The Need for Nuclear Power

Courtesy Reuters


The world needs more energy. Energy multiplies human labor, increasing productivity. It builds and lights schools, purifies water, powers farm machinery, drives sewing machines and robot assemblers, stores and moves information. World population is steadily increasing, having passed six billion in 1999. Yet one-third of that number -- two billion people -- lack access to electricity. Development depends on energy, and the alternative to development is suffering: poverty, disease, and death. Such conditions create instability and the potential for widespread violence. National security therefore requires developed nations to help increase energy production in their more populous developing counterparts. For the sake of safety as well as security, that increased energy supply should come from diverse sources.

"At a global level," the British Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering estimate in a 1999 report on nuclear energy and climate change, "we can expect our consumption of energy at least to double in the next 50 years and to grow by a factor of up to five in the next 100 years as the world population increases and as people seek to improve their standards of living." Even with vigorous conservation, world energy production would have to triple by 2050 to support consumption at a mere one-third of today's U.S. per capita rate. The International Energy Agency (IEA) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) projects 65 percent growth in world energy demand by 2020, two-thirds of that coming from developing countries. "Given the levels of consumption likely in the future," the Royal Society and Royal Academy caution, "it will be an immense challenge to meet the global demand for energy without unsustainable long-term damage to the environment." That damage includes surface and air pollution and global warming.

Most of the world's energy today comes from petroleum (39.5 percent), coal (24.2 percent), natural gas (22.1 percent), hydroelectric power (6.9 percent), and nuclear power (6.3 percent). Although oil and coal still dominate, their market fraction began declining decades ago. Meanwhile, natural gas and nuclear power have steadily increased their

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