Conventional Energy Options

From Climate Justice: Ethics, Energy, and Public Policy copyright © 2010 Fortress Press. Reproduced by special permission of Augsburg Fortress Publishers. Complete copies of the book may be ordered at

Climate Justice: Ethics, Energy, and Public Policy:

Conventional Energy Options

Energy is the world’s biggest industry, by far . . . . All told, the global energy game is nearly a $2 trillion-a-year business.

Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran,

Energy and Environment Correspondent, The Economist[1]

Our excessive reliance on a fossil-fuel based economy is destroying our planet’s resources, impoverishing the poor, weakening the security of nations, and choking global economic potential.

Ban Ki-moon,

Secretary-General of the United Nations[2]

[1] The world clearly needs new energy options, because current patterns of production and consumption are creating conditions that pose grave threats to justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. This is especially true with regard to global warming and the challenges posed by climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasized in its Fourth Assessment Report published in 2007 that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion represented 56.6 percent of all global annual anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1970 to 2004.[3] The impact of energy-related GHG emissions is even greater in the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports energy-related activities were the primary source of 86.3 percent of all U.S. anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2007, the last year for which full data are available.[4]

[2] This chapter focuses on conventional U.S. energy options: coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power. It utilizes the four ecojustice norms and twelve energy guidelines described in the previous chapter to conduct an ethical assessment of these energy sources. The impact of existing energy policies and the potential for policy reform are discussed within this chapter and the next one, which focuses on alternative energy options.

Figures and Sidebar

[ecojustice norms and energy guidelines]


[3] Conventional, Nonrenewable Energy Sources in the United States

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that 91.9 percent of the nation’s primary energy consumption in 2008 was provided by coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power (fig. 2.1).[5] Primary energy is energy embodied in sources that human beings must capture or extract before the energy can be traded, used, or transformed. U.S. primary energy sources are utilized in different sectors of the economy and have been steadily growing over the last sixty years (fig. 2.2). In 2008, electricity generation (40.1 percent) was the largest consumer of primary energy supplies, followed by transportation (27.8 percent), the industrial sector (20.6 percent), and finally the residential and commercial sectors (10.8 percent).[6]

Supply resources

[Figure 2.1.]

Total consumption

[Figure 2.2.]

[4] The EIA updated the reference case scenario it uses to make projections about energy supply and demand in the future after Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009. This important piece of legislation was designed to stimulate the U.S. economy, in part through several provisions to increase renewable energy production. Despite large anticipated investments in renewable energy, the EIA expects coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power to grow in volume and continue to supply 84 energy of U.S. energy in 2030.[7] Clearly, it will not be easy to shift away from these conventional energy options to a more sustainable energy path. We next assess each of these options in some detail.

[5] Coal

The United States almost doubled its consumption of coal between 1970 and 2008. The vast majority of this coal during this time period has been consumed by the electric power sector (fig. 2.3).[8] The EIA reports that coal was used to generate 49 energy of U.S. electricity in 2008.[9] Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel in the world, and the United States has more reserves than any other nation. At current rates of consumption, the nation’s coal supply has been projected to last over 250 years, though a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) indicates that considering only economically recoverable coal reserves may cut this length of time in half.[10] Nevertheless, given this large domestic resource, utilities in recent years have proposed building 151 new coal-fired power plants to meet rising demand. Early in 2007, the EIA estimated the nation would need 290 new plants to meet projected demand by 2030. Since then, at least 95 out of nearly 200 coal-fired power plants proposed by electric utilities have been canceled or postponed due to an April 2007 Supreme Court ruling that gave the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.[11] These legal issues, combined with community opposition and financial uncertainty over possible carbon regulations in the future, are forcing electric utilities to reconsider major investments in coal-fired power plants.

Coal overview

Coal consumption by sector

[Figure 2.3.]

[6] Viewed through the lens of the ecojustice norms and energy guidelines, coal provides the United States with a large domestic energy resource that reduces dependency on foreign supplies and thus reduces the chance for armed conflict. Coal also provides considerable employment in the mining, rail, and utility industries, and generates electricity at low economic costs. As the nation’s dependency on foreign oil grows, many are also eager to tap the flexibility of this resource by converting coal into a liquid transportation fuel or into synthetic natural gas. These advantages are overwhelmed, however, by the fact that coal is a nonrenewable and carbon-intensive fossil fuel whose combustion is producing enormous GHG emissions. Coal-fired power plants alone produce approximately 40 percent of U.S. CO2 emissions.[12] While these emissions will have a significant and inequitable impact on future generations through global climate change, they also have a deleterious impact on present generations through mercury pollution, acid rain, fly ash disposal, and the aesthetic destruction of mountaintops and valleys. Even though it may be cost-effective to provide 7 percent of the U.S. coal supply via mountaintop removal mining, the social, ecological, and aesthetic destruction it wages on communities is incalculable.[13] Continued dependence on coal-fired electricity generation violates the norms of sustainability and solidarity.

[7] Cognizant of these flaws, the coal and utility industries are promoting a new generation of “clean coal” technologies. In fact, all of the remaining eighty-seven proposed new power plants intend to utilize one of four different technologies that either improve combustion or gasify coal, thus modestly increasing the efficiency of coal-fired power plants from their current range of 38 percent–40 percent to over 50 percent.[14]


[8] The most important technology on the horizon, however, is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). At some locations around the world, CO2 is already being captured and pumped underground to force more oil out of the ground. The gas is not being permanently sequestered, however. Eventually, the gas is free to find its way back to the surface and up into the atmosphere. Given its contribution to global warming and climate change, the only way to responsibly expand coal-based generation in the future will be if the related carbon emissions can be permanently sequestered.


[9] Research is under way to accomplish that goal, but even proponents of this technology acknowledge that it is at best fifteen years away from widespread commercial application.[15] Close scrutiny must be brought to bear on this research, because concentrations of CO2 pose real risk to human and ecological health, for both present and future generations. Deep ocean storage risks acidifying water and damaging aquatic ecosystems. Storage underground as a gas poses risks to human populations, because CO2 is heavier than air and can cause suffocation at concentrations of 7 percent to 8 percent by volume.

