(9 of 9)
The most important and controversial energy source for the foreseeable future is nuclear power. Though atomic research has been going on for three decades, only 37 plants are in operation—generating 5% of the nation's electricity—and 61 more are under construction. Part of the reason for this lag is that lengthy public hearings must be held in areas where nuclear power stations are to be built. Yet caution is justified. Safety systems have never been put to a real test—simply because there have been no major accidents yet—and some Atomic Energy Commission safety experts doubt the systems' effectiveness. The greatest delays, however, came as a result of trying to swiftly develop giant reactors from small ones. This caused difficulties in design and materials; some of the reactors simply broke down when they were put on line at power utilities. Though most of these difficulties will be overcome, it will be at least ten years before nuclear plants make a big contribution to the country's energy needs.
Unexpected Favor. Senator Jackson and others have long argued that much more effort should go in researching and developing a wide variety of new energy sources: oil from shale, synthetic oil and gas from coal. Congress would take an important step by approving Nixon's proposed energy resources development agency, which might first search for more efficient and economical methods of removing pollutants from coal and high-sulfur oil.
The only way that the U.S. can scrape through the next several years without major economic and social disruptions is to ease off dramatically on energy consumption. Even before the Arabs cut off their oil, the nation—and much of the rest of the world—faced an energy crunch in a few more years. The Arabs have moved the U.S. to take action now, before its dependence on Middle East oil was greater and its needs larger and harder to meet. By rousing the nation, Feisal and his fellow Arabs may well have done all Americans an unexpected favor for the future.