Friday, March 20, 2009

A Nuclear Waste

Given the department’s origins, it is not surprising that nuclear programs have won out over other energy technologies. Of the $135.4 billion spent on energy research and development from 1948 to 2005 (in constant 2004 dollars), more than half, or $74 billion, went to nuclear energy, while fossil-fuel programs received a quarter, or $34.1 billion. The leftovers went for alternatives, with renewables getting $13 billion, or 10 percent, and energy efficiency $12 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service report written in 2006. That historical pattern of spending continues to this day. This year nuclear energy research is receiving $1.7 billion, including for a weapons-related fusion program being touted for its supposed energy potential. Nuclear weapons programs are getting $6.4 billion, with an additional $6.5 billion allocated to environmental cleanup. Millions more are spent on efforts to reduce the risk of weapons proliferation, and recovering nuclear and radioactive materials from around the world. Against this background, alternative energy solutions are but an afterthought: in the current fiscal year, for example, all of $1.1 billion is apportioned for programs falling under this category, not including the stimulus money. The stimulus package, intended to be spent over two years, places huge demands on Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. But if Chu wishes to avoid getting dragged down by the nuclear undertow, the Energy Department must be relieved of duties that aren’t related to energy. The good news is that some in Washington already recognise this need.
New York Times (full article)

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