[10] The scale of any significant amount of carbon capture and sequestration is daunting. A recent report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concludes, "If 60 percent of the CO2 produced from U.S. coal-based power generation were to be captured and compressed to a liquid for geologic sequestration, its volume would about equal the total U.S. oil consumption of 20 million barrels per day."[16] A single 1,000-megawatt (MW) power plant can emit as much as 6 million tons of CO2 per year. Over the course of a sixty-year operating life, such a plant would emit the equivalent of 3 billion gallons of oil. Compressed to a liquid, this amount of CO2 would require an area of underground geological storage that is six times larger than what the oil industry calls a “giant” oil field.[17] The Pew Center on Global Climate Change claims the United States can store the current emissions from coal-fired power plants in depleted oil and gas reservoirs for several decades, and that other potential geological reservoirs have the potential to store current levels of emissions for over three hundred years.[18]

[11] Theoretically, it may be possible to store this much CO2 underground, but currently none of the 617 coal-fired power plants in the United States either capture or sequester carbon dioxide.[19] This has led the Pew Center to urge the federal government and electricity generators to develop ten to thirty CCS demonstration projects around the country over the next ten to fifteen years.[20] In June 2009, one of the most prominent attempts to demonstrate this technology received conditional support from the Obama administration. The FutureGen project in Mattoon, Illinois, would be the first commercial-scale CCS project in the country. The 275 MW power plant would originally capture 60 percent of its emissions but could be upgraded later to capture 90 percent. The Department of Energy has pledged just over $1 billion for the project, which is currently estimated to cost $2.4 billion if it is completed by 2013 or 2014.[21] While it is not known whether it will be possible to permanently sequester CO2 from U.S. coal-fired power plants, different studies estimate CCS will increase the cost of coal-fired electricity by 40 percent to 100 percent.[22]

[12] It is possible that China will complete two large CCS pilot projects before the United States brings the FutureGen project on line. China is the world’s largest coal producer, and it uses about half of its coal to generate electricity. China now leads the world in GHG emissions. Even if all the other nations in the world cut their emissions 80 percent by 2050, scientists predict the global average temperature will still increase 2.7ºC if China continues to produce emissions at the same rate as it does today.[23] The Obama administration has made CCS cooperation a major part of bilateral climate change negotiations between the two nations. Without agreement between the world’s two largest polluters, any attempt to develop a climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, (the limited but currently binding international agreement to reduce GHG emissions), is doomed to fail.

[13] As we have seen, the energy guidelines and ecojustice norms reveal a host of issues associated with the combustion of coal. While coal adequately supplies a large share of U.S. primary energy consumption at currently low economic costs, the social and ecological costs of this nonrenewable and inefficient resource are significant. The benefits coal provides to current generations in terms of low energy costs and related employment are offset by the huge risk future CO2 emissions pose with regard to global warming and climate change. Given the fact that CO2 is the principal greenhouse gas, and that the combustion of coal produces enormous emissions, the ecojustice norms of sustainability and solidarity justify a moratorium on all new coal-fired power plants until it can be demonstrated that carbon capture and sequestration can be done in a verifiable and permanent way. In the meantime, the nation should use the next two decades to reduce demand for electricity by practicing energy conservation and investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy.


[14] Petroleum products including gasoline and diesel power the nation’s transportation sector and also serve as a primary feedstock in the plastics and chemical industries. While the United States now produces far more coal and natural gas than oil, imported oil makes petroleum the largest primary source of energy in the United States, providing 39 percent of the nation’s energy.[24] Over 96 percent of the vehicles in the United States run on petroleum products.[25] The United States consumes 25 percent of the world’s petroleum supply and imports 66 percent of the oil it consumes.[26] In 2008, the United States imported 12.9 million barrels of oil per day and consumed 19.4 million barrels per day (fig. 2.4).

Overview 1948-2008

[Figure 2.4.]

[15] Energy expert Daniel Yergin says, “We are so dependent on oil, and oil is so embedded in our daily doings, that we hardly stop to comprehend its pervasive significance.”[27] Yet we must. If present trends continue, recent studies indicate that the 800 million vehicles on the world’s roads today will grow to 2 billion vehicles by 2030.[28] This growth in vehicle ownership will produce a rapid increase in petroleum demand.

[16] The drilling, refining, distribution, and combustion of petroleum products (along with other fossil fuels) pose several grave threats to peace and planetary welfare. Before I present evidence to support this stark thesis, I confess that I am certainly part of the problem. Together, my wife and I have owned ten cars over the past twenty-five years and driven over 300,000 miles. We are part of the 92 percent of U.S. households that own a car that travels an average of 12,000 miles a year.[29] In fact, we have owned two cars for much of our married life and do so now. Like most Americans, we use these vehicles primarily to get to work and to shop for household goods, but we have also driven many miles over the years to attend our sons’ sports events. In fact, we have added two more drivers to the road by teaching both of our sons to drive.

[17] Cars help us be the relational creatures we are. They help us maintain social relationships with family and friends who are both far and near. They also help us appreciate (to some extent) God’s beautiful world, which often whizzes by at high speeds. I relish the solitude and scenic beauty that accompanies me on many of my trips in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. I also cherish the great experiences our family has enjoyed as we traveled across the country on various vacations. In a recent national poll, 39 percent of Americans said they “love” their car.[30] While my wife and I may not be willing to go that far, the reality is we can’t easily imagine our lives without a car.

[18] While many of us may not be able to conceive of how we could live our lives without a car, it appears the world may soon have to find some alternative way to fuel the vehicles we drive. Unlike coal, the world’s proven reserves of oil may soon be inadequate to fuel growing consumption demands much longer. U.S. oil production peaked in the 1970s, and many predict that global oil production will peak within the next two or three decades, if it has not done so already. In fact, oil giant BP reported in its annual Statistical Review of World Energy that the world’s proven oil reserves fell in 2008 for the first time in ten years. The company noted that this level of reserves would supply the world market for forty-two years at current production levels.[31] Once conventional oil production peaks, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects global production to decline precipitously.[32] If global oil production peaks in 2026 at approximately 42 billion barrels per year, the EIA projects global production in 2050 to be approximately 6 billion barrels per year, which is a decline of approximately 85 percent. This rapid change in the availability of oil has the potential to spur inflation, plunge economies into recession, and ignite conflict around the world. While it is possible to extract oil from oil shale and tar sands, and even to convert coal to synthetic petroleum, all of these options have high costs both economically and environmentally. Clearly, the world needs to find alternative fuels to power the transportation sector.

Annual production scenario

[Figure 2.5.]

