August 22, 2005
By Michael D. Shaw
As gasoline prices continue to climb, there is a corresponding increase in political rhetoric about energy conservation, global warming, and other environmental issues. Maybe it’s time that we focus on a positive solution toward, clean, reliable, and tested energy independence. No, it’s not hybrid automobiles or wind power. And, wouldn’t we all love solar power—but the magic to convert the sun’s rays to electrical energy on a wide scale is not quite here yet, notwithstanding the naive bumper stickers that blanketed Europe in the 1990’s.
This option, which supplies over 70% percent of France’s electricity needs (to cite just one example from a country that, in many ways, is the antithesis of the United States), is an economical and long-term proposal for greater autonomy over the cost and use of electricity. Yes, it’s Nukes!
There is no denying the bad PR that has plagued this technology, what with the 1950’s Sci-Fi movies, and the unnecessary and overblown secrecy, that enveloped this field like a pea soup fog. To make matters worse, this played out against the paranoia of Cold War America, that conflated nuclear bombs with nuclear power. Then, there was also the fanciful notion that nukes would be so cheap, that the consumer would simply pay a monthly service fee, and use as much power as he liked.
If one considers day-to-day pollution, logistics, and geopolitics, nuclear energy looks a whole lot better than fossil fuels. For example: oil and coal can have devastating effects on the air, have significant costs in mining and transportation, to say nothing of perpetuating our reliance on the actions of a cartel like OPEC, an organization largely controlled by various Middle Eastern despots. In contrast, nuclear power is a clean form of energy that does not have any of these same problems.
According to Dan Etsy, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy,
“The growing pressure to confront global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions has breathed new life into zero-emissions nuclear power like nothing else.”
That’s wonderful news, since the benefits of nuclear power are not some utopian scheme, confined to textbooks, or promotional films at the World’s Fair or Epcot Center. Bear in mind, also, that if the hydrogen economy has any chance of working at all, large amounts of electricity will be necessary to hydrolyze water, to generate all the needed hydrogen. Under such a scheme, an individual homeowner could power his own electrolysis unit right in his garage, to fuel his new hydrogen-powered car!
What about the dangers of nuclear power? Although no technology is without its risks, the case against nukes is truly overblown. Take, for instance the meltdown at Chernobyl, an infamous case often cited by opponents of nuclear energy. This plant, which is more a testament to the economic weaknesses and gross incompetence of Soviet planning, would never have left the drawing board here in the West. Rather, it was the very absence of standards—the wholesale absence of community involvement, media inspection and governmental oversight—that explains this disaster, not nuclear power itself.
An editorial from Asia Times places Chernobyl in its proper context…
“The fact remains that the number of people killed or seriously injured as the result of nuclear power plant operations in the past 50 years is minimal and that the plants’ environmental impact is negligible.”
Remember that the safety and containment systems at Three Mile Island worked.
A growing number of environmentalists are jumping on the bandwagon. Even Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, recognizes the benefits of nuclear power. “The only technology ready to fill the gap and stop carbon dioxide loading of the atmosphere is nuclear power,” he states. That such a noteworthy activist—an icon of the environmental movement—accepts these truths should itself be proof of nuclear power’s undeniable attractiveness.
Nuclear power is a safe, proven, and economical answer to our concerns about expensive energy costs or dependence on foreign oil. It is not the stuff of science fiction, but an accepted solution in China, Japan, France, and select areas of the United States. With some patience, necessary investment, and reasoned debate, we can make nuclear power even more successful.