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Silicon Valley, Greenpeace co-founder say yes to nuclear

Venture capitalist says nuclear power deserves another look, and a Greenpeace co-founder agrees.

Peter Wagner, a general partner at venture firm Accel, predicts there will be nuclear powered cars on the streets of San Francisco in a decade.

You've just got to think of it more as indirect nuclear power. Cars won't have reactors, he explained during a panel discussion at the Venture Capital Investing Conference taking place in San Francisco. Instead, nuclear power will become a more acceptable form of energy to the American public as gas prices continue to climb and global warming worsens.

Nuclear power will provide electricity to the grid, and individuals will charge electric cars by plugging them into the wall, in a scenario laid out by Wagner. Some drivers will also possibly be able to charge their cars through solar panels mounted on garage roofs.

"The only thing that can move the needle (in fossil fuel consumption) in scale and cost is nuclear," he said. "A nuclear renaissance makes very compelling logic."

While few are on the road now, electric cars are gaining a smattering of adherents. Some hobbyists are building plug-in hybrids, which run almost completely on electricity, while start-up Tesla Motors next month will start selling an all-electric sports car.

Nuclear power is still politically unpopular, and some scientists say it shouldn't be used to address global warming. The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, points to three deal breakers: nuclear waste, the risk of catastrophic accidents and the potential for terrorists to target nuclear plants. Still, nuclear power is cropping up more these days. Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace founder, has founded GreenSpirit, an environmental group that supports nuclear power.

"I believe the majority of environmental activists, including those at Greenpeace, have now become so blinded by their extremism that they fail to consider the enormous and obvious benefits of harnessing nuclear power to meet and secure America's growing energy needs," the controversial Moore testified in front of Congress in April 2005. "If America is to meet its ever increasing demands for energy, then the American nuclear industry must be revitalized and allowed to grow."

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman has written articles with Moore in support of nuclear growth in recent weeks.

In Europe, nuclear has never gone out of fashion. Last year, French government officials touted their country as a tech destination and one benefit was the cheap cost of energy. France has excess nuclear-generated electricity so it can export it to Spain and Italy.

Researchers in the U.S. are also trying to make nuclear power safer. At Georgia Institute of Technology, researchers have isolated a microbe that can prevent uranium in the soil from leeching into groundwater.

Li-Bu Tan, chairman of venture firm Walden International, said he wouldn't mind seeing a comeback in nuclear, but partly for personal reasons. He is trained as a nuclear engineer.