No country uses more nuclear energy than the United States in aggregate. This, despite the fact, that since 1977 no new nuclear reactor has come online in America. As of 2013, there are four nuclear reactors in which construction has been approved but these are all at existing nuclear plants. This is a small step in the right direction. Why do we need more nuclear energy?
The USA uses an incredible amount of energy per capita, in 2010 according to the EIA we consumed a staggering 98 quadrillion Btu or nearly 19% of all world consumption. Almost 80% of this is from non-renewal fossil fuels. Non-renewal means exactly what it states, once consumed it cannot be used again. For a country that consumes as much as we do, it is the height of folly not to explore other viable means to get our energy efficiently.
Because of our great power consumption, there is only one real source that can scale up to the needs of the United States in a reasonable period of time, it is proven, and that is nuclear. Nuclear is safe, it releases no carbon dioxide, it releases very few pollutants in total, and its toxic waste is very small and containable.
There is a misconception that the Three Mile Island disaster of 1978 caused or killed hundreds of civilians but that isn't the case. Most major media outlets have reported, such as MSNBC that at Three Mile Island and its vicinity there were" no deaths or long-term health effects connected to the accident.” However, the Radiation and Public Health Project claims that this is false and has stated the following:
Infants and children living in Dauphin County, where Three Mile Island is located, have high rates of disease and death, specifically:
- Cancer death rate age 0-9, 1980-2002, 45% above U.S. (35 deaths)
- Cancer incidence rate age 0-14, 1993-2002, 17% above U.S. (86 cases)
- Infant death rate, age 0-27 days, 1979-2002, 23% above U.S. (600 deaths)
- Child death rate, age 1-14, 1979-2002, 13% above U.S. (187 deaths)
- Rate of births under 5 ½ lbs, 2000-2002, 37% above U.S. (994 births)
While these above numbers certainly imply that there were some ill effects from the Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown, the numbers in aggregate are unfortunate, but hardly catastrophic. For instance, to get a more proper perspective, the NY Times states: "Burning fossil fuels costs the United States about $120 billion a year in health costs, mostly because of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution."
The Three Mile Island incident, however, has been the main reason why the development of nuclear energy has come to a virtual halt in the United States. Further to that point, the United States has access or the funds to obtain its energy from fossil fuels in lieu of nuclear and has continued to develop and use fossil fuels as our primary source of energy. However, historically fossil fuels are far more dangerous, environmentally damaging, and politically unstable.
Wars are fought over the access to cheap or readily available energy. The USA became a net oil importer in 1970, and it is no surprise since then that the Middle East has attracted arms, munitions, and plenty of blood.
France does not have the luxury of an abundance of fossil fuels, in fact they have very little, and consequently France has made a concerted national effort to provide its electrical energy from nuclear power with a great deal of success. France's electricity cost to household consumers is the 7th lowest of the 27-member European Union, and this without any of the ill effects of carbon dioxide. France has been successful with nuclear energy because they understand the importance, the necessity, and the utility of nuclear.