Nuclear energy often takes the back seat in the energy conversation of the future. Is it because of the word ‘nuclear’ and the associated destructive weaponry? Because if we look beyond that, it might be a viable course of action to solve some big problems.

I was walking my dog at a local park. Not the regular park, this day I mixed things up. In between squeaky ball tosses, I noticed a man wearing an RLTW (Rangers Lead The Way) shirt. So, I asked what’s up, for lack of a better term. We introduced one another, and I learned he’s interning on the hill. Now, he’s a nuclear science student and helping out an initiative that a mentor of his has been working on for some time; A new kind of nuclear energy that might be an interesting conversation piece in foreign policy.

Nuclear power has been the bad boy of energy for a while. It has a negative connotation. Nuclear is characterized in popular culture as something that’s dangerous and toxic. There are pressing world energy needs. Many believe modern day wars are in a large part a result of global energy needs. Nuclear is in the spotlight more, now, than ever before since the Iran deal. The Iran deal is about nuclear to a large extent.

World energy needs are projected to increase dramatically. The World Nuclear Association notes that “with the United Nations predicting world population growth from 6.7 billion in 2011 to 8.7 billion by 2035, demand for energy must increase substantially over that period.” It’s an unknown if green energy would be able to meet the world’s energy needs and if it can progress fast enough. However, there is a consensus that dependence on oil and carbon fuels, one way or the other, must be mitigated. Unfortunately, much of the world’s economy is tied to oil, and it plays a role in foreign policy, as well. Something has to change before we can move on and stand energy independent in order to make more cogent and clear-eyed decisions regarding our place in the world.

The misconceptions around nuclear are profound. For example, did you know the smoke coming out of those giant tubes is just steam? You very well may have, but many believe it to be exhaust. It’s not toxic exhaust that’s going to cause fish to develop a third eye. The isotopes created by nuclear reactors that many fear – and, yet, those isotopes advance medical science and other fields.

My ranger friend’s mentor Kirk Sorenson (his Ted talk here) – nuclear scientist and NASA veteran, is the head of Flibe Energy, a nuclear science company based in Alabama. They’ve got a different design than the modern day nuclear reactor or the future’s generation IV reactors. In fact, Sorenson’s model would not yield the isotopes used to create nuclear weapons, therefore, if Iran adopted this reactor design there is virtually no chance of proliferation by way of the reactor. It would mean only nuclear energy to power their nation and no atomic bomb drama. Energy, a precious resource, is as much as a foreign policy and national security concern as anything else.

(Part 2 to provide specific and a deeper dive into nuclear energy)

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