Monday, April 7, 2008

Nuclear Energy is Not Our Methadone

I don't think it melodramatic to say the fate of the world hinges on our ability to ween ourselves from an oil addiction. Nor do I think I embellish when I say that the political, social and environmental consequences of this addiction are biblical in their magnitude. The seven angels with seven plagues have nothing on the consequences of not finding a clean alternative to oil.

President Bush and like-minded individuals have been pushing nuclear power as our methadone for years; a clean, safe, autonomous, zero-emission form of energy production, they assure. Well, if the fact of Bush's support isn't enough to dissuade you, a sober analysis of the reality of nuclear energy should be.

First, the cheerleader-ing:
Nuclear power is one of America's safest sources of energy ... all without producing a single pound of air pollution and greenhouse gases. -- June 2005

Nuclear power generates large amounts of low-cost electricity without emitting air pollution or greenhouse gases. Yet nuclear power now produces only about 20 percent of America's electricity. It has the potential to play an even greater role -- February 2006

I believe that it is essential that we have a comprehensive energy policy to be able to deal with the challenges we are going to face in the 21st century - whether that be energy independence, or economic security or good environmental policy. And at the core of that policy must be electricity generated from nuclear power -- June 2007

I strongly believe the United States must promote nuclear power here in the United States. Nuclear power, if you're interested in economic growth and environmental stewardship, there's no better way to achieve both of them than through the promotion of nuclear power. Nuclear power is limitless. It's one existing source that generates a massive amount of electricity without causing air pollution or any greenhouse gases. -- March 2008

In keeping with his raw neoliberalist stance, Bush portrayed nuclear energy as an industry hobbled by over-regulation. If we could just cut the red tape, we could reap its "limitless" potential.

As a step in that direction, we got The Energy Policy Act of 2005. Passed by a Republican congress and signed into law by President Bush, the Act chipped away at regulations, and offered incentives for nuclear power production.

I, like many of my peers, cringe at the thought of a renewed emphasis on nuclear energy. Hiroshima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Dr. Strangelove; all taught me that nuclear = bad.

But could this be a generational bias? One that we need to sniff out and snuff out in order to receive the cleanly bounty of nuclear energy? After all, some environmentalists have dropped their objections, and are now embracing nuclear as mother nature's guardian.

The long story made short is "no, it's not a generational bias. There are serious problems with the production of nuclear energy that remain unaddressed to this day." Most seriously, we have no way of responsibly dealing with the radioactive waste produced.

At present, there is no way to dispose of the waste. Our only option is to "safely" tuck it away. But neither the United States nor any other country that produces nuclear energy has a permanent way of doing so. We simply stash it in the nuclear power plant that produces it. If that weren't myopic enough for you, here's the cherry: by recent estimates, we'll be out of space by 2014.

The world's first-ever permanent radioactive waste storage facility is being built underneath Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but that won't be finished until 2017.

So, our best means of dealing with the poisonous byproduct of nuclear energy production is to hide it under a mountain in Nevada, and we're still a decade away from realizing that bold plan. Nevertheless, Bush irresponsibly lobbies for the expansion of our domestic nuclear energy capabilities.

Without a "cradle to grave" system, nuclear energy will never be the answer. We need an energy plan that's not guided by the nuclear industry, or the agricultural lobby, and certainly not the Bush administration. The world depends on it.

Follow the links for the candidates' proposed energy plans: Obama, Clinton, McCain

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