09: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Nuclear Power

Let’s get this out of the way so there is no confusion: I support nuclear energy as a viable, strategic and environmentally friendly component of America’s energy strategy.

On the 35th anniversary of the partial melt-down at the light water nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island I sat down and watch Pandora’s Promise on Netflix.

School Photos 7
I’m sure that hair cut was an accident too.

First a bit of background because my first experience with nuclear energy is firmly fixed in my mind.

I was 11 years old when, on March 28, 1979, through human error and mechanical failure the nuclear power plant outside of Harrisburg, PA suffered a partial meltdown and released radioactive coolant gasses and iodines into the atmosphere. My family happened to live less than 180 miles from the plant. You can learn more about the accident by clicking here.

…and unfortunately this is how I learned about nuclear energy.

Long before 24/7 news coverage, fancy graphics, professional spin departments, holographics, green screens and social media the journalist Walter Conkite came into our living room via television and told us the story. Without fueling conspiracy theories about black holes, doomsday scenarios about end times, unfounded speculation about terrorists, paranoid delusions about black flag operations or spouting 9/11 Truther pseudoscience Walter, and CBS’s correspondents, told us the news and not the story about the news.

First of all, I’ve never completely understood the objections to investing in non-fossil fuels such as wind, solar, tidal, hydro and geothermal. Combined with conservation measures these are all viable and offer a variety of beneficial energy sources.

Of course, we all are familiar with the arguments of the naysayers and skeptics so I’m not going to get into it here. Besides if you oppose alt-energy you already know the arguments and if you support it you’ve already heard…and if you don’t know both the scientific and economic pros and cons you probably haven’t bothered to read this far because you don’t care.

Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant, Harrisburg, PA.

Suffice to say, the arguments against alt-energy all boils down to seven catchy words: “Less regulation, lower taxes and more drilling.” Their worldview is essentially “Capitalism = YEAH!” and “Alt-Energy = Fascist tree hugging America-hating godless communists”

Although a conservationist and environmentalist by temperament I am also a pragmatist by nature. Idealism is important but not always practical. The idea that ending reliance on fossil fuels is environmentally the right thing to do it is not my primary motivation. Ending reliance on fossil fuels is a national security issue for me.

Tragically, a national energy policy eludes us not because there isn’t a need or because there isn’t sound scientific options but because our political leadership lacks the will and courage to make it happen and fossil fuel is big business. Ten years from Kennedy’s speech we put a men on the moon but in 100 years we cannot make an engine more cost-effective and efficient?


Thank heaven for Tesla Motors.

Thank goodness for Tesla.
Thank goodness for Tesla.

Anyway, I hear lots of yakking from sophists and pundits about the war on coal and energy companies and that the solution is to “drill baby drill”, more “clean” coal and frac it.

First of all there is no such thing as “clean” coal. I’ve spent significant time at coal mines, ash ponds, culm/gob piles and power plants. “Clean coal” is a catch phrase written by a paid PR company and has no more meaning than “Got Milk.” It sounds good but it is not reality.

Secondly, a percentage of every dollar we spend on oil from Saudi Arabia or Iran goes to support anti-American war and misinformation efforts. Osama Bin Laden’s family didn’t make their wealth from selling barrels of sand. The Saudi hijackers on 9/11 didn’t pay their expenses selling Americans camel saddles.

Lastly, reliance on an 110 year old energy infrastructure is simply one national security incident away from shutting down NYC. You don’t need a nuke to end the American Way of life, you simply need a couple of dozen guys armed with pipe bombs to target oil and natural gas pipelines. Pipelines that many Americans are discovering run under their properties and through their towns.

But no politician ever says, consistently, professionally and passionately, from the bully pulpit that energy is a national security issue and not an issue of capitalism.  After 9/11 Bush, Jr could have, and should have, but he is bought and paid for by oil money. Don’t even get me started on Cheney.

And just to be clear, fifty years from now that WILL be the major failing by which the Bush administration will be remembered: lack of vision to foresee the possibilities and the follies.

The Bush Administration could have finally done what most Americans agree should have happened as far back as the 1970s energy crisis: craft a strategic energy policy that would have eventually ended the use of fossil fuels in the United States.

The Obama Administration’s “All The Above” energy policy is more a slogan than policy.

Which of course, brings me back to Pandora’s Promise.

Although the movie isn’t perfect it raises some excellent points for the a renewed dialogue on utilizing nuclear energy. There are a number of critics that have raised valid criticisms of the movie but, even within their criticisms, it is more a critique of the movies shortcomings and not the message.

As I said earlier I “learned” about nuclear energy through my experience at 11. Too bad 99% of what I heard about nuclear power in the years following this experience was wrong.

However, being a Reasonable Man I read a lot of science. I don’t understand the intricacies but I understand enough to be literate. As a result, I can diagram how a light water reactor works, how a solar cell works, why an airplane flies and how a telescope works.

I can explain these sciences but I cannot build them. Tragically.

So as I said, I’ve spent a lot of time focused on understanding so that I can have a reasonable conversation on a variety of topics. The outcome is surprisingly simple: I strongly support the adoption of nuclear energy as the cornerstone of America’s energy policy.

I support it for environmental reasons and I support it for political reasons and I support it for economic reasons and I support it for strategic reasons.

I could go into all the reasons I support it but that will not sway you.

However, I am asking if you are opposed to nuclear energy, or are unsure about why nuclear energy is a viable option, you take some time and become interested. Start by watching this movie.  It is currently on Netflix. Learn more about the award winning movie at Pandora’s Promise’s website.

Being better informed may not change your mind on nuclear energy but at least you will have the facts and as a society we can have a reasonable conversation about energy without the hyperbole.

I hope you make time to watch the movie.

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