may be sufficient for confident standard setting. At the same time, however, water supply will be increasingly critical, and, if the hypothesis of climatic change due to carbon dioxide accumulation proves correct, the first signs of climatic effects from carbon dioxide emissions may be appearing. But it is possible that at about this time indefinitely sustainable energy sources may begin to become available.

For now, however, there is little room for maneuver. Coal must be used in increasing quantities, and mainly with current technologies, until at least the turn of the century, regardless of what happens with respect to such alternatives as nuclear fission or solar energy. However, because of the variety of environmental and social problems it presents, it cannot indefinitely provide additions to energy supply. To keep these problems under control until truly sustainable energy sources can be deployed widely, it would be wise to approach coal as conservatively as possible under the circumstances, with an eye especially to its environmental risks,

PROSPECTS FOR NUCLEAR POWER

Nuclear power could serve as both an intermediate- and long-term source of energy. Its prospects and problems are unique. For example, energy that can be extracted from the available nuclear fuel depends extremely heavily on the fuel cycle used. The light water reactors now in use in the United States, with their associated fuel cycle, make very inefficient use of uranium resources, and could exhaust the domestic supply of high-grade uranium in several decades. By contrast, if breeder reactors were to be developed and used, the domestic nuclear fuel supply could last for hundreds of thousands of years. An intermediate class of reactors and fuel cycles—advanced converters—could, under certain circumstances, extend domestic nuclear fuel supplies for perhaps a half century. These subjects are taken up in chapter 5 under the heading “Availability of Uranium.”

Decisions about nuclear power have precipitated debate about the role of citizen participation in technological policy. Opposition to nuclear power in the United States has been expressed in legal and political challenges to the siting and licensing of specific power plants, and in protests over the lack of a waste disposal program and alleged deficiencies in federal regulation and management of nuclear power.15 The resulting delays and uncertainty have contributed to rapid escalation of the capital costs of nuclear installations and to considerable difficulty in predicting their future costs and availability.

While many of these protests have centered on specific issues, social scientists suggest that the sources of public concern with the technology are broader and deeper, and thus that concern is unlikely to subside with



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