As we become ever more aware of the miasma descending on the land because of our seemingly helpless dependency on fossil fuels, one solution stands out that would be singularly effective in contravening our current energy malaise. And that is nuclear energy, a solution to which Barack Obama has given only the most lukewarm support -- "we have to explore all options" -- while John McCain, at a speakers forum only this Thursday past at the Aspen Institute came down four-square pledging a major commitment to nuclear energy: "thirty-five new nuclear plants by 2030," he promised, signaling his focus on nuclear power as a cornerstone of his energy program.
This, while Obama and his fellow Democrats render lip service support to the nuclear energy solution without any visceral commitment. Here is an issue that has vast implications for the nation's national security, its economic health, and its deepening concerns over both global warming as well as the impact of biofuels on the world's food chain. An issue that has even found the support of such people as Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, the environmental watchdog group, who has written in defense of nuclear power plants (please see "Color Nuclear Energy Green." 06.01.06)
This Sunday's New York Times ("France Reaffirms Its Faith In Future of Nuclear Power") had an illuminating article on France's experience over the past 50 years, when Charles De Gaulle set his nation on the road that has made France the premier nuclear powered country in the world with nuclear facilities providing 77 percent of its electricity. That compares with 19.4 percent in the United States.
In France, unlike the United States, plant design is based on the "closed fuel cycle" whereby plutonium is recovered from reactors and reused, thereby limiting significantly the mass of detritus requiring waste disposal. The "closed fuel cycle," even after decades of successful and safe application is not permitted in this country (are those the oil and gas lobbyists lurking in the corridors of the Senate Office Building?).
Of course, there are lingering doubts about nuclear energy in France as elsewhere, but a senior staff member of France's Ministry of Ecology was quoted, "our system of security is extremely responsive and transparent, and the media and public needed a training period to understand how the system of nuclear security works in France." The result being that 67 percent of the French considered it vital to their national interest to maintain nuclear power in their nation's energy mix. Coincidentally, while 27 percent of the French considered nuclear energy to be an issue of concern, 50% considered global warming to be the most worrying.
France's President Sarkozy has taken an active role in propagating the expansion of France's nuclear energy base, forcefully using the bully pulpit of his office. To quote him, "each E.P.R. [European Pressurized Reactor, the name designating its latest nuclear power plant design] that replaces a gas powered electricity plant saves two billion cubic meters of gas each year, and each E.P.R. replacing a coal plant means cutting 11 million tons of CO2."
Lafayette, your time has come again! This America you helped create has rarely seen darker days. Our independence, the very sustainability of our environment is being sold to oil interests both here and abroad by a craven Congress and an oil-besotted administration, and perhaps before too long our liberties as well. Please come back and teach our young candidate that there are issues over which we can no longer equivocate. That real solutions must be found that are beyond party preferences. They require leadership, and as you have shown in the past, heroic valor!