This essay is about several inter-related things: nuclear power, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, global warming, Earth’s climate, and a carbon tax. It’s a complex subject, and many at Redstate will disagree with my conclusions. Those conclusions are tentative, so please provide comments that could change my mind.
I could have chosen a different title for this blog post, like “Uranium is Better than Carbon.” The reason for picking this particular title is because Senator Reid’s opposition to the Yucca repository in Nevada is apparently a major reason why nuclear power has not flourished in the United States, which in turn is a major reason why the United States is still relying so heavily on fossil fuels that spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Admittedly, I am not 100% convinced that global warming is occurring, or that it is mostly due to humans if it is indeed occurring, or that it would be harmful for humans to cause global warming. But I am sufficiently convinced of these things that I favor action to restrain the emission of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. My main reason is the same reason why I signed a petition last month to generally ban abortion from conception onward: i.e. being overprotective is far better than being completely unprotective, and being protective is the proper course unless or until there is broad consensus that there is negligible risk of harm. I will try to prevent other people from playing Russian roulette with unborn children, and with planet Earth, regardless of popularity and regardless of personal consequences.*
Evidently, the only really feasible alternative to fossil fuels is nuclear power. Wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewable sources are fine, but they are nowhere near enough. New and better sources of energy may crop up in the future, but we ought not count our chickens before they hatch, and before they even lay any eggs.
It’s worth mentioning that I have absolutely no financial interest in nuclear power, and don’t expect to have any in the future. This blog post is about public policy, and is about what is best for the planet, and best for the human race.
If the entire world got all its energy from nuclear power, the available uranium in mines would be exhausted within perhaps a decade or so. However, uranium can also be obtained from seawater, and Japanese scientists have found a way to obtain uranium in that manner costing only three times the current market price. And my understanding is that the cost of uranium is only a small part of the cost of operating a typical nuclear reactor. So uranium from seawater could reasonably supply all of humanity’s energy needs for centuries using current technology.
A major impediment to nuclear power in the United States is the consistent failure to establish a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The major opponent has been Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Some people argue that a waste repository is not really needed, because waste can be reprocessed or stored in above-ground casks. But, even if those arguments are correct, there are non-trivial counter-arguments that are strongly held by many decision-makers. Therefore, even if a waste repository is not technologically necessary (I am not taking any position here about that), the lack of such a repository is a practical obstacle to development of nuclear power. Consequently, it seems extremely worthwhile to placate people who support a repository, even if they are wrong.
I also tentatively support a gradually-increasing tax or fee on carbon-emitting energy sources, if the proceeds are used in only a limited number of ways: reducing the national debt, and/or paying for one or more nuclear waste repositories, and/or direct payments to citizens (note that the state of Alaska has made similar payments). But I also support abandonment of such a tax or fee if countries like China and India do not make decisive efforts to halt emission of greenhouse gasses within a set time (e.g. four years), or alternatively we could raise tariffs on imports from those countries (i.e. a trade war). The U.S. can try to lead by example, but without action by countries like China and India we would not succeed in protecting the atmosphere.
As I said, these views are tentative, and persuasive comments of all kinds are welcome. I have not blogged on this subject before, but feel obliged to do so now, not because I am influential or anything, but because the stakes are enormous.
*Just to clarify: I think that abortion is much more harmful once an embryo becomes a fetus, which occurs about seven weeks after conception. In contrast, the Supreme Court’s dictatorial and unlawful decision in Roe v. Wade purported to make abortion legal up to seven months (“28 weeks”) after conception. I will oppose and protest that foolish and arrogant decision until it is overturned or I am dead, and of course will not vote for any politician whose appointees might support such travesties.