[19] As we have seen, there is a significant link between oil and geopolitics that poses a direct threat to peace, democracy, and justice. The link between oil, war, and geopolitics is not new. At the turn of the twentieth century, Great Britain decided to convert its Royal Navy from a coal-burning fleet to an oil-burning fleet. This led Winston Churchill to help form the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which invested heavily in what today is Iran.[33] In 1940, Japan occupied French Indochina (Vietnam) and joined the Axis powers of Germany and Italy. These actions led the United States and Britain to launch an oil boycott against Japan. Cut off from oil, Japan invaded and captured the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), which ignited the war in the Pacific.[34] During World War II, the United States was the world’s leading oil producer, supplying over 85 percent of the oil the Allied forces consumed during the war.[35] By 1943, however, it became clear that the United States was rapidly depleting its domestic supplies. In 1944, the State Department issued the Foreign Petroleum Policy of the United States, which sought “a broad policy of conservation of Western Hemisphere petroleum reserves” and “substantial and orderly expansion of production in Eastern Hemisphere sources of supply, principally the Middle East.”[36]

[20] From that point on every U.S. president has emphasized the strategic importance of Middle Eastern oil. A State Department report issued during the Truman administration described Saudi Arabia’s oil resources as a “stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in human history.”[37] During the Cold War, the Eisenhower administration promised to use U.S. combat forces to defend countries in the Middle East from Soviet aggression and provided military assistance to friendly regimes. The Nixon administration supplied advanced weaponry worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and Iran in the early 1970s,[38] but when the Shah of Iran fell, President Jimmy Carter decided to abandon the use of surrogates to protect America’s access to oil from the Persian Gulf. President Carter told Congress that the United States would use “any means necessary, including military force,” to secure oil from this area.[39] In 1983, the Reagan administration established the U.S. Central Command (CentCom) to project military power into this region.[40] In 1990, President George H. W. Bush deployed CentCom troops in Saudi Arabia and utilized CentCom and other military forces to repel Iraqi troops from the oil fields of Kuwait. What is clear from this brief history is that Operation Iraqi Freedom, which was launched in March 2003, is only the latest in a series of U.S. military engagements in the Persian Gulf.[41] Given the fact that the United States continues to import about 25 percent of its oil from the Middle East, it will likely not be the last.

[21] U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East in particular is ironic, self-defeating, and counterproductive. It is ironic because the U.S. military is the nation’s largest consumer of oil. In 2006, the defense establishment spent $13.6 billion to consume 340,000 barrels of oil per day, representing 1.5 percent of total U.S. energy consumption.[42] In 2006, the average U.S. soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan consumed on a daily basis 16 gallons of oil either directly or indirectly through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, helicopters, and air strikes.[43] It is a bitter irony that some wars in the future may be fought in part to secure the oil to fight them. 

[22] U.S. dependence on Persian Gulf oil is self-defeating because some of the money the United States expends to import oil from this region has wound up in the pockets of those committed to sponsoring terrorism around the world. Fifteen of the nineteen terrorists who hijacked planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were citizens of Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden is a Saudi, and oil money has helped finance al Qaeda. In 2005, the United States spent nearly $40 billion to import oil from the Persian Gulf while at the same time it financed a war on terror.[44] To some extent, every gallon of gas purchased in the United States helps fund terrorists.[45]

[23] U.S. dependence on foreign oil is counterproductive because it often requires that the United States do business with nations that do not support democracy. Tom Friedman refers to this as the First Law of Petropolitics: “In oil-rich petrolist states, the price of oil and the pace of freedom tend to move in opposite directions.”[46] As we have seen, Nigeria and Angola are experiencing civil unrest because their oil wealth has not been spread very broadly. In addition, Vladimir Putin in Russia and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela are taking steps to shore up their personal power in ways many believe will undermine democracy in these nations. All of these realities pose dangers to democracy and thus violate the norm of participation.

[24] In addition to social, economic, and political problems associated with heavy reliance on oil in the United States, there are also serious environmental problems. The impact on air pollution has already been noted. Oil-related water pollution also is important. Every year, tankers shipping oil to foreign markets spill large amounts of oil in the oceans, which fouls beaches, threatens freshwater supplies, and causes significant harm to wildlife. Globally, there have been at least eight spills of over a million gallons in the past fifteen years. The largest spill in U.S. waters occurred in 1989, when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. This spill of almost 11 million gallons caused extensive environmental damage and cost the company over $2 billion to clean up.[47] Sadly, the U.S. Minerals Management Service projects a 94 percent likelihood that a spill of similar proportions will occur along the West Coast of the United States by 2020.[48] 

[25] The storage of gasoline and diesel fuel on land also poses dangers to water quality. In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that approximately 25 percent of underground storage tanks at gas stations around the nation were leaking. This precipitated a vigorous cleanup campaign, but numerous communities around the nation have had their groundwater supplies polluted. More recently, the American Petroleum Institute has reported that at least 35 percent of their member distribution centers have leaks in above- and below-ground tanks that threaten water supplies.[49]

[26] The most significant environmental dangers posed by U.S. (and global) oil consumption, however, are related to global warming and climate change. The combustion of petroleum products produces 43 percent of U.S. CO2 emissions.[50] Approximately 67 percent of these emissions are attributable to the vehicle transportation sector of the U.S. economy.[51] While we enjoy the convenience of our cars and drive ever more miles every year, we pass the ecological consequences of our driving on to future generations who have no control over our actions. This clearly violates the norms of sustainability and solidarity. 

[27] To recap, the energy guidelines offer a largely negative assessment of oil. While energy-intensive and inexpensive petroleum products have powered the U.S. and global economies for decades, thus increasing the number of jobs and raising standards of living for many, it appears the days of cheap oil may be coming to a rapid end. The cost of this flexible resource has started to climb in recent years and appears likely to increase rapidly as the world approaches and surpasses peak global oil production. This will increase the risk of global conflict, threaten world peace, and imperil the poor—who will inequitably bear the rising cost of petroleum products. Finally, as was noted in the introduction, the combustion of nonrenewable petroleum fuels produces a host of air pollutants that adversely affect human health and also cloak many urban areas in a veil of harmful smog that also mars the aesthetic quality of the landscape. 

