Your typical city dweller doesn't know just how much coal and uranium he burns each year. On Lake Shore Drive in Chicago - where the numbers are fairly representative of urban America as a whole - the answer is (roughly): four tons and a few ounces. In round numbers, tons of coal generate about half of the typical city's electric power; ounces of uranium, about 17 percent; natural gas and hydro take care of the rest. New York is a bit different: an apartment dweller on the Upper West Side substitutes two tons of oil (or the equivalent in natural gas) for Chicago's four tons of coal. The oil-tons get burned at plants like the huge oil/gas unit in Astoria, Queens. The uranium ounces get split at Indian Point in Westchester, 35 miles north of the city, as well as at the Ginna, Fitzpatrick, and Nine Mile Point units upstate, and at additional plants in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire.
That's the stunning thing about nuclear power: tiny quantities of raw material can do so much. A bundle of enriched-uranium fuel-rods that could fit into a two-bedroom apartment in Hell's Kitchen would power the city for a year: furnaces, espresso machines, subways, streetlights, stock tickers, Times Square, everything- even our cars and taxis, if we could conveniently plug them into the grid. True, you don't want to stack fuel rods in midtown Manhattan; you don't in fact want to stack them casually on top of one another anywhere. But in suitable reactors, situated, say, 50 miles from the city on a few hundred acres of suitably fortified and well-guarded real estate, two rooms' worth of fuel could electrify it all...
...It must surely be clear by now, too, that the political costs of depending so heavily on oil from the Middle East are just too great. We need to find a way to stop funneling $25 billion a year (or so) of our energy dollars into churning cauldrons of hate and violence. By sharply curtailing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, we would greatly expand the range of feasible political and military options in dealing with the countries that breed the terrorists.
The best thing we can do to decrease the Middle East's hold on us is to turn off the spigot ourselves. For economic, ecological, and geopolitical reasons, U.S. policymakers ought to promote electrification on the demand side, and nuclear fuel on the supply side, wherever they reasonably can.
I'm reading their book, The Bottomless Well: The twilight of fuel, the virtue of waste, and why we will never run out of energy (Amazon info). Book report later.
But I understand we have a goodly amount of uranium available.
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