Important Daily News You Need to Know, Today’s Issue: Nuclear Energy
For the most part Republican propositions for “energy independence” go no further than mining more coal and drilling for more oil. Even if this “policy” weren’t outwardly fallacious on its face, it still doesn’t offer much in terms of growth for the future. The political right wants America to ride 18th Century technology into 21st Century prosperity.
As foolish and unreasonable as this sounds the Democratic proposals for our energy future are not much better. Democratic policies are centered on “green technology” like biofuels, and wind and solar power generation. Despite the fact that hydroelectric and thermal energy could be just as viable as alternative sources of energy, these technologies are given very little emphasis. The Democratic Party has largely tied itself to the wagons drawn by wind turbines, and to a lesser extent to photovoltaic energy cells.
There is nothing wrong with solar and wind energy. They are clean, renewable, and spur domestic investment. However, they are also disproportionately costly, and they take up a lot of space. Wind and solar power offer weak comparisons to old-school oil, gas, and coal, which have large infrastructures already in place and are the “tried and true” means of producing electricity.
In a highly competitive energy market, it is impossible for us to produce non-polluting energy without granting huge government subsidies to these new technologies. Even with government assistance it is difficult for even the most efficient wind and solar farms to match the productivity of dirty coal and oil burner power plants.
There is a clear niche in the market for another type of energy generation, but that technology is taboo in American politics: nuclear energy.
Nuclear energy is not a perfect solution, but if our stated goals are to, a) cut back on carbon pollution, and b) produce cheaper electricity for homes, businesses, and transportation, nuclear energy may be the only way to go.
Journalist George Will has been a long-time proponent of nuclear energy. Unfortunately much of his, and others, well-thought and researched ideas simply fall on deaf ears. Will made another attempt to support the cause for nuclear power in a recent article in Newsweek. He outlined not only the outlandish costs of national wind and solar generation, but also the preposterous health risks of conventional fossil fuel power.
In 2009 alone dozens of people were killed or injured in oil refinery fires and explosions in the United States. Men and women are injured managing oil rigs, and repairing pipelines. Just over one month ago two men died at a refinery in Artesia, New Mexico. If one were to throw in the number of American deaths due to our involvement in foreign conflicts built around petroleum security the number of lives endangered in pursuit of oil skyrockets.
Oil isn’t the only dangerous fossil fuel. Coal mining has a long and brutal history in the United States. On Monday April 5, 2010 a blast at a coalmine in southern West Virginia sealed 29 miners in an airtight tomb deep under the earth’s crust. A disaster of similar proportions occurs every single year at coalmines all around the United States. Those lucky enough to not be killed in caves ins, collapses and explosions often succumb later in life to illnesses and ailments brought on by years of toiling in dangerous, ashy pits in the earth.
Meanwhile, in the field of nuclear energy, not one American life has ever been lost to a malfunction at a nuclear facility. The only major nuclear “disasters” that any American can readily think of were at Three Mile Island in 1979, and Chernobyl in 1986. Three Mile Island released trace radiation into the atmosphere, but the fallout and physical side effects were negligible. Chernobyl was a truly catastrophic event, but it happened in the Soviet Union as a result of poor training and worse construction techniques. Neither disaster would happen in a modern facility today.
Nonetheless, most Americans are afraid of nuclear power, despite the obvious benefits it has. Most Americans think it is highly polluting and that it irradiates their groundwater, air and environment. Most Americans fear that a reactor will overload and “go nuclear” as if it were one of the atomic bombs used in the Second World War.
Most Americans simply misunderstand nuclear energy. Many European countries are dependent on nuclear power for their survival. The U.S. currently draws just one-fifth of its power from nuclear facilities. A next-generation reactor could be built in the U.S. for a cost of a wind or solar farm, and produce regular clean energy day and night, wind or calm.
Its only byproduct, radioactive waste, could be buried in containment shields and forgotten, or reprocessed and reused.
Dedicating ourselves to a nuclear future does not mean it has to be our only choice. We can still use wind and solar power, and maybe one day discover a perfect solution like “cold fusion” upon which everyone agrees. However, until that point nuclear energy has to be on the table. Neither side is willing to champion it, because of the perceived political risks, but now is the time to stop the delay.