Nuclear returns from  the dead


1. Time for nukes?

2. A safe reactor

3. On a bed of pebbles

4. Nuclear willies


The reactor at Three Mile Island melted down in 1979, throwing a chill that is still cooling the nuclear industry.
Courtesy NARA.




Should global warming and electricity woes spark a renewal of nuclear power?












Anti-nuke rally in Harrisburg, Penn. about a week after the Three Mile Island meltdown.
Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.









    California's cooling, globe's warming
POSTED 13 APR 2001 Remember nuclear power? Forty years ago, it was hyped as Four cooling towers symbolize the nuclear industry. Cooling is needed to reuse water that makes steam."too cheap to meter," and more than 400 nuclear electric generators were built around the world. Then, in 1979, despite assurances from experts, Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island plant melted down.

Nuclear electricity became "too expensive to sell," and the industry began a long slide. Plant orders were cancelled. Some plants closed. Major operators went bankrupt. Peddling reactors became about as exciting as selling sugared soda at a diabetics convention.

What a difference a couple of decades makes! Today, even as the Bush Administration belittles global warming, the prospects of a worldwide warm-up may make nuclear power seem sweet by comparison.

New York Times headline reads: U.S. Aides see a risk of meltdown at Pennsylvania nuclear plant; more radioactive gas is released

California provides another reason to consider power from the once-shunned atom. If the state can't survive winter without rolling blackouts, we can only imagine what will happen come air-conditioning time.

Even the most fervid California-basher knows West Coast trends eventually reach the "real" America, and whether the shortage reflects bungled deregulation, reluctance to pay market prices, soaring population, rapid economic growth or simple greed, California has no corner on triggers for an electricity crisis.

Options, anyone?
A woman addresses the crowd, in front of a sign saying 'Danger: radiation in the city.'When it comes to electricity, the options are limited. Gas is expensive. Oil is unavailable. Coal pollutes like the dickens. Conservation is, well, so '80s, and renewable sources are likely to remain minor-league players, even in the unlikely event that the government devotes serious funding to them.

Is it time to dust off nuclear?

Nuclear fission power -- in which atoms are split apart -- now supplies 20 percent of U.S. electricity. 1999 was a record year for output, as operators streamline their processes to wring more power from the same equipment.

Still, nuclear power's many critics ask why, if nukes are so cheap, no plant has been ordered in the United States since the late 1970s. Critics also argue that there's no proven way to contain the unstable radioactive isotopes that come from reactors, and that these isotopes can make nuclear bombs.

They also worry that reactor accidents could contaminate large areas of the landscape.

Three Mile Island proved that reactors can melt down. Can anyone design a melt-down proof reactor?




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