Professor predicts uncertain future for nuclear power

Copyright 1998 Associated Press
September 16, 1998

The former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has warned local scientists that nuclear power faces a dim future despite an increased interest in energy sources that do not contribute to global warming.

"Realistically I can't advise going into nuclear as a long-term career," said John Ahearne, a Duke University professor who currently sits on the Energy Department's Environmental Management Advisory board and chairs several advisory committees for the National Research Council.

The cost of building new power plants, questions about where to put radioactive waste and public fears still pose obstacles to a nuclear-powered future, he said Tuesday.

But he also said nuclear power needs to be a piece of the puzzle if the United States is committed to lowering carbon dioxide emissions, a gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.

Carbon dioxide and other gases form a barrier that prevents heat from escaping the earth's atmosphere, much like greenhouse glass lets in light but traps warmth.

The line of questioning from about 150 local engineers and scientists, who work at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, echoed Ahearne's argument for more national investment in nuclear research.

The scientists asked him where he thought people expected the country to find a viable source of energy for the future. Ahearne's response, that environmentalists are pinning their hopes on renewable energy, prompted audience members to call that solution "pie-in-the-sky."

Ahearne said the Clinton Administration has been interested in finding sources of energy that release low levels of carbon dioxide, which include nuclear, solar and wind power.

An international conference in Kyoto, Japan, on global warming concluded that the United States needs to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide by 7 percent in the next 12 years to reduce global warming.

"The administration has a really interesting struggle," he said. "The struggle is between those who hate nuclear and those who dislike nuclear but really want emissions controls."

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