11/24/2008 02:42 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Nuclear Power's Opponents Accused Of Being Stuck In The 80's

The presidential candidates claim to see America's energy future, but their competing visions have a certain vintage quality. They've revived that classic debate: the hard path versus the soft path.

The soft path, as Amory Lovins defined it in the 1970s, is energy conservation and power from the sun, wind and plants -- the technologies that Senator Barack Obama emphasizes in his plan to reduce greenhouse emissions. Senator John McCain is more enthusiastic about building nuclear power plants, the quintessential hard path.

As a rule, it's not a good idea to revive anything from the 1970s. But this debate is the exception, and not just because the threat of global warming has raised the stakes. The old lessons are as good a guide as any to the future, as William Tucker argues in "Terrestrial Energy," his history of the hard-soft debate.

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