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The post-earthquake nuclear future

Saturday, March 19, 2011; 6:59 PM

While Keith Richburg's analysis of nuclear energy alternatives ["Second-guessing is underway about nuclear power's feasibility," March 16] provided helpful insight into several options on the energy portfolio table, it missed the mark completely on the lowest-cost, least-polluting alternative: energy efficiency.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that employing efficient technologies in buildings alone could eliminate the need to construct electric power plants in the United States (except to address regional supply imbalances, etc). Embracing efficiency can save Americans more than $600 billion annually and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the tune of 1.1 gigatons every year. What's more, saving energy saves land: Reducing the need for additional energy can protect open space from energy sprawl.

The crisis in Japan should spark an honest public debate about America's energy future, and that conversation should start with how to make the most out of what we have.

It's time to act on what we've known for decades: that investments in energy efficiency mean more green in our wallets, more green open space and dramatically less public health risks than the alternatives.

J.P. Leous, Washington

The writer is the Wilderness Society's climate change policy adviser.

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There is a simple metric for judging the future of nuclear energy in the United States - whether nuclear plants can be insured. This industry's risk should be insured like any other industry.

Since 1957, the nuclear industry has enjoyed limits to ordinary liability under the Price Anderson Act, which partially indemnifies nuclear power plants. After the industry pays $12.6 billion in damages, the federal government pays the rest. When nuclear energy can be insured like any other American enterprise, it might be time to consider the technology's future.

Paul W. Hansen, Jackson, Wyo.

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