January 8, 2001
The two contestants in your debate leave one confused as to whether nuclear electricity is alive or dead. A search of the Internet provides some interesting data. The energy company BP produces a yearly statistical review of world energy. The latest issue is for 1999 where they report that world energy grew by 0.2%. The fastest growing sector for 1999 was nuclear at 3.8%, followed by gas at 2.4% and oil at 1.6%. The reason for the high nuclear growth was a rise in nuclear output in the United States, Russia and Asia.
The U.S. Department of Energy gives more details and reported in March 2000 that “In 1999 U.S. commercial nuclear power stations generated more electricity than in any previous year….These records were accomplished even though the number of operable U.S. nuclear units has declined to 104 reactors from a peak of 112 in 1990.” The same source also gives monthly generation up to September 2000, and in the first 9 months of 2000 nuclear generation was up about 5% over the same period for 1999. In fact there was more nuclear energy produced in the month of July 2000 than ever before in the United States. U.S. electricity is produced primarily by coal (~50%), secondly by nuclear power (~20%) and thirdly by gas (~15%).
Somehow, it appears that at least the U.S. nuclear generating industry is alive although the general public is probably unaware of its progress. One could generate all sorts of conspiracy theories to explain this! However, other information suggests that this situation has not escaped everyone’s eyes. In the Jan. 5, 2001 edition of Investor’s Digest, Dave Skarica, an investment newsletter writer, says “Get into uranium, buy Cameco.”
I am left with two questions: Is nuclear power dead? and Is the public interested? The answer to the first question seems to be “no” from the above data, but the answer to the second question is probably more relevant and is also “no.” If the press and TV reported the above figures there would probably be a short response — “Oh, that’s interesting” — before turning to more meaty issues like trying to analyze the meaning of the words Alan Greenspan speaks!
Don Lawson, Oakville, Ont.