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Precious Metal

If oil is "black gold," is uranium the "new gold"?

It's a question worth asking, even as gold prices are soaring. Gold is the traditional precious-metal hedge against governmental mismanagement of paper currency. That's because every ounce of gold ever mined remains in existence. It never corrodes or decomposes, and can never be created from other materials. That makes gold the perfect alternative to paper money that is created and backed only by government promises.

But you can't use gold to keep you warm in the coldest winter, or keep you cool in the hottest summer. It won't keep the engines of industry running, and it won't provide the electricity to keep your computer humming. For that, we need energy -- an ever-increasing amount of energy, as populations multiply and citizens of China (and India and Vietnam, and more than half of the globe) demand the basics of modern life.

It's all that demand, plus the potential scarcity of fossil fuels, that the world must now consider. No one knows when we will "run out" of oil, or what modern techniques might be invented to squeeze it out of shale or drill more deeply into the earth's core. But since much of the known oil reserves are concentrated in politically and militarily unstable parts of the world, it seems wise to consider Plan B: nuclear energy.

Forget for the moment the politics of nuclear energy and the emotional fears of disaster, and consider the reality of energy demands. One man has been on the forefront of writing about this issue for the past several years. James Dines has labeled himself "the original uranium bug." It's a takeoff on his reputation as "the original goldbug," for which he was known in the 1960s, when gold was trading at $32 an ounce.

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