Going Nuclear on Energy

It’s en vogue to say that the magnitude of America’s energy problem makes it insurmountable. But one solution would go a long way toward shoring up our economic, as well as strategic, position: nuclear energy.

The mainstream media and petty politicians would have Americans believe that we are faced with a set of mutually exclusive, insoluble problems: energy security, environmental security, giant budget deficits and ever-expanding trade deficits. But these challenges can't be separated-they are all related symptoms of the same basic problem, energy. And thankfully, we don't need an Alexander, great or otherwise, to meet the challenges posed by it. In fact, something of a silver bullet exists: nuclear energy.

How is nuclear power the cure to all that ails us? Here's how: We import ten million barrels of oil every day. That costs us one billion dollars every day, adding $365 billion each year to our trade deficit. Nearly all of that imported petroleum goes into transportation fuels. Replacing all of the imported-oil horsepower with an equivalent amount of nuclear-generated power eliminates nearly 30 percent of the trade deficit. But how do you run cars on nuclear power? The answer can be found in two words: "hydrogen" and "hybrids."

If America constructed 104 new nuclear plants, we would add enough base electrical capacity to power every car and truck on the road today, because electricity can convert water into hydrogen (H2O plus electricity equals H2 plus O2) to fuel both modified internal-combustion engines and fuel-cell electric engines. And by adding plugs to existing gas-electric hybrids, owners could refuel their cars at home.

Why 104 new nuclear plants? Because we already have that many in operation. We simply build two thousand additional megawatts of capacity at each current location. Then we avoid the not-in-my-backyard problem. And there's no need to worry about safety: the days of Chernobyl-type facilities are long gone. That was an Edsel. A nuclear plant designed today is a Lexus.

Why hydrogen? Because it is made from water. Not a carbon atom in sight, so no greenhouse gases. When hydrogen is combusted in a modified internal-combustion engine (yes, the technology is off the shelf) or used to power a fuel cell (without combustion), it produces no harmful by-products.

Plug-in hybrids? That's a no-brainer. Adding plugs to basic gas-electric hybrids would allow commuters to "refuel" at home, overnight (when, conveniently, electric rates are lower). As most round-trip commutes are less than fifty miles, not a drop of gasoline would be burned the whole workweek, and not a wisp of greenhouse gasses would be emitted, assuaging European concerns about America's energy use.

So that solves the trade deficit, the energy deficit and the environmental issue. But what about the budget deficit? Easy: We need to increase the capacity of the nuclear plants and secure them against terrorist attack. We need to build the electrolyzers and compressors to be placed at every service station in America, to convert water into compressed hydrogen to fuel cars and trucks. We need to increase the capacity of the power-transmission lines to deliver the larger supply of electricity to the service stations. We need to build the plug-in hybrids and the appliances for rapid recharging.

All of this building and manufacturing adds wages and profits to the economy. The nuclear facilities are built here, with American labor and American equipment. The electric transmission lines are built here, with American labor and equipment. The electrolyzers and compressors and plug-in hybrids should be built here, with American labor and equipment. And these are high-wage positions in engineering, construction and manufacturing.

The added wages and profits mean substantially higher income tax collections (without raising tax rates). On the expense side of the ledger, military spending, to maintain the forward posture of our forces to keep the oil flowing to our country, could be reduced substantially. Increased revenue and reduced spending. That's the sweet sound of deficit reduction that you're hearing.

How much does this all cost? Less than you would think. Far from breaking the bank, it will actually enrich the treasury.

The cost to build it all is $3 trillion over ten years. But, no worries: Establish a federal lending institution, along the lines of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, to create a secondary market for revenue-based loans originated by existing commercial lenders to the utilities and the hydrogen retailers.

Money would flow into these loans from all around the world, because they would be backed by physical plant and equipment producing the world's most important commodity, power. Money flowing into the United States would stabilize the free-falling dollar. Interest rates would go down. This would make us all richer to boot, as the stock market (in which most people have a substantial portion of their retirement savings), reacting to lower budget deficits, lower interest rates and energy security, would move higher in a sustainable way.

Oh, and the cost of the hydrogen or the plug-in recharge is under three dollars per gasoline-gallon equivalent.

 

Jay Zawatsky is chief executive officer of havePower, LLC.