Discussions in the U.S. on nuclear power often overlook the simple reality that it is an expanding worldwide energy source. This doesn’t mean only China; it means Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America and the former Soviet Union. In the past few years, multi-reactor sites have broken ground in the United Arab Emirates, Belarus, Turkey and Bangladesh, with Egypt likely to be next. More than 30 other nations, now without nuclear power, are working with the International Atomic Energy Agency to build their own programs.
Thus, a question: Does the rest of the world know something we don’t? Yes, and no. Yes, in that other nations understand nuclear power provides vast amounts of reliable non-carbon power. They know certain data are lucid: In 60 years, there have been three major accidents, under 70 deaths, and, except for Chernobyl, no increased cancer incidents. Many energy sources and even industries — oil and gas, construction, agriculture — see more deaths in a single year.
The “no” answer to the question comes from another reality hidden in plain sight: Dozens of nuclear startup companies exist in the U.S. and Canada. Two are in the Pacific Northwest: TerraPower, founded partly by Bill Gates, and NuScale in Corvallis, Oregon. These companies and their kin are born from motives of social responsibility and business success. They seek to reduce carbon emissions via innovative smaller reactor designs that are modular, more efficient, produce less waste and won’t melt down.
Belief that plutonium, whose global volume would fit a three-car garage, cannot be safeguarded is absurd. The greatest danger regarding fissile material comes when a nuclear state like the Soviet Union collapses, and the fate of weapons and such material falls into uncertainty. Thanks to U.S. and Russian scientists, and to heroic bipartisan action by former U.S. Sens. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, and Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, this did not result in disaster.