[28] The ecojustice norms also lead to a serious critique of oil. Dwindling supplies indicate that this is not a sustainable energy source that will be adequate in the future to meet global demand. In addition, the GHG emissions associated with the combustion of petroleum products not only violate the norm of sustainability, they also violate the norm of solidarity. It is not fair to burden future generations with the consequences of our oil consumption today. While inexpensive oil supplies have helped many human communities better meet their basic needs, there is little question that this resource is not being used efficiently, and for many, its use serves far more than basic needs. In addition, the global warming associated with petroleum combustion is imperiling the ecological welfare of many species, which increasingly struggle to satisfy their basic needs. Both of these realities violate the norm of sufficiency. Finally, there is no question historically that there is an inverse relationship between oil wealth and democratic power. Insofar as petroleum products have helped to concentrate power in the hands of the few and have thus thwarted the democratic will of the many, these developments also violate the norm of participation. Viewed through the lens of the ecojustice norms and the energy policy guidelines, there is little question that reducing U.S. dependence on oil and developing alternative transportation fuels both need to become national priorities.

Natural Gas

[29] Natural gas is the most desirable fossil fuel, because it is about half as carbon intensive per unit of energy as coal or oil, and it is a highly flexible resource that can be utilized in a variety of end uses and sized to scale. After coal, natural gas is the second largest source of primary energy in the United States. While natural gas is normally 70 percent to 90 percent methane, it can also include ethane, propane, butane, and pentane.[52]

[30] Prices for natural gas have oscillated wildly in recent years, in part due to market manipulation by companies like Enron, but mostly because of the increase in natural-gas-fired electricity generation (fig. 2.6). Utilities have invested in gas-fired power plants for various reasons. They are ideal for responding to peak electricity demands throughout the year because they can be brought on line quickly. In addition, they are more economical to build than coal-fired or nuclear power plants, and it is easier for utilities to secure the necessary environmental permits. This increased demand for natural gas due to electrical generation in recent years has driven up the cost of heating homes and businesses as well as the cost of production in agriculture and other industries where natural gas serves as an important energy source or chemical feedstock.

Natural gas consumption

Real prices 1967-2008

[Figure 2.6.]


[31] Recently, however, natural gas prices have fallen to almost record lows because of reduced economic activity during the global recession as well as increased discoveries of natural gas in the United States. These new supplies are due to advanced horizontal drilling technology, chemicals, and large amounts of pumped water that are used to fracture rock in huge coal shale beds found throughout North America.[53] The Natural Gas Supply Association reports that these unconventional sources now supply 10 percent to 12 percent of U.S. demand but have the potential to supply one-quarter of U.S. demand in the future.[54] The Potential Gas Committee, the official governmental authority on gas supplies in the United States, reported in June 2009 that new shale gas discoveries have increased the nation’s estimated gas reserves by 35 percent.[55] The Natural Resources Defense Council, however, reports there are cases around the United States where water contamination has been linked to hydraulic fracturing activities. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act, but recently Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation to overturn this previous decision.[56] The American Petroleum Institute claims a ban on hydraulic fracturing would result in a 45 percent reduction in natural gas production by 2014, force the United States to import more liquefied natural gas, and harm the economy.[57]

[32] Application of the energy guidelines produces a mixed assessment of natural gas. On the one hand, it is far less polluting than the other fossil fuels, and it is playing an increasingly important role, especially in electric power generation. Natural gas is also used in many other ways by a wide variety of people in the U.S. economy. It serves as the primary heating fuel for most of the U.S. population, serves as a source of heat and a chemical feedstock for various industries, and fuels many backyard barbecue grills. There is no question that this is a very flexible, efficient, and appropriate fuel source that supplies a major percentage of U.S. primary energy. Since most natural gas is still produced domestically, and the transport of natural gas supplies takes place through buried pipelines, this fuel source poses far less risk to peace and human health. It also does not mar the aesthetic quality of landscapes, for example, in the way mountaintop coal removal does.

[33] On the other hand, even though natural gas is less carbon intensive than coal and oil, it is still a fossil fuel and the source of a significant amount of GHG emissions. Natural gas also is not a renewable resource. Even though U.S. natural gas reserves have been increasing recently, experts predict global production will peak in the first half of this century and be followed by even higher prices. The majority of global supplies are unevenly concentrated in the Middle East and Russia, so the potential for conflict will increase over access to this valuable energy resource in the future. The United States now imports a growing percentage of natural gas from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean—increasingly in the form of liquefied natural gas, which is dangerous to transport and vulnerable to terrorists.

[34] The ecojustice norms of sustainability, sufficiency, and solidarity require us to use this valuable resource wisely as a bridge to a future in which fossil fuels play a diminishing role. Key to this effort will be to replace the role natural gas plays in electrical power generation with investments in electricity generated by renewable energy systems. This would free up natural gas for a variety of purposes, including its use as a lower-carbon transportation fuel. Many taxi fleets and mass-transit vehicles around the world are already powered by natural gas. Others have proposed using natural gas to fuel small delivery trucks and even personal automobiles. Some have also proposed increasing natural gas supplies by gasifying coal and mining methane hydrates sequestered on the ocean floor into natural gas, but this would be expensive economically and environmentally. It would be more prudent to capture and utilize methane that is already being emitted into the atmosphere via livestock waste lagoons and municipal landfills, because methane is twenty-one times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.[58] Nevertheless, there is little question that the U.S. economy will need to utilize increasing amounts of natural gas if it is going to replace coal and oil consumption, and thereby reduce GHG emissions. The ecojustice norms all support increasing supplies and consumption of natural gas if these supplies can be garnered in a socially and ecologically responsible way. The efficient use of this valuable resource is the least expensive and most immediate way to increase natural gas supplies.

Nuclear Power

[35] The most controversial conventional energy source in the United States is probably nuclear power. I give extended attention to it because many believe increased investments in nuclear power are essential to reduce GHG emissions in the United States, while others believe the drawbacks far outweigh any potential gains that would be achieved through additional investments in this energy source.

[36] Currently 104 commercial reactors produce 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and serve approximately 50 million people (fig. 2.7).[59] About 50 of these reactors have recently received twenty-year license renewals, and approximately 40 more are expected to submit relicensing applications by 2013. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved all relicensing requests to date.[60] While no new reactors have come on line in the United States since 1996, 30 are now on the drawing boards, due to a variety of tax, insurance, and production subsidies made available to the industry via the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005.[61] Globally, 439 nuclear power reactors are in operation, generating approximately 15 percent of the world’s electricity. Around the world, 35 new reactors are under construction, and almost all of these are in Asia.[62]

Operable units

Full power 1957-2008

[Figure 2.7.]

