Bachus says benefits of nuclear energy may outweigh fears

Published 8:19 pm Saturday, August 9, 2008

U.S. Congressman Spencer Bachus says nuclear energy is clean, inexpensive and recyclable.

Foreign countries are quickly realizing the benefits of nuclear energy. China is planning to build 32 new nuclear plants by 2020, 11 of which are currently in operation and six more are under construction.

India currently has 17 nuclear plants in operation and six under construction, while United Arab Emirates are planning up to 14 by 2020.

Eighty percent of France’s energy is nuclear, compared to 72.3 percent in Lithuania and more than 50 percent in Slovakia and Belgium.

Nuclear accounts for only 19.4 percent of U.S. energy, however, and there are no plants under construction here.

“Other countries get it,” Bachus said. “We’re not doing it because of this fear.”

The reasons for apprehension or fear connected with nuclear power plants are relatively easy to point out. Probably the most localized is the Three Mile Island accident that occurred in March 1979 at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station near Harrisburg, Pa.

The malfunction of a nuclear reactor resulted in the release of an estimated 43,000 curies of radioactive krypton but under 20 curies of iodine-131, which is considered particularly hazardous.

“The radioactive material was contained within thick, cement walls,” Bachus said. “The system worked like it was designed to work.”

No deaths or injuries are connected to the incident, but that has not been the case with every nuclear accident.

The infamous Chernobyl disaster in April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the former Soviet Union resulted in the deaths of 30 people, which are attributed mostly to nuclear fallout.

Unlike the Three Mile Island plant, however, the early communist model nuclear reactor was not housed in concrete. Bachus said it would be like comparing a tent to a reinforced brick wall.

“That would never happen here,” he said.

Other fears tend to come from the media such as “The China Syndrome,” a movie about nuclear meltdown.

Bachus was quick to add that there are risks with the production of every form of energy.

“Nothing is foolproof. We lose coalminers,” he said. “There was a refinery fire in Houston [last Monday].”

According to Alabama Power, the construction of one nuclear plant in Alabama would create 6,000 new high wage construction jobs and about 900 permanent jobs. It would also yield about $300 million in tax revenue.

Bachus is also looking at other alternative energy sources made possible by breakthroughs in technology.

The various climates in the U.S. give the country an advantage over other nations for producing solar and wind energy, he said. The U.S. can produce 20 percent of its energy needs in southern California and Nevada, while the Great Plains is one of the 10 best spots in the world for wind.

“The Germans would have to spend five times as much on solar energy because of their climate,” Bachus said.

If the U.S. starts developing domestic energy sources, in addition to conserving fuel and other forms of energy, Bachus says solving the energy crisis can be “easier to do than conquering cancer.”

Within 10 years, he said, high gas costs do not have to be a factor. He continues to emphasize drilling for oil on the coast and in Alaska.

“We probably won’t have our nuclear on line, but we will have for fuel-efficient technology,” he said.