Radiation Scare Impedes U.S. Nuke Strategy

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WASHINGTON and PARIS - The nuclear disaster in Japan could very likely kill what was supposed to be a resurgence of the nuclear industry in the United States.

In 2008, then President-elect Barack Obama said nuclear power would be an important part of America's strategy for energy independence.

The industry rebounded from the 1970s and 1980s, which saw astronomical startup cost overruns, and accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

Before the Japanese earthquake, there were dozens of new nuclear plants on the drawing board for the U.S. There was even talk of following the example of France, which gets most of its power from nuclear energy.

France decided to go nuclear in 1973, after the first Middle East oil crisis. The country saw its vulnerability on energy and charted a course toward energy security.

Jacques Repussard, director general of France's Nuclear Safety institute (Institut de Radioprotection et de Suret Nucleaire), told CBN News the rationale behind the decision.

"France has no oil and virtually no gas reserves. And we had to face the issue of where we would procure our energy," he said. "The government then decided to go big on nuclear, and not only to have reactors, but to create a real nuclear industry. So the purpose was national independence."

France has 59 operating nuclear reactors and gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy.

The United States has almost twice as many reactors, but is also five times as large, thus only getting 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy.

French officials say the crisis in Japan won't scare them away from atomic energy. France is also not earthquake-prone like Japan.

But Germany has announced it will take seven of its oldest reactors offline and will evaluate whether to shut them down.

Backers of nuclear power in the U.S. call the energy source an abundant, affordable option that doesn't emit carbon dioxide.

"Nuclear power generates a large amount of base load electricity without emitting any greenhouse gases," Angie Howard of the Nuclear Energy Institute told CBN News.

But even before the Japanese earthquake, major environmental groups in Washington, D.C., opposed going nuclear because of the waste disposal involved.

There's also concern about the high start up cost of nuclear plants.

Wall Street generally views loans for nuke plants as too risky, which then sends the industry to the government looking for money.

But, nuclear power is cleaner than coal and, has demonstrated an excellent safety record overall. Nuclear power also relies on fuel found in North America.

Still, it's going to be difficult to revive the nuclear industry and continue after the nightmare in Japan.

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Dale Hurd

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A CBN News veteran, Dale Hurd has reported extensively from Western Europe, as well as China, Russia, and Central and South America.  Since 9/11, Dale has reported in depth on various aspects of the global war on terror in the United States and Europe.  Follow Dale on Twitter @HurdontheWeb and "like" him at Facebook.com/DaleHurdNews.