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Henry Kelly Introduction IF YOU COULD ASK A N ORACLE TWO Q U EST IO N S ABOUT THE H U M A N condition a century from now, they m ight be “Have nuclear weapons been used?” and “Has a way been found to provide all a comfortable living for everyone on the planet w ithout a disastrous im pact on the natural environm ent?” Finding a way to ensure an attractive answer to these closely related questions will require unprecedented techni­ cal and political ingenuity. Technologies m ust be developed that can provide amenities such as m obility and comfortable living space using a third or less of the natural resources needed to provide them today. Since this is likely to require expanded use of nuclear power and an accompanying expansion of nuclear-fuel-processing facilities and asso­ ciated expertise, some way m ust be found to provide ironclad guaran­ tees that materials and know-how is not diverted to build weapons. The papers in this section vividly describe the significance of the task before us, the consequences of failure, and the difficulty of find­ ing practical solutions. As Kurt Gottfried suggests, this is a “political dilem m a of unprecedented complexity and m agnitude that faces all societies and the international com m unity as a whole.” Solutions encounter three m ajor challenges. First, any success­ ful program m ust lead to real changes in the behavior of individuals, com panies, and governm ents. But any program th at actually forces change will m eet determ ined resistance from those whose near-term behavior is being altered while typically receiving lukewarm support for the vast m ajority whose long-term interests would be served. The second is that policies m ust address the huge inequality in income and in resource use prevailing in the world today. It is simply not possible social research Vol 73 : No 3 : Fall 2 006 975 for the world to sustain 7 to 10 billion people if their consum ption is like that of today’s Am ericans—let alone the future US consum p­ tion rates im plied by cu rren t trends. As G ottfried’s paper puts it, “there is m ounting recognition that the worldwide quest for economic growth, and the energy needed to fuel it, are on a collision course with nature.” A workable response to these challenges requires inventing a future more appealing than the widely understood US success story— one that would be attractive both to US investors and developing econo­ mies. Finally, concrete action on environm ental and energy problems in the past benefited from immediate, visible problems: air so polluted th at it was causing acute health problem s and long lines at the gas pumps. The risks of climate change and potential price spikes and other disruptions in energy supplies facing us today are long-term and visible only through expert analysis. One them e linking these formidable tasks is that they are surely insurm ountable w ithout active participation by credible scientists and engineers. Our recognition that a problem of climate change or limits to inexpensive energy resources depends entirely on foresight gained from technical analysis. Options for attractive solutions depend on defining a range of potential technical solutions and a clear understand­ ing of their costs and benefits. This work should serve to set the frame­ work for the equally difficult political challenge of building consensus and aligning interests behind research programs, fiscal policies, and regulatory strategies required to move away from a “business as usual” trajectory plainly headed for disaster. William M artin’s rem arks at the conference—not, unfortunately, included in this volume—suggested, for example, that we badly need to understand technical options and also understand “w hich ones do the best at reducing carbon and w hich do the best in reducing oil imports.” But he also expressed shock that the federal governm ent has not provided such a fair accounting. As he pointed out, in the absence of widely credible analysis, we have w hat am ounts to a propaganda and political maneuvering contest between “R&D tribes.” 976 social research Nuclear pow er is a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 975-979
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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