Nuclear Power: Renewable Energy?

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"Nuclear technologies that process waste from existing reactors to use as fuel do exist, and in effect are 'renewable.'"

Nuclear power is not a renewable energy source, like solar or wind power, right? In fact, it is, says Andrew Kadak, a Nuclear Science and Engineering Professor at MIT. In the latest edition of Technology Review published by MIT, Professor Kadak questions the exclusion of nuclear energy from the Obama administration's clean energy sources portfolio, which of course includes solar, wind and hydroelectric power.

The exclusion, according to Kadak, defies reason. Nuclear technologies that process waste from existing reactors to use as fuel do exist, and in effect are "renewable." Known as breeder reactors, they are already widely used in India, France and Russia. China and Japan will also have breeder reactors up and running soon. However, the United States does not employ this type of nuclear technology.

While some opponents to nuclear power rail about its dangers, Kadak points out that the 104 nuclear plants in the U.S. have operated safely for over three decades. These plants generate over 73% of the non-carbon-dioxide-emitting energy in the U.S. and provide the nation with approximately 20% of its electricity demands; in comparison, wind and solar supply less than 1%.

While Kadak doesn't blatantly call for replacing existing water reactors with renewable breeder reactors, he does bring to our attention the fact that the earth's available uranium sources will be depleted over the next century. However, with breeder reactors in place we would be able to use nuclear waste to provide us with "a source of clean energy that could last for thousands of years."

Therefore, Kadak believes the Obama administration's energy policy should focus more on nuclear power in the form of carbon credits and loan guarantees (perhaps for more renewable forms of nuclear technology like breeder reactors?). "If we are serious about addressing the problems of energy dependence and global climate change," said Kadak, "nuclear must be part of the solution."

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