With the "war on terror" dominating the news, few Americans are likely to recall that 60 years ago President Dwight Eisenhower laid the foundation for the peaceful use of nuclear energy in an historic address to the UN General Assembly. His speech, delivered at the height of the Cold War in 1953, helped change the course of world events.
After all these years, it is important to remember that nearly six decades of experience with nuclear energy has not lessened the wisdom of Eisenhower's proposal to mount a program of international pooling of nuclear technology and fissionable materials for "the benefit of mankind."
His "Atoms for Peace" vision clearly resounds today. Nuclear medicine has become indispensable to health care, playing a key role in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. A great achievement.
Radiation is widely used in modern industry, as, for example, in the inspection of metal parts in jet engines. Nuclear generators supply the power for virtually all space missions. And nuclear energy has become a source of electricity for more than a billion people globally.
Eisenhower's address foreshadowed the production of nuclear-generated electricity with fuel derived from nuclear weapons stockpiles in the United States and Russia. Under a disarmament agreement, nearly 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium from former Soviet warheads have been down-blended into low-enriched uranium currently used at U.S. nuclear plants to supply power for American homes and businesses. The "megatons to megawatts" program has been a great success.
Now, with the growing concern for global climate change, the case for expanding the use of nuclear energy has never been greater. Nuclear energy is among the cleanest sources of "base-load" electricity, a great help in protecting public health and the environment.
James Hansen, a climatologist who headed NASA's Goddard Institute for many years and who was the first atmospheric scientist to warn Congress about the danger of global warming in 1988, recently completed a study on the importance of nuclear energy in protecting our planet. Hansen determined that over the years global nuclear energy has prevented more than 1.8 million deaths from air pollution and 64 billion tons of greenhouse-gas emissions that would have resulted from the burning of fossil fuels. By 2050, nuclear energy could prevent as many as 7 million deaths and avoid 240 billion tons of greenhouse emissions, he said. His study, which appears in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, confirms nuclear energy's benefits globally.
Around the world, 71 nuclear plants are being built, and 150 plants are planned and another 340 are proposed. That's in addition to the 437 operating nuclear plants, including the U.S. fleet of 104 plants. Here in the Southeast, five new reactors are under construction - two in Georgia, two in South Carolina and the Watts Bar reactor in Tennessee.
If any one energy source will be vital in the years ahead, it is nuclear power. The fact that even OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Indonesia plan to build nuclear plants should tell us something.
Retired Vice Adm. Ronald Eytchison, had 45 years' experience in Navy nuclear power and the commercial nuclear power and nuclear fuels industries.