
It's already clear that the U.S. will have to take to the nuclear road again. I hope that President Bush and Congress will have the intellectual gallantry and long-term willpower to do so on a gigantic scale, one that will once again put the U.S. a generation ahead of others in what is perhaps the single most important field of economic activity.
Given a decisive lead from the White House and Capitol Hill, the American people can be trusted to respond with energy and enthusiasm.
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05/23/06: A downright ugly man need never despair of attracting women, even pretty
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04/12/06: Let's Have More Babies!
04/05/06: For the love of trains
03/29/06: Lincoln and the Compensation Culture
03/22/06: Bottle-beauties and the globalised blond beast
03/15/06: Europe's utopian hangover
03/08/06: Kindly write on only one side of the paper
02/28/06: Creators versus critics
02/21/06: The Rhino Principle
© 2006, Paul Johnson