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2/1/2008
02:32 PM
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State Of The (Green) Union, Part 1

In his final State of the Union speech Monday, President Bush outlined his goals for building a future of energy security. It's predicated on a move toward cleaner coal and building up our capacity to generate nuclear power. Here's what we're aiming at.

In his final State of the Union speech Monday, President Bush outlined his goals for building a future of energy security. It's predicated on a move toward cleaner coal and building up our capacity to generate nuclear power. Here's what we're aiming at.1. "Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions."

Google is leapfrogging this one. Its REC initiative is working to "develop electricity from renewable energy sources that is cheaper than electricity produced from coal with a goal of producing one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity." Google's renewable energy R&D group is investigating possible solar, thermal, wind, and geothermal solutions. And there's an economic bonus: Google is hiring engineers, technologists, and scientists to get the job done.

2. "Let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions-free nuclear power."
There will always be nuke haters. But nuclear energy technology has improved over the years and is gaining unlikely supporters. A 2005 article in Wired magazine titled "Nuclear Now", reports:

Some of the world's most thoughtful greens have discovered the logic of nuclear power, including Gaia theorist James Lovelock, Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore, and Britain's Bishop Hugh Montefiore, a longtime board member of Friends of the Earth. Western Europe is quietly backing away from planned nuclear phaseouts. Finland has ordered a big reactor specifically to meet the terms of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. China's new nuke plants -- 26 by 2025 -- are part of a desperate effort at smog control.

Like red wine and rich sauces, nuclear energy is clearly working for the French. They get 77% of their electricity from nukes; they have the cleanest air in the industrialized world, and France has the lowest electricity rates in Europe, 60 Minutes reported in April.

Here in the United States there were 104 commercial nuclear reactors in operation as of October 2005. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees the industry, and the Energy Information Administration keeps tabs on the reactors here. The EIA doesn't take a position on whether construction of new nuclear power plants should take place. It suggests instead:

"Uprating existing units to generate more power. Although the uprates are usually less than 10 percent, they are quite significant. If all of the proposals are implemented, nuclear capacity would increase by more than the construction of any new reactor design now under consideration."

The EIA won't, but I will: Thanks to technological progress made in Europe, we're going to start building reactors again. There will be protest and hand-wringing across the land. But new plants will be built and they'll be cleaner and more efficient than the nuclear plant at Three Mile Island. It's going to happen. Bet on it.

Next week in this space, I'll work through the rest of President Bush's cleaner technology goals.

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