All over the world, nuclear power is making a comeback. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just commissioned eight new reactors, and says there's "no upper limit" to the number Britain will build in the future. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has challenged her country's program to phase out 17 nuclear reactors by 2020, saying it will be impossible to deal with climate change without them. China and India are building nuclear power plants; France and Russia, both of whom have embraced the technology, are fiercely competing to sell them the hardware.
If we are now going to choose nuclear power as a way to resolve both our concerns about global warming and our looming energy shortfalls, we are first going to have to engage in a national debate about whether or not we accept the technology.
Because the public first became aware of nuclear energy through warfare, reactors have always been thought of as "silent bombs." But nuclear plants cannot explode. The fissionable isotope of uranium must be enriched to 90% to create a weapon. In a reactor it is only 3%. You could not blow up a nuclear reactor if you tried.
If nuclear energy is to progress, it must stand on its own. That means Wall Street has to invest. And convincing Wall Street to invest means persuading the public that there is nothing unacceptably dangerous or diabolical about nuclear power.