(Editors’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles concerning the uranium industry and it’s effect on the future of San Juan County and the Colorado Plateau. This week, we look at the industry from a world-wide perspective.)
The world-wide interest in uranium is staggering. Google “uranium” and you will find over 400,000 articles and web sites to peruse. Google “uranium in San Juan County, Utah” and you have over 17,000 pieces to examine.
At the present time, there are 439 uranium-using nuclear power generating stations creating electricity in the world. They operate in 41 different countries. These power plants produce 16 percent of the world’s electrical power.
Internationally, there are another 34 new reactors being built (as of March 10, 2008), 93 are on order, and 222 others are in the planning and licensing stages.
The United States has not built a single nuclear power plant since the Three Mile Island Incident in the early 1970’s. The 103 operating nuclear power plants built prior to that time in the U. S. have performed well, producing 20 percent of the total electrical needs of the nation. They have not put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and today they produce electricity for less per kilowatt hour than coal fired power plants.
While the resistance to building nuclear reactors in this country is lessening, there are still major hurdles to overcome in order to build a new atomic generating facility. Obtaining an operating license still takes years, despite the government and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s efforts to streamline the process.
President Bush has said on several occasions that searching for alternative sources of fuel is a national security priority, as well as an economic necessity. Bush told an energy conference in Washington on March 5 that “some countries we get oil from don’t particularly like us. They don’t like the form of government we embrace. They don’t believe in the same freedoms we believe in. And that is a problem from a national security perspective for the United States and any other nation that values its economic and national sovereignty.”
He went on to say that nuclear power must play a significant role in the future of power generation in this country and the world if we hope to curtail the greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere by fossil fuel power plants.
Twenty-two new nuclear power plants are in line for licenses in this country currently, with many more being planned. There is one on the drawing boards for Central Utah. San Juan County has already committed some of its water rights out of the San Juan River to the developers of this new plant.
A negative aspect about the 35-year moratorium this country has had on our nuclear power program is that other countries, such as France and Japan, who continued with their atomic programs uninterrupted today occupy the positions of world leadership in the industry.
France’s top export is nuclear technology. Their expertise brings tens of billions of dollars to their economy annually. Had the U. S. stayed with its nuclear program, the rest of the world would be beating a path to our door today instead of going elsewhere.
Japan is the only nation on earth which currently has the ability to cast the reactor vessels (the 42-foot, egg-shaped containers at the core of a reactor). Japan Steel Works has a four year back log on reactor cores right now. Unless an American company suddenly develops the ability to produce reactor cores, all of our new nuclear power plants will begin in Japan.
Dan Barber, a former Monticello resident who spent many years as a uranium miner, wrote recently and expressed sentiments which reflect those of many people in this country.
A few of Dan’s thoughts:
“I couldn’t agree more that nuclear (or as George W. would say, ‘nucular’) HAS to be this country’s future source of electricity.”
“Those who say communism is dead… not true. It has found a new home in the militant environmentalism movement.
“We are now confronted by the will of the few over the masses. They are convincing the gullible in government and the electorate that their approach to the energy solution is the only correct one… which is no oil/gas exploration, no more coal-fired generating plants and they are even pushing to decommission Glen Canyon Dam and other American dams.
“And though more people died in the back seat of Ted Kennedy’s car than in all the nuclear power plants in America, nuclear power to the WACCO extremists is still a no-no.”
However, many of the nuclear power fear mongers of the past may be coming around. Every time a chunk of ice seven times the size of Manhatten falls into the ocean (like the one that did last week in Antarctica) the atom looks a little better to those who crippled the nuclear power industry in the United States for the last three decades.
While anything nuclear is still a dance with the devil to many environmentalists, they have to pick the lesser of the world’s perceived evils and at the present time global warming seems to have dislodged the atom from the top of their “no-no” list.
Next week we look at some of the exciting things happening right here in San Juan County as a result of the changes in national and international attitudes toward the nuclear power industry.
Much has happened in the last two years, since we did our first series. Most of the exciting things happening all around us are known only to those in the industry.
Next week we look ahead to what some say will be the biggest bonanza ever in San Juan County and much of the Colorado Plateau. Take a look at the facts and draw your own conclusions in next week’s final installment.