[37] Together with coal-fired power plants, nuclear power reactors are the backbone of the nation’s base load electricity supply. In other words, they produce electricity twenty-four hours a day throughout the year and seldom have to be taken off line for maintenance. On the one hand, nuclear power plants extract an enormous amount of energy from the nuclear fuel they utilize. On the other hand, nuclear power plants, like coal-fired power plants, are relatively inefficient because a great deal of the energy they utilize from nuclear fission is lost as heat. Thus, while nuclear power plants largely satisfy the adequacy guideline, they fall short when viewed in terms of the efficiency guideline. Like coal-fired power plants, nuclear power plants are also huge facilities that cost billions of dollars to construct. As such, they are not very flexible facilities, in contrast to natural gas power plants that can be easily powered up and down.

[38] Given that we face the prospect of rapid climate change, the primary strength of nuclear power is that it produces virtually no GHG emissions once reactors are operational and construction is completed. This is very attractive from the perspective of the sustainability norm. While construction costs are very high, operational costs have been relatively low. In addition, while the region around Chernobyl in Russia had to be abandoned and cordoned off due to high radiation levels after a reactor melt-down and explosion, the nuclear power industry in the United States has never suffered such a major catastrophe. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission proudly emphasizes that there has been no loss of life associated with the operation of the nation’s commercial nuclear reactors in the history of the industry. These facts lead to a favorable conclusion when nuclear power is assessed in relation to energy guidelines pertaining to the adequacy of sufficient energy production, operational risk, and operational costs.

[39] The primary weakness of nuclear power is that the United States has not figured out how to dispose of the highly radioactive waste that is produced by the reactors. Spent nuclear fuel contains many highly radioactive elements such as cesium, strontium, technetium, neptunium, and various forms of plutonium. Some of these elements will remain radioactive for a few years, but many will be radioactive for millions of years.[63] U.S. law requires that any permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste must protect human health and safety for up to a million years.[64] Human civilizations based on agriculture are approximately ten thousand years old. It is not hard to see how this failure to deal with nuclear waste is a violation of the solidarity norm and the risk guideline when viewed in a long-term perspective.

[40] Currently, there are about 55,000 metric tons (MT) of high-level nuclear waste from nuclear power reactors stored in over 120 locations in thirty-nine states that require permanent disposal.[65] This waste is primarily in the form of spent fuel rod assemblies, which are piling up in cooling ponds and in aboveground concrete storage casks because the federal government has failed to open an underground geological repository to receive this waste. Congress mandated in 1987 that Yucca Mountain in Nevada become the site for this facility. Its original opening in 1998 has been postponed several times for both scientific and political reasons, and it is now slated to open no sooner than 2020. This delay violates the guideline of timely decision making. The Department of Energy (DOE) has also spent $13.5 billion researching Yucca Mountain since 1983 and estimates that developing and operating the facility will cost at least $96.2 billion over its lifetime, assuming it opens in 2020 and closes in 2133. The agency also projects that transporting the waste to the site over the life of the facility will cost an additional $195 billion.[66] That’s a lot of money simply to deal with waste disposal. Nuclear power is not a low-cost energy source.

[41] If and when the facility does open, it will be too small to accommodate the amount of spent nuclear fuel produced to date. As a result, the Department of Energy recently notified the President and Congress that the United States needs a second underground geological repository to store the increasing amount of commercially produced spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste. The agency proposes that Congress increase the amount that can be stored at Yucca Mountain from the current limit of 70,000 MT to at least 130,000 MT in order to meet this need.[67] If Congress decides not to open or expand the storage capacity of Yucca Mountain, the DOE estimates it will take twenty-eight to thirty-seven years to locate, design, and build an alternative underground repository.[68]

[42] Utilities that own and operate nuclear reactors have filed over seventy lawsuits against the DOE for failing to take possession of their spent nuclear fuel under the terms of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Since 1982, ratepayers served by these utilities have been paying one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour into a federal fund that is to be used to build a permanent geological storage facility. The proceeds in the fund now exceed $30 billion, and utilities are suing to be reimbursed for the costs associated with storing their wastes on-site. The DOE is currently liable for $11 billion even if the Yucca Mountain facility opens in 2020.[69] The federal government has settled twenty-nine of the cases that have been filed against the DOE, which has resulted in payments of approximately $1 billion thus far to the utilities.[70] Several state legislatures are now considering bills that would stop, reduce, or place in escrow the ratepayer contributions to the federal waste disposal fund until Yucca Mountain or another facility opens.[71]

[43] As a solution to the liability issue, the DOE recently proposed to Congress that DOE take possession of the waste on an interim basis until a final waste disposal solution is determined.[72] The agency estimates it would cost $743 million to operate such an interim storage facility from 2015 to 2025.[73] This short approval and operations time frame is highly optimistic, given the recent experience of a similar private venture. In 2006, the NRC granted a license to Private Fuel Storage, LLC, to construct an interim storage facility large enough to accommodate 40,000 MT of spent nuclear fuel on a portion of the 18,000-acre Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation near Salt Lake City, Utah. This highly controversial project had been reviewed by the NRC and debated by the citizens of Utah for ten years after Private Fuel Storage filed its license application with the NRC in 1997. Ultimately, the project was scuttled when the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management both issued decisions against different aspects of the project.[74]

[44] President Obama’s proposed budget for the 2010 fiscal year reduced federal funding for Yucca Mountain by $90 million to a total of $197 million. This reduction of funds ensures that no further study will take place at the site. The requested funds will be utilized by the DOE to respond to queries from the NRC as it processes the DOE’s licensing request for the Yucca Mountain facility.[75] U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has reassured members of the Senate Budget Committee that he supports expansion of nuclear power in the United States and intends to establish a “blue-ribbon” commission of experts to evaluate storage options for nuclear waste and make recommendations to the administration. He believes dry-cask storage of spent nuclear fuel at reactors provides a safe solution for decades until a new long-term storage strategy can be formulated.[76] The vast majority of these casks are stored near lakes and major waterways in the United States. The only nuclear plant in Iowa was nearly marooned during the record floods in 2008. While employees could ultimately have been ferried to the facility by helicopter, the facility was fortunate that the floodwaters stopped rising before they breached the facility’s interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.

[45] It is clear from this brief history of Yucca Mountain that the United States has not yet determined how to safely dispose of its high-level nuclear waste. This clearly violates the norms of sustainability and solidarity. It is not fair to burden future generations with this highly toxic waste. In addition, the endless delays in finding a permanent disposal solution also violate the guideline of timely decision making. The energy guidelines pertaining to cost, risk, and appropriateness illuminate additional concerns related to nuclear power.

