The world is running out of oil. Or to be more precise, of easily recoverable oil. The 1980 rate of production, 65 million barrels of oil, is more than double the rate of 1960.
We are paying a high economic price for the oil we want; we also pay a political price, the magnitude of which is still unclear.
We have only just begun to reduce our consumption. What more should we do? First, we should keep our aim clear: to reduce foreign oil consumption. We should not confuse this with other aims. We should use oil only where it is uniquely suited -- cars and airplanes.
In the last 30 years we have been able to decentralize our industry and have decentralized people with it. This has given us a larger choice of life styles because of the availability of electricity that is easy to use. Electricity is therefore of special interest.
For 10 years our electrical system has run on oil and gas. We must stop. Should we use coal or nuclear power? We have a choice. For 25 years dedicated people have worked on nuclear power, now one of the cheapest ways of producing electricity -- less than half the price of oil. It is environmentally better -- less land use, less ugly coal storage, less strip mining. It is better for the workers' health; it produces little air pollution. In 22 years of commercial nuclear power, there has been no identified fatality among the public. When we compare nuclear with other sources, we calculate that nuclear power has saved 50,000 lives worldwide and is saving thousands more each year. In addition, burning fossil fuels will increase the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with possibly huge effects. Yet some people want to abandon nuclear energy. We ourselves would prefer nuclear energy to coal, but the United States is rich in both and has the luxury of choice.
Other countries have fewer options. Japan, which has no oil or gas, and very little coal and wood, tried to buy coal from Montana, but environmentalists objected. Japan fought two world wars that, from its point of view, were about natural resources. In 1941 the United States put an oil embargo on Japan. The doves in Japan could no longer control the hawks and they bombed Pearl Harbor six months later; they took the oil they needed from the Dutch.
Can we control our hawks any better and keep the Marines out of the Arabian Gulf? In spite of our domestic riches, we have continued to buy foreign oil. This makes us look silly and selfish to the rest of the world.
During 1975-1980 the increase in demand was 53 percent. We can expect price increases, shortages, and political instability. Is this pesimistic? We think not. In March 1979, just after returning from the Middle East, one of us told a public hearing that the Arabs predicted the world oil price would rise to $20 per barrel by the end of the year. There was laughter and disbelief. But the record shows that the prediction was too low. With hope in the future we can do something about it. One way is to encourage nuclear power worldwide. If we had continued with the 1970 nuclear power program in the United States, we would by now be importing one-third less oil.
Nuclear power with a breeder reactor can supply energy at a price we can afford for 100,000 years. The use of nuclear power will bring down the price of oil, encourage energy independence and help to stabilize the world.
It is a tragedy that so many organizations that began in order to encourage world peace now oppose nuclear electric power and, by doing so, bring us closer to war. "Anti-nukes" confuse reactors with nuclear weapons. Yet reactors cannot explode like bombs. "Anti-nukes" say that nuclear power reactors lead inevitably to bombs and imply that abolishing nuclear power will abolish bombs; yet the six countries that have exploded bombs did so independently of, and often before, the construction of nuclear power reactors. "Anti-nukes" have stopped many reactors, but to the best of our knowledge have not reduced the stockpiles by a single bomb.
A strong vigorous energy policy, including nuclear power, can make countries more secure and less likely to make or use bombs. A strong program of safeguarding fissile material can help prevent uranium from being used to make bombs; the openness of the nuclear industry can make a secret bomb activity less likely.
The clearest danger is a war over the last dregs of Middle Eastern Oil. Nuclear power will reduce this danger, not increase it.