Nuke power may offer cure for global greenhouse woes

Last week, NASA scientist and leading global warming expert James Hansen told the U.S. Congress that the globe is now officially past the “dangerous level” for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a “drastic” change in man-made carbon dioxide emissions needs to be made.  

Hansen, commonly known as the “climate prophet” for his accurate prediction of a warmer globe 20 years ago, told Congress that if we do not return the CO2 in the atmosphere to pre-1988 levels our planet will soon face “mass extinction, ecosystem collapse and dramatic sea level rises.”  

In an effort to mitigate this predicted judgment day, Republican presumptive presidential candidate John McCain has suggested revitalizing nuclear energy programs in this country and immediately allowing the building of 45 new nuclear power plants. He believes that nuclear energy “should be in the mix” because it releases no CO2, a bi-product of burned fossil fuels and coal that contributes to the global warming crisis.  

Although Democratic presumptive presidential candidate Barack Obama has criticized this plan because current nuclear waste procedures may pose a health risk to humans, we cannot be so quick to dismiss a power source that could potentially end our contribution to the global warming problem.  

According to PowerScoreCard.org, a website created by six nationally recognized environmental organizations including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council, nuclear power plants “do not release any of the ‘traditional’ power generation air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide or nitrogen oxides.”  

Nuclear energy is so “clean,” in fact, France, a country that gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, has the cleanest air of any industrialized nation in the world, according to the “60 Minutes” report “France: Vive Les Nukes.” On a side note, they also have some of the cheapest electricity in Europe. I’m just saying.  

If we could set up a similar system in this country, much less greenhouse gases would accumulate in the atmosphere. Since our energy demands are some of the largest in the world, cutting back on our emissions alone would eliminate a big portion of the overall amount of greenhouse gases that collect in the air, ultimately reducing the chances of a major catastrophe from occurring.  

Certainly, Obama’s concern about the handling of nuclear waste is valid. Without the proper care and forethought, high-level radioactive waste can cause serious harm to humans.  

But, McCain’s proposal to house nuclear waste in underground storage in Yucca Mountain, Nevada may be the solution we need to get nuclear energy off and running.  Storing waste in underground units far from humans and animals poses no health risks, if containment units are maintained.  

The problems people associate with radioactive waste occur only when waste seeps through contaminant walls. Having specialized workers and highly skilled scientists constantly checking the security of the containment units would guarantee that no radiation could seep out into the environment.  

Furthermore, reprocessing spent fuel rods can significantly reduce the amount of time nuclear waste remains radioactive. If companies and people focus some of their energy and money on reprocessing our waste, the radioactive decay could be reduced by thousands of years.  

I am in no way trying to say nuclear energy alone will save our planet from a global warming death.  I am, however, saying that the fewer greenhouse gases we emit, the better our odds are of a global disaster not occurring.  Nuclear energy emits no greenhouse gases and, if stored properly, does not affect our health.  

Although we would still need to make some major changes in the way we as a global community run our day-to-day lives, having nuclear energy producing a good portion of this country’s energy would drastically slow down the collection of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere overall.  

The possibility of mass extinction, as Hansen put it, is much too horrible an idea for any of us to take global warming lightly.  Although the problem of nuclear waste is a big issue we must all discuss, stifling nuclear growth because of high level radioactive waste would be a big mistake.

We must be open to nuclear energy because it could save us from some pretty major disasters.  On a side note, it’s cheap. I’m just saying.

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