There’s very little I feel optimistic about right now, but the resurgence of interest in building new nuclear power plants is one of the rare examples. And an idea I’ve actually advocated since I was a sophomore in High School (no, really, I wrote a report about this) is gaining traction: make the damned things TINY.
Rather than building some monolithic plant intended to power a region, you build a very small one, intended to power a city block. In a worst case scenario? Said plant can melt down and still be less radioactive than household appliances we take for granted. The balance of streamlining the process comes down to developing efficient means of reprocessing spent fuel (which, in fairness, is a technology we still don’t have).
The real issue is that energy, in the wake of peak oil, has become the red queen’s race — in order to avoid starving ourselves to death in the near term (40 years), we need to begin developing alternative sources of energy. This is not to say that we should not also be investing in wind and solar, only that we cannot meet present/future requirements by those avenues alone.
We will continue to need coal and oil as well — but to be perfectly blunt, we’re approaching a point where we won’t be able to afford to actually burn oil — we’ll need it for things like plastic and other modern necessities that make life possible.
As a child and byproduct of the 70s and all that implies, I’m still in shock at how much the thinking of the environmentalist movement has changed, and how much it still needs to change. But the truth of the matter is simply that we’ve reached a point where we don’t have much alternative but to accept the risk.