Nuclear Power Options

August 4, 1971

Report Outline
Growing Source of Power in Atoms
Development of Nuclear Energy Policy
Questions About Safety and Pollution
Promise of Fusion Power in the Future
Special Focus

Growing Source of Power in Atoms

Nuclear Plants as Answer to Need for Electricity

Nuclear energy currently provides only a fraction of the electrical energy consumed in the United States—about three-tenths of one per cent. But it is expected to produce 20 per cent of the nation's electricity in 1980 and perhaps 50 per cent by the year 2000. America is greeting this age of nuclear energy with a curious mixture of resignation, fear and hope. The atom promises to deliver us from the “energy crisis” that has resulted in summer “brownouts” and cascading power failures. But every nuclear plant has what physicist Ralph E. Lapp calls a “Hiroshima halo” around it. For atomic power is still associated with the awesome explosion that ended World War II and launched the world into the nuclear era.

“Nuclear power came just in time,” according to Glenn T. Seaborg, the outgoing chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. “Civilization as we know it will grind to a halt unless we can develop nuclear power.” The thrust of his argument is that the nation's supply of fossil fuels—petroleum and coal, the traditional sources of energy—is finite and nonrenewable. Estimates vary and are highly controversial. Commission officials frequently say that reserves of oil and gas will run out in 30 years and coal in 80 years. At the other extreme, a study commissioned by President Kennedy reported in 1966 that fuel reserves were sufficient to last for some seven thousand years.

The energy crisis involves many factors but it is not yet the result of an over-all insufficiency of fossil fuel. In some cases it is the result of a maldistribution of power. In other cases it stems from an inadequate fuel-supply system. In still others, it is the result of an insufficient generating capacity. At least in part, shortfalls in the supply of electricity result from the successful efforts of environmentalists to block the construction of pollution-causing generating facilities. Here again, nuclear power is cast in the role of a rescuer because it is widely admitted that the atom is the cleanest source of power available—at least in the sense that a nuclear plant does not belch sulfur dioxides and other pollutants into the air as many fossil-fuel plants do.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Nuclear Power
Jun. 10, 2011  Nuclear Power
Jan. 28, 2011  Managing Nuclear Waste
Jan. 2007  Nuclear Proliferation
Mar. 10, 2006  Nuclear Energy
Jun. 08, 2001  Nuclear Waste
Jan. 22, 1993  Nuclear Fusion
Feb. 22, 1991  Will Nuclear Power Get Another Chance?
Dec. 05, 1986  Nuclear Reactor Safety
Jul. 29, 1983  Nuclear Power's Future
Dec. 04, 1981  America's Nuclear Waste Backlog
Sep. 12, 1980  Nuclear Fusion Development
Aug. 10, 1979  Determining Radiation Dangers
Dec. 03, 1976  Nuclear Waste Disposal
Aug. 22, 1975  Nuclear Safety
Aug. 04, 1971  Nuclear Power Options
Jun. 10, 1964  Atomic Power Development
Feb. 12, 1958  Radiation Hazards
Feb. 27, 1957  Atomic Power Race
Mar. 29, 1955  Atomic Energy for Industry
Apr. 24, 1946  Control of Atomic Energy
Nuclear Energy