[46] For example, with regard to cost, the Associated Press reported in 2009 that utilities are not setting aside enough money to decommission and dismantle nuclear reactors when they become too radioactive to operate. Large reductions in stock market valuations and other investments have left about half of the reactors in the United States without sufficient funds for this ultimate task. According to the study, the average cost to dismantle a reactor is currently estimated at $450 million, but the typical plant owner has only $300 million available to do the job. This information has sparked fears that some utilities may walk away from their responsibilities or may no longer be in business when decommissioning is necessary, thus burdening taxpayers with these expenses.[77]

[47] Cost, in fact, is the main obstacle facing the nuclear power industry. The editors of The Economist summarized the situation famously in a cover story on the industry in 2001 when they quipped, “Nuclear power, once claimed to be too cheap to meter, is now too costly to matter.”[78] In 2008, the average cost to build a 1,500 MW nuclear power plant was over $7 billion, which is a huge sum for utilities and their financiers.[79] A recent study estimates the cost of electricity from a new nuclear power plant at 14¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh), compared with 7¢ per kWh from a wind farm, and this does not include additional costs related to waste disposal, accident insurance, and plant decommissioning.[80] While safety concerns receive the bulk of the attention, the simple fact is that high costs are the main reason nuclear power will have difficulty expanding in the future. The DOE attempted to overcome this barrier in 2009 by offering $18.5 billion in loan guarantees to four power companies proposing to build seven new nuclear reactors in the United States by 2016.[81] Lacking such federal guarantees, the Canadian province of Ontario recently suspended a $22 billion plan to build what would have been the first two new nuclear reactors in North America in over thirty years.[82]

[48] Another source of concern revolves around rising levels of operating costs. While it is true that nuclear power plants do not emit greenhouse gases during operation, they are not a renewable form of energy, because they rely on enriched uranium for fuel, and conventional uranium supplies are limited. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that eighty years’ worth of uranium is left at current rates of consumption, and prices recently have been climbing.[83]

[49] While cost factors are a major limitation, risk and safety issues do remain important as well. Recent discoveries of steel embrittlement and leaks of radioactive tritium into groundwater supplies from aging reactor facilities raise concerns about the safety risks associated with operating these facilities beyond the length of their original operating licenses.[84] While reactor facilities are heavily guarded, many fear what would happen if terrorists managed to damage a reactor or casks entombing spent fuel rods outside the reactor building. Others ask whether nuclear power is an appropriate way to produce the steam used to propel the generators that produce electricity. The complexity and danger of this energy source are so great that it is regulated by an independent body within the federal government, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

[50] Advocates within the industry point to new reactor designs, which they believe will make nuclear reactors much safer to operate in the future.[85] Some also encourage the United States to reprocess its spent nuclear fuel in order to reduce the waste burden and to recycle the energy that remains in spent fuel rod assemblies. President Jimmy Carter abandoned reprocessing in the 1970s over concerns about nuclear proliferation and because he believed it was too expensive. The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 reversed this policy by authorizing $580 million for research and development of nuclear reprocessing and transmutation processes.[86] Recently, the Department of Energy announced it will remove 9 MT of plutonium from hundreds of the nation’s nuclear warheads and refabricate the plutonium into a mixed uranium and plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel that can be utilized in commercial nuclear reactors.[87]

[51] France reprocesses over 1,000 MT of spent nuclear fuel every year from its fifty-nine reactors, but it never built breeder reactors that were supposed to burn up the plutonium and other high-level nuclear waste left over after reprocessing. With breeder reactors out of the picture, France is utilizing a MOX fuel that consists of 8 percent plutonium and 92 percent depleted uranium in about 20 percent of the nation’s reactors. This MOX fuel contains almost five times as much plutonium as conventional, enriched uranium fuel, which increases the risk of unexpected chain reactions during operation and reprocessing. In addition, spent MOX fuel is three times as hot as spent uranium fuel and thus needs to be placed in cooling ponds for 150 years before it can be chopped up and vitrified in glass logs before it is placed in an underground waste repository like Yucca Mountain. These used fuel assemblies are starting to pile up at France’s reprocessing facility in La Hague and have as yet no permanent home in an underground geological repository, though France hopes to open a proposed facility in 2025.[88]

[52] Given the extremely toxic nature of high-level nuclear waste, the ecojustice norm of solidarity and the energy guideline of equity require that the issue of long-term waste be resolved. It is not fair to burden future generations with highly toxic waste. At the same time, the norm of sustainability and the adequacy guideline remind us that nuclear power provides a significant amount of the U.S. electricity supply and does not produce GHG emissions that imperil generations in the future. Like natural gas, nuclear power may be best viewed as a resource that can bridge the gap to a more sustainable energy future. Unless and until the waste issue can be resolved, however, it would be best to bring intense scrutiny to bear on proposals to relicense existing reactors and to put a moratorium on the construction of new reactors. If the waste and related safety issues cannot be resolved with a very high degree of confidence and integrity, nuclear power should be phased out.


[53] This assessment of conventional energy options in the United States is sobering. It is easy to understand why some refer to coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power as “fuels from hell.”[89] I am reluctant to label them this way, because they have fueled so much growth and prosperity over the past two centuries. The reality, however, is that this economic wealth has not been distributed very well, and it has only been garnered by undermining the ecological health of the planet. The long-term projections for global warming during the twenty-first century certainly do conjure up hellish images. We desperately need alternative energy options. I am reluctant to call these “fuels from heaven,” but it is easy to understand why many view them this way. We turn now to assess the huge potential of alternative and renewable energy options.

From Climate Justice: Ethics, Energy, and Public Policy copyright © 2010 Fortress Press. Reproduced by special permission of Augsburg Fortress Publishers. Complete copies of the book may be ordered at

[1] Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, Power to the People: How the Coming Energy Revolution Will Transform an Industry, Change Our Lives, and Maybe Even Save the Planet (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), 19.

[2] Ban Ki-moon, address to World Business Summit on Climate Change (Copenhagen, May 25, 2009). Cited in “World Business Leaders Hear Catastrophic Climate Warnings,” Environmental News Service, May 25, 2009, accessed at

[3] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report; Summary for Policymakers (Geneva: IPCC, November 2007), fig. SPM.3, p. 5, accessed at

[4] Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2007, EPA 430-R-09-004 (Washington, D.C.: EPA, April 15, 2009), 3-1, accessed at

[5] Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 2008, DOE/EIA-0384(2008) (Washington, D.C.: EIA, June 26, 2009), fig. 2.0, p. 37 accessed at

[6] Ibid.

