IN OTHER WORDS: Nuke power

Nuclear energy used to be a hobgoblin to environmentalists, who feared the potential for catastrophic accidents and radiation contamination. But this is a new era, dominated by fears of tight energy supplies and global warming. Now nucle-ar power is looking better.

It can diversify our sources of energy with a fuel — uranium — that is both abundant and inexpensive. Nuclear energy can replace fossil-fuel power plants for generating electricity and reduce carbon emissions that cause global warming.

But nuclear power should not be given a free pass in our frantic quest for energy and environmental security. Making any real dent in carbon emissions could require building many hundreds of new nuclear plants in coming decades, a hugely ambitious undertaking fraught with challenges.

As nuclear expertise and technologies spread, so does the risk that they might be used to make bombs. We can only hope that it does not undercut a more promising administration plan to keep the most dangerous fuel-making technologies out of circulation by supplying developing nations with uranium and taking the spent fuel rods back.

How much impact nuclear power could have in slowing carbon emissions has yet to be spelled out, but there is no doubt that it could serve as a useful bridge to even greener sou-rces of energy.