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A Note from Sen. Lamar Alexander: EQ in Japan and future of nuclear energy

A Note from Sen. Lamar Alexander: EQ in Japan and future of nuclear energy

Posted: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 8:03 pm
By: Sen. Lamar Alexander

Each day we are learning new information about the devastation wrought by the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history—30 times more forceful than the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and 700 times stronger than the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
While the events at Japan’s nuclear reactors continue to evolve, it is critical that Americans do all we can to help the Japanese, and then learn all we can from the experience to make the operation of American reactors as safe as possible.
Those of us who support nuclear power ought to be among the first to ask questions about what we can learn from what happened in Japan, and about the safety of our own reactors and those that are on the drawing board.
As we look around the world, we see nuclear power provides 15 percent of the world’s electricity, 30 percent of Japan’s electricity.  There are 65 reactors currently under construction worldwide, from Russia to China, from Brazil to Korea.
Twenty percent of our electricity in the United States comes from nuclear power; 70 percent of our clean electricity—that is, without sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, or carbon emissions—comes from nuclear power. Here in Tennessee, one-third of TVA’s electricity comes from nuclear power, and seven percent from hydro-electric, so it’s 40 percent carbon free.  It’s hard for me to imagine how we have a future in the United States without substantial expansion of nuclear power.
It’s also important that we keep in perspective that the safety record of nuclear power in the United States really couldn’t be better.
The 104 civilian reactors we have in the United States have never produced a fatality, and the navy ships that have had nuclear reactors since the 1950s have never had a fatality from a reactor accident. While we’ve heard a lot about Three Mile Island, the worst nuclear accident we’ve had in our country, no one was hurt. The nuclear industry has a safety record in the United States that’s not surpassed by any other form of energy production.
One of the most important things the federal government can do for clean energy is research. We can research better ways of reprocessing used nuclear fuel and developing small modular reactors.
We have the capacity for it. I was in Great Britain recently and I was reminded that Americans are the ones with the national labs, we’re the ones with the great research universities, and if any country is going to have advanced research in clean energy it ought to be the United States. We can do that for ourselves and for the world.
In fact, a team at Oak Ridge’s Center for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors is working to help the Japanese government understand and model different scenarios for how best to respond to what they believe is currently happening with their reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Complex.
It’s important to keep in perspective what our energy alternatives are. Every form of energy we have carries with it some risk. In Great Britain, 45 percent of their electricity comes from natural gas, it costs twice as much as ours does and half of it comes from Russia.
They’re closing their coal plants because of their climate change rules, and they know that renewable energy can only provide a small percent of their electricity, it’s intermittent, and it takes up a lot of space for an island that doesn’t have much space. So their only option is to build more nuclear power plants, which is what Great Britain is planning to do.
Nuclear power is a demanding but manageable technology. As we move forward, let us learn the proper lessons from this Japanese experience to make sure that in the United States and in the world our nuclear plants are safer and protected as much as possible against unpredictable natural disasters so that we are even better prepared for the future.

WCP 4.05.11

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