Renewable Energy – A Conservative Approach

EnvironmentNo new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States since the late 1970s. Recently, however, Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee unveiled the Republican blueprint to build 100 nuclear power plants in the United States within the next 20 years.

Apparently the lessons learned from the 1986 Chernobyl power plant reactor meltdown that caused the worst nuclear accident ever have been forgotten. In the United States in 1979, we almost had a similar accident when a partial meltdown occurred at Three Mile Island but the reactor was brought under control just in time.

Why the rush to build nuclear power plants again?

Thirty years later, we have not solved the dilemma of storing nuclear waste or the problem of what to do with the weapons-grade plutonium. It only takes about 18 pounds of plutonium to build a nuclear weapon.

In the United States, more than 60,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is stored in temporary storage facilities at 131 civilian and military sites around the country. The current storage solutions are only expected to last 100 years, while nuclear waste can remain lethal for 100,000 years or more. We must also consider the weapons proliferation risk in an age of transnational terrorism in addition to the risk of an environmental accident. These are just some reasons why we must adopt alternative renewable energy standards and use renewable energy sources rather than build 100 more nuclear power plants.

A conservative solution is to invest in clean energy sources that do not pose risks inherent in nuclear energy production and storage. These sources include creating bio-energy from plant matter or animal waste. For example, in Northern California, Pacific Gas and Electric Company and BioEnergy Solutions are building an innovative bio-gas project in Fresno County to deliver renewable natural gas derived from animal waste, reducing the carbon footprint at its source. And in San Diego , San Diego Gas and Electric Company has announced a partnership in a wind project on the Campo reservation using renewable energy. In Germany , the photovoltaic industry generates jobs in production, distribution and installation of solar energy.

In the United States , we can rebuild our manufacturing base by investing in renewable energy sources while creating good paying jobs that provide clean energy production. While those in favor of building nuclear power plants claim nuclear energy is inexpensive and cost effective, they have not factored in the costs and risks associated with the building and maintenance of storage facilities for nuclear waste.


The United States should lead the world away from the dangerous expansion of nuclear power plants. We should phase out our nuclear energy plants over the next generation and continue to invest in other renewable energy sources which make energy costs more predictable in the future.

Tracy Emblem

Tracy Emblem is an attorney and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, California ‘s 50th District.


  1. John Mooney says

    The real question is how much waste is currently generated by coal and oil fired plants – and released into the atmosphere? Yes, nuclear plants generate waste. We know where the waste is and we can control it. We breathe and contaminate the earth with our current alternatives.

    We should invest in solar, wind and nuclear as much as possible. Raise the tax on fossil fuels to cover the damage that they cause (e.g.- health problems, the Gulf Wars…)

  2. Joshua Payne says

    1) Safety: Please read the full accounts of the only two nuclear power disasters in the history of nuclear power. I’ll give a brief summary here.

    – Chernobyl: All of the safety systems were disabled to perform a test. Things went wrong, lack of a sufficient safety backups, and a containment building caused the large scale release of radioactive material. This Cannot Happen in the US, and reactors similar to the Chernobyl design will never be built in the world. Aside from the blatant disabling of safety systems, the biggest difference between a Chernobyl style reactor and a US reactor is the Containment Building. US reactors are placed within a 6-12 ft thick super reinforced concrete building designed to take high speed impacts from fighter jets without a scratch, and contain large steam explosions. The Chernobyl reactor did not have this at all.

    – Three Mile Island: The reactor was shut down ~2 seconds after a drop in coolant pressure was detected. However, due to operator error, and a stuck pressure relief valve, the core did not receive sufficient cooling to keep the decay heat from partially melting it down, the worst case scenario. Despite the worst case happening, the reactor vessel, and containment building did their jobs, and kept the public safe from radiation exposure. In fact you could have stood next to the containment dome for the entire week and only received the dose equivalent of an x-ray.

    Waste I don’t want to waste my time explaining all of the things that could be done safely and efficiently, but suffice it to say, the waste isn’t an issue. Measuring nuclear waste by weight is a bad measure, as it is so much denser than anything else out there. All of the High Level waste produced by all of the reactors since the start of the power industry would fit on a football field, only 12ft high.

    Alternatives are great and all, but they do not scale well, and cannot provide base load power. When you account for energy storage costs, capacity factor, lifespan, ect of wind and solar, they come out to be far more expensive for large scale power production than nuclear. A portfolio with nuclear for a base power source, and wind to meet peak demands would probably be the best bet.


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