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Power for energy in our hands
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About 10 years ago, as I prepared to leave Statesboro for North Carolina, the gas station two blocks from my house had gas for 66 cents a gallon. Even in 1998, that price was remarkably low.

As I attempted to fill up the other night, the price for premium gas was almost $4 a gallon.

Other than debating whether to suspend the gas tax for the summer, just what options are available. First and foremost, we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil quickly and easily, which will do more than just ease the economic burden.

I am a proponent for more nuclear power use in this country, born out of the knowledge I gained as a young physics student at Georgia Southern lo these many years ago.

There are 34 power plants in the state — more than a dozen burn fossil fuels. Only two use nuclear power. The rest are hydroelectric dams.

Georgia Power began planning Plant Vogtle in 1971; it became operational in 1987. That’s 16 years of design work and permitting before the switch was turned on.

The French, meanwhile, derive 80 percent of their power needs from nuclear plants. They don’t take into consideration environmental impact statements. They just put up a plant where they think they need one. Nuclear power supplies only 20 percent of the energy needs in the U.S.

Nuclear power, despite the dire and drastic arguments against it, is clean and cheap, but a new nuclear power generator has not been built in the U.S. in more than 30 years. Two new reactors are being planned for Plant Vogtle, but they won’t come online for another eight years. Right now, the plant’s reactors provide enough energy to light 600,000 homes.

By Georgia Power’s figures, it costs 51 cents per kilowatt-hour produced by a nuclear power plant. For a coal-fired plant, the cost is $2.87. It’s $6.28 for an oil or gas-powered plant.

Last month, it was announced a potentially vast reserve of oil was discovered off the coast of Brazil. If it pans out as initial results, it could be the third largest such oil field in the world. Initial projections claimed it could contain 33 billion (billion, with a “b”) barrels of oil — but it’s more than 22,000 feet below the surface, making it expensive and difficult to reach.

Drilling is already taking place in the Tupi oil field, with an estimated 8 billion barrels.

However, it may take a decade or two before that discovery begins to yield significant results, if there is indeed such a pocket of oil deep beneath the sea.

We do know there are large reserves of oil and gas in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and there are some not far off the west coast of Florida. But political pressures and interests apparently won’t allow drilling in those two areas.

The ANWR is more than 19 million acres in size, and the territory in question for oil and gas exploration is next to the Prudhoe Bay fields that already account for more than 15 percent of all domestic oil production. The amount of oil in the ANWR could be between 7 billion and 11 billion barrels.

So we continue to rely on oil and gas provided by people who either don’t like us at all (Venezuela) or people whose own interests outweigh those of anyone else’s (Saudi Arabia).

The longer we rely on foreign sources of oil, the more we have to support either idiot megalomaniacs such as Hugo Chavez or continue to hold hands with Saudis, and we really can’t be sure how trustworthy they are. The reliance on foreign oil isn’t just an economic burden, it’s a national security worry.

So how do we go about building up our own reserves and fuel our own economy? The wave of acclaim for corn-based ethanol is dying out, since the amount of corn it takes to produce it is staggering and there’s even the contention that it takes more than a gallon of fuel to make a gallon of ethanol. Brazil, on the other hand, gets a lot of its biofuels from sugar cane.

As we continue to push for cleaner or for more renewable sources of energy, we shouldn’t overlook solutions — nuclear power, the ANWR and other known deposits —that would not only ease our economic burden but provide for a safer, more secure America.

A note from things I discovered while looking up other stuff: The U.S. Navy is christening its newest Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in honor of the late James Stockdale. Stockdale, who eventually retired as a vice admiral, was the highest-ranking officer imprisoned by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.

To most Americans, he’ll be remembered as Ross Perot’s vice-presidential candidate, famously asking, “Who am I? Why am I here?” in a debate — to which he had been invited to at late notice and had little time to prepare for — back in 1992.

Dennis Miller came to Stockdale’s defense, noting with some fervor and some profanity that the reason Stockdale had to turn on his hearing aid during the debate was because “those ... animals knocked his eardrums out when he wouldn’t spill his guts.”

Before then, Stockdale won two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, two Purple Hearts and four Silver Stars. He was also a distinguished fellow in his post-service years at Stanford University and wrote and lectured on philosophy.

He spent four years in solitary confinement at the hands of North Vietnam. While a POW for seven years, he established a code of conduct for other prisoners and invented a method of communication that included tapping on the walls for prisoners. As a prisoner, his shoulders were torn from their sockets, his leg shattered and his back broken.

For his actions as a leader of the POWs, he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1976.

Stockdale passed away in 2005.