Mayor right to encourage nuclear power development

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 | 2:00 a.m. CST

I am not a particular fan of all that Mayor Hindman favors, particularly his obsession with bicycle trails and paths and his “I never saw a park or green space that I did not covet.” This less than enthusiastic mien is fueled anew every time one of these cycling devotees ignores the rules of the road along with his and my safety by flaunting traffic signals, pedaling on the wrong side of the road, weaving in traffic and/or riding on sidewalks and areas where there is not room for cars and bikes.

Nonetheless, I am firmly in his corner as a leading supporter in promoting nuclear power for Columbia in that it is among the most environmentally clean sources of energy and, contrary to the unaware, is a recyclable and renewable resource. But his rejection of any new coal-fired power plants is not shared inasmuch as the U. S. owns vast deposits of both anthracite and bituminous reserves that can be made to burn cleanly by a people capable of landing a man on the moon.

Mayor Hindman’s letter to AmerenUE expressing support for construction of a second Callaway nuclear plant has earned him a measure of readily dismissible and ill-conceived criticism from some members of the City Council for failing to consult with them prior to taking an official position on an issue of such magnitude. I find this carping to be of little merit, more suited to school yard sulking than of adult behavior.

That the letter was on City of Columbia letterhead has little relevance when the letter is read, to wit: the first sentence “As Mayor of the City of Columbia, I write to express my personal support of AmerenUE’s proposal to build a second nuclear-powered unit in Callaway County.” In no way does this commit the city to any action–instead, it pledged his support and, quite cleverly, opened a much needed dialogue much more rapidly than the council would have experienced left to its own devices.

Setting aside the bruised feelings of the council members, the path to nuclear energy as a viable power source has for far too long been thwarted by a combination of fear, ignorance and an overdose of environmental mythology. As an example, for those who view the 1979 partial meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island and the unauthorized test of a reactor and subsequent uncontrolled chain reaction at Chernobyl as the benchmark for impending disaster are not dealing with reality.

The preventive measures in reactor training and licensing, coupled with structural and design improvements established as lessons learned from both have rendered these fears virtually groundless. Instead of posing an unacceptable hazard to public safety, current nuclear power plants include more than 150 nuclear powered ships in service with a further distinction of over 12,000 reactor years of safe operation, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Nuclear power is available from plutonium, uranium or thorium — primarily from uranium in today’s world. Energy wise, the fission from a single atom of uranium produces 10 million times that realized from the combustion of an atom from carbon or coal. Regardless of any point of view, this is an impressive return on an investment.

Certainly, there are dangers inherent in handling and the disposal of nuclear waste, but they can be minimized through reprocessing along with educating the public. The leftover uranium and fission-produced plutonium can be separated and used as reactor fuel; consequently, about one quarter of the original is recyclable. For every 4 years in operation, another year’s fuel is extracted, thus commensurately reducing the waste material.

Regrettably, we no longer reprocess because of a Carter administration fear that the spent fuels would be acquired by those not to be trusted. At that time, the anxiety was perhaps well grounded but it has been overtaken by events. The British, French, Russian and Belgian plants reprocess spent fuels and Japan, in process of building its own facility, ships its spent rods to France for eventual return.

Mayor Hindman has performed an invaluable public service to the city and the state as well in initiating a discussion of credible and sustainable energy resources available. Wind and/or solar power are not presently, nor are they on the near horizon, affordable or tenable solutions to projected energy shortfalls. More than half our electric power comes from carbon based assets with the bulk of that remaining derived equally from nuclear and hydro electric sources.

Nuclear energy, while admittedly not cheap, is affordable and is the cleanest and best option to meet our needs–the prophets of doom have too long dominated our progress.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at


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