[7] Energy Information Administration, An Updated Annual Energy Outlook 2009 Reference Case Reflecting Provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Recent Changes in the Economic Outlook (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, April 2009), table A1, “Total Energy Supply and Disposition Summary,” p. 16, accessed at See also Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2009 with Projections to 2030, DOE/EIA-0383(2009) (Washington, D.C.: EIA, March 2009), accessed at

[8] Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 2008, DOE/EIA-0384(2008) (Washington, D.C.: EIA, June 26, 2009), fig. 7.1, p. 206, and fig. 7.3, p. 210, accessed at

[9] Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly, DOE/EIA-0226 (2009/06) (Washington, D.C.: EIA, June 2009), accessed at

[10] Pew Center on Global Climate Change, “Coal and Climate Change Facts,” accessed at (June 17, 2009). A recent study by the U.S Geological Survey, however, notes that economically extractable coal reserves could be substantially less abundant and may be as little as half the previously estimated reserves. See J. A. Luppens, D. C. Scott, J. E. Haacke, L. M. Osmonson, T. J. Rohrbacher, and M. S. Ellis, Assessment of Coal Geology, Resources, and Reserves in the Gillette Coalfield, Powder River Basin, Open-File Report 2008-1202 (Powder River Basin, Wyoming: U.S. Geological Survey, 2008), 32, accessed at

[11] Jonathan G. Dorn, “The End of an Era: Closing the Door on Building New Coal-Fired Power Plants in America,” Eco-Economy Updates (Earth Policy Institute), March 31, 2009, accessed at

[12] EPA, “Executive Summary,” in Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, ES-4, accessed at

[13] James Hansen, “A Plea to President Obama: End Mountaintop Coal Mining,” Yale Environment 360, June 25, 2009, accessed at Hansen, America’s most distinguished climate scientist, recently engaged in civil disobedience and was arrested for protesting mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

[14] See Erik Shuster, “Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants” (National Energy Technology Laboratory, June 23, 2009), slides 6 and 13, accessed at These technologies are integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC), supercritical and ultra-supercritical pulverized coal combustion, subcritical pulverized coal combustion, and fluidized bed combustion. More realistic estimates, according to experts both inside and outside government, are that perhaps a third of the remaining eighty-seven projects are being seriously pursued by utilities, and fewer than two dozen are likely to make it to the permitting or construction phases by 2010.

[15] Debra Kahn, “Industry Ready for Federal Regs, AEP Executive Tells Congress,” Environment & Energy Daily, September 7, 2007, accessed at

[16] Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), The Future of Coal: Options for a Carbon-Constrained World (Boston: MIT, 2007), ix, accessed at

[17] Jon Luoma, “The Carbon Conundrum,” Popular Mechanics, July 2008, 48–49.

[18] Pew Center on Global Climate Change, “Coal and Climate Change Facts.”

[19] Energy Information Administration, “Frequently Asked Questions: Electricity,” updated April 1, 2009, accessed at Of this total, 476 are “power plants” owned by electric utilities and independent power producers that generate and sell electricity as their primary business; 141 are industrial, commercial, and institutional facilities, where most of the electricity generated is consumed on-site.

[20] Pew Center on Global Climate Change, “Coal and Climate Change Facts.” The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative recently published a report with a similar recommendation. The report also focuses on the potential of increasing the efficiency of existing power plants and other measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. See Retrofitting of Coal-Fired Power Plants for CO2 Emissions Reductions, March 23, 2009, accessed at

[21] Ben Gorman, “Coal: Enviros Fault Scaled-Back FutureGen Carbon Goal,” Greenwire, June 16, 2009, accessed at

[22] Center for Media and Democracy, “Clean Coal,” SourceWatch, accessed at (February 28, 2009).

[23] Lisa Friedman, “China: A Sea Change in the Nation’s Attitude toward Carbon Capture,” ClimateWire, June 22, 2009, accessed at

[24] Energy Information Administration, “Energy in Brief: Major Sources and Users.” Natural gas and coal both provide 23 percent, nuclear power 8 percent, and renewable energy 7 percent.

[25] ABC News, “A Look under the Hood of a Nation on Wheels,” January 31, 2005, ABC News/Time Magazine/Washington Post poll, accessed at Cited in David Sandalow, Freedom from Oil: How the Next President Can End the United States’ Oil Addiction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008), 14.

[26] Jay Inslee and Bracken Hicks, Apollo’s Fire: Reigniting America’s Clean-Energy Economy, (Washington, D.C.: Island, 2008), 14.

[27] Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), 13–14.

[28] Joyce Dargay, Dermot Gately, and Martin Sommer, “Vehicle Ownership and Income Growth, Worldwide: 1960–2030,” Energy J. 28, no. 4 (2007), accessed at

[29] Sandalow, Freedom from Oil, 19.

[30] Ibid., 150.

[31] Rachel Graham and Alexander Kwiatkowski, “World Oil Reserves Dropped Last Year in Russia, China,”, June 10, 2009, accessed at

[32] Energy Information Administration, “Long-Term World Oil Supply: A Resource Base, Production Path Analysis,” August 2004, accessed at See also, Howard Geller, Energy Revolution: Policies for a Sustainable Future (Washington, D.C.: Island, 2003), 13.

[33] Terry Tamminen, Lives per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction (Washington, D.C.: Island, 2006), 83.

[34] Ibid., 82.

[35] Michael T. Klare, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Petroleum Dependency (New York: Metropolitan, 2004), 10.

[36] Ibid., 30.

[37] Ibid., 32.

[38] Ibid., 43.

[39] Ibid., 4.

[40] Ibid., 2.

[41] Ibid., 5.

[42] “Alternative Energy: U.S. Military Embraces Green Trend,” Greenwire, December 5, 2007, accessed at

[43] Michael T. Klare, “The Pentagon v. Peak Oil: How Wars of the Future May Be Fought Just to Run the Machines That Fight Them,”, December 6, 2007, accessed at

[44] Jay Inslee and Bracken Hicks, Apollo’s Fire: Reigniting America’s Clean-Energy Economy (Washington, D.C.: Island, 2008), 14.

[45] S. David Freeman, Winning Our Energy Independence (Salt Lake City, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2007), 3.

[46] Thomas L. Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008), 96.

