My feelings about this are mixed.
The Obama administration soon may guarantee as much as $18.5 billion in loans to build new nuclear reactors to generate electricity, and Congress is considering whether to add billions more to support an expansion of nuclear power.
These actions come after an extensive decade-long campaign in which companies and unions related to the industry have spent more than $600 million on lobbying and nearly $63 million on campaign contributions, according to an analysis by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University.
Nuclear power generates about 20 percent of America's electricity, but many existing reactors are aging and no new plant has been authorized since the 1979 incident at Three Mile Island, when small amounts of radiation were released and authorities feared for days that a huge surge might escape. That's in part because it can cost as much as $8 billion to build a nuclear plant, and in part because the problems of nuclear waste and safety remain unsolved.
The problem of global warming remains unsolved, too, however, and as the nation struggles to rebound from a deep recession, building new nuclear reactors increasingly looks to some like a big jobs program.
The industry, capitalizing on both developments, argues that nuclear energy must be part of any effort to curb heat-trapping carbon emissions.
Its longtime foes — environmentalists, labor unions, Democrats — increasingly agree. "This is nuclear's year," said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who in recent years has become one of the industry's champions on Capitol Hill.
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has pledged that the climate bill that's making its way through Congress will include new government help for the nuclear industry. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says he'd provide a much-sought Republican vote for the bill if its energy provisions include help for the nuclear industry… [emphasis added]
Inserted from <McClatchy DC>
This is one of those damned if you do and damned if you don’t issues. On the one hand, I’m concerned about safety and nuclear waste, especially given the industries track record of externalizing costs by leaving the cleanup to taxpayers. On the other hand, current green technologies, which I believe should be pursued to the maximum extent, cannot create sufficient power to keep up with our ever increasing demand for more energy. Unless we add nuclear power to the mix, we will be even more dependent on fossil fuels, which have no upside at all.
For a long term solution, I think our best bet is to invest massively into research to develop commercial fusion power. While still not commercially viable, there is progress.
…Following the first fusion experiments in the 1930s, fusion physics laboratories were established in nearly every industrialized nation. By the mid-1950s "fusion machines" were operating in the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany and Japan. Through these, scientists' understanding of the fusion process was gradually refined.
A major breakthrough occurred in 1968 in the Soviet Union. Researchers there were able to achieve temperature levels and plasma confinement times - two of the main criteria to achieving fusion - that had never been attained before. The Soviet machine was a doughnut-shaped magnetic confinement device called a tokamak.
From this time on, the tokamak was to become the dominant concept in fusion research, and tokamak devices multiplied across the globe.
Producing fusion energy, it soon became clear, would require marshalling the creative forces, technological skills, and financial resources of the international community. The Joint European Torus (JET) in Culham, U.K., in operation since 1983, was a first step in this direction. JET is collectively used by the EURATOM (European Atomic Energy Community) Associations from more than 20 European countries. In 1991, the JET tokamak achieved the world's first controlled release of fusion power.
Steady progress has been made since in fusion devices around the world. The Tore Supra Tokamak that is part of the Cadarache nuclear research centre holds the record for the longest plasma duration time of any tokamak: six minutes and 30 seconds. The Japanese JT-60 achieved the highest value of fusion triple product - density, temperature, confinement time -of any device to date. US fusion installations have reached temperatures of several hundred million degrees Celsius. Achievements like these have led fusion science to an exciting threshold: the long sought-after plasma energy breakeven point. Breakeven describes the moment when plasmas in a fusion device release at least as much energy as is required to produce them. Plasma energy breakeven has never been achieved: the current record for energy release is held by JET, which succeeded in generating 70% of input power. Scientists have now designed the next-step device - ITER - which will produce more power than it consumes: for 50 MW of input power, 500 MW of output power will be produced… [emphasis added]
Inserted from <iter.org>
Once the breakeven point is surpassed, the excess power can be cascaded into more reactors, producing even more. The fuel for a fusion reactor is Deuterium, abundant in sea water. While not a ‘renewable resource’ per se, there is sufficient supply in the oceans to supply earth’s energy needs for millions of years. The end product of fusion is helium gas. It does not contribute to global climate change and is a valuable commodity in it’s own right.
I see no other way to permanently end US dependence of fossil fuels, which will only become more expensive over time, contribute to climate change, and contribute to international instability.