[47] Sandalow, Freedom from Oil, 32. Only oil tankers with double hulls are now allowed to enter Prince William Sound. Terry Tamminen claims Exxon refurbished the Exxon Valdez, changed its name to the SeaRiver Mediterranean, and then petitioned the federal government for permission to allow this single-hull tanker to continue moving oil out of Valdez, Alaska. See Tamminen, Lives per Gallon, 33.

[48] Tamminen, Lives per Gallon, 33.

[49] Ibid., 39–40.

[50] Energy Information Administration, Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2007, DOE/EIA-0573(2007) (Washington, D.C.: EIA, December 2008), table 5, p. 13, accessed at

[51] Freeman, Winning Our Energy Independence, 19. Approximately 9 percent of oil in the United States is used in the aviation industry, 5 percent in home heating, and the rest in industrial manufacturing.

[52] Natural Gas Supply Association, “Overview of Natural Gas: Background,”, accessed at (July 1, 2009).

[53] Clifford Krauss, “Drilling Boom Revives Hopes for Natural Gas,” New York Times, August 25, 2008, accessed at

[54] Katie Howell, “Natural Gas: Shales Could Provide Quarter of U.S. Supplies in Decade, Industry Says,” E&E News PM, November 12, 2008, accessed at

[55] Jad Mouawad, “Estimate Puts Natural Gas Reserves 35% Higher,” New York Times, June 17, 2009, accessed at

[56] Katie Howell, “Natural Gas: Dems Plan to Reintroduce Bill to Regulate Drilling Technique,” Energy & Environment Daily, June 5, 2009, accessed at

[57] IHS Global Insight, Measuring the Economic and Energy Impacts of Proposals to Regulate Hydraulic Fracturing, prepared for American Petroleum Institute (Lexington, Mass.: IHS, June 2009), accessed at

[58] Worldwatch Institute and Center for American Progress, American Energy: The Renewable Path to Energy Security (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, September 2006), 24.

[59] Energy Information Administration, “U.S. Nuclear Reactors,” accessed at (July 1, 2009).

[60] Katherine Ling, “Yucca Mountain: Project’s Estimated Lifecycle Cost Rises 38%—to $96B,” E&E News PM, August 5, 2008, accessed at

[61] Ibid.

[62] Quirin Schiermier, Jeff Tollefson, et al., “Energy Alternatives: Electricity without Carbon,” Nature 454 (2008): 817, accessed at

[63] U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM), “Fact Sheet: What Are Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste?” accessed at (June 26, 2009).

[64] OCRWM, “Fact Sheet: Yucca Mountain Project,” accessed at (June 26, 2009).

[65] Katherine Ling, “Nuclear Waste: States Threatening to Halt Payments if U.S. Cancels Yucca Mountain,” Greenwire, April 8, 2009, accessed at

[66] Ling, “Yucca Mountain.”

[67] U.S. Department of Energy, The Report to the President and the Congress by the Secretary of Energy on the Need for a Second Repository (Washington, D.C.: Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, December 2008), 10, accessed at

[68] Katherine Ling, “Nuclear Waste: Second Repository Necessary if Yucca Mountain Limit Isn’t Lifted—DOE,” E&E News PM, December 9, 2008, accessed at

[69] Ling, “Nuclear Waste: States Threatening to Halt Payments.”

[70] Ling, “Nuclear Waste: Second Repository Necessary”; Matthew L. Wald, “Future Dim for Nuclear Waste Repository,” New York Times, March 6, 2009, accessed at

[71] Ling, “Nuclear Waste: States Threatening to Halt Payments.”

[72] U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, Report to Congress on the Demonstration of the Interim Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel from Decommissioned Nuclear Power Reactors (Washington, D.C.: Department of Energy, December 2008), accessed at

[73] Ling, “Nuclear Waste: Second Repository Necessary.”

[74] See James B. Martin-Schramm and Robert L. Stivers, “Skull Valley: Nuclear Waste, Environmental Racism, and Tribal Sovereignty,” in Christian Environmental Ethics: A Case Method Approach (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2003), 218–52; James Martin-Schramm, “Skull Valley: Nuclear Waste, Tribal Sovereignty, and Environmental Racism,” Cresset, Advent/Christmas 2006, 7–15, accessed at

[75] Stephen Power, “Yucca Mountain: Obama Budget Takes Another Whack at Storage Site,” Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2009, accessed at

[76] Ben German, “Nuclear Power: DOE Chief Says He Supports Building New Reactors,” Greenwire, March 11, 2009, accessed at

[77] Associated Press, “Funds to Shut Nuclear Plants Fall Short,” New York Times, June 17, 2009, accessed at

[78] “A Renaissance That May Not Come,” Economist, May 19, 2001, 24–26.

[79] Lester R. Brown, “The Flawed Economics of Nuclear Power,” Eco-Economy Updates (Earth Policy Institute), October 28, 2008, accessed at

[80] Amory B. Lovins and Imran Sheikh, “The Nuclear Illusion,” draft, May 27, 2008, accessed at

[81] Rebecca Smith, “U.S. Chooses Four Utilities to Revive Nuclear Power Industry,” Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2009, accessed at

[82] Christopher Mason, “Ontario Suspends Nuclear Reactor Plan,” Financial Times, June 29, 2009, accessed at

[83] Schiermier et al., “Energy Alternatives,” 817.

[84] See “Tritium Leak: Exelon Says It Found Source of Radioactive Leak at Dresden Nuclear Plant,” Chicago Tribune, June 16, 2009, accessed at,0,545073.story; U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Fact Sheet on Tritium, Radiation Protection Limits, and Drinking Water Standards” (July 2006), accessed at

[85] Energy Information Administration, “New Reactor Designs,” accessed at (July 1, 2009).

[86] Public Citizen, “Nuclear Giveaways in the Energy Policy Act of 2005” (Washington, D.C.: Public Citizen, n.d.), accessed at (July 1, 2009).

[87] Environmental News Service, “U.S. Would Turn Nine Tons of Plutonium into MOX Fuel,” September 19, 2007, accessed at

[88] See Peter Fairley, “Nuclear Wasteland,” IEEE Spectrum, February 2007, accessed at See also Katherine Ling, “Nuclear: Is the Solution to the U.S. Waste Problem in France?” ClimateWire, May 18, 2009, accessed at; and Frank N. von Hippel, “Nuclear Fuel Recycling: More Trouble than It’s Worth,” Scientific American, May 2008, accessed at

[89] Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, 32.




© November 2009
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 9, Issue 11