President Obama, this week or last, announced that a federal grant was given to build America’s first nuclear power plant in more than 30 years. I understand that some people want to build nukes as a way to reduce greenhouse emissions and power cars which will be in production soon and run solely on electricity, reducing our dependence on foreign oil by quite a bit, and meaning we don’t have to go to war for oil. Other people want to build nukes just to say “so there” to old hippies like myself. Yet others want to build nukes to have more plutonium to make bombs. Needless to say, my preference is the first category if we’re going to have nuclear power.
I like the idea of 1)reducing emissions; 2) electric cars; 3) reducing our dependence on foreign oil and 4) not having wars for commodities. All of those are great ideas. What I’m not-at-all-convinced-of is that we need nuclear power to accomplish those noble goals.
The planet we live on is full of energy and dynamism. The wind blows, the sun shines, the seas roar, the rivers run and yes, we all (especially cows) make methane. Each of these things can create electricity and — now that we’re suspending disbelief for the first time about it — we still want nukes. Nukes are a throwback to the good old days of corporate controllable and potentially high priced energy with military possibilities as well.
As soon as Mr. Obama’s plan was announced, I wrote a blog which mentioned it in passing, and two friends got involved in a minor argument about nukes. One suggested alternatives and the other said we had to make hard choices. Both are true. My friend Cathi Chapin-Bishop is correct that there are all kinds of alternatives. My friend Joe Roberts is correct that if we don’t want nukes, we have to make hard choices to reduce our use of energy.
The choices aren’t really that hard, but they require bending our minds around the concepts — one concept is “appropriate technology”. Getting our heads around the idea is the hard part and it’s a big deal.
Appropriate technology means all kinds of changes. It means building stereos that only require 30 watts of power all told rather than 150 watts of stereophonic power ! usually shouted with a deep, male voice. Why change? Because we go deaf beyond a certain point of volume. OK, Eddie Van Halen gets a pass on this one but he has to play 5 miles away from others if he’s going to play like Van Halen! (same voice).
Appropriate technology means things like building cars that go just a little over the speed limit so we can get out of harm’s way rather than 140 miles per hour which causes harm’s way. Did you ever wonder why — if the speed limit is 65, we even make cars (or speedometers, for that matter) that go nearly double that? I do. Again, it’s different if we’re talking about drag racers or stock cars, but your average driver does NOT need a car that goes 120 miles per hour. Once in a while, maybe, it’s OK to push humanity’s limits by finding higher speeds. I’m not sure I’d make the case for it, but I have friends who love to race and tinker with cars and they may still have the right to do so. As soon as we can build fully electric cars, some idiot’s going to mass produce electric cars that go 140 mph because we “need” that. We don’t. And we don’t need to waste fuel pretending we do.
TVs, dryers, and all that other stuff we have that require electricity can also be dealt with via “alternative”, aka “natural” sources. When I was a kid, people hung their clothes on a clothesline most of the time. Even winter’s freeze-dried clothes get dried, but the clothesline- in- the-basement trick still works — and neither requires electricity (and therefore a nuke to make the electricity). TV’s and computers — as much as I love them (and I do love them both) aren’t neccessary to the extent we use them. Instead of sitting around in a circle IM’ing each other, they could actually talk to each other. Instead of texting, they could either wait til they see the person or go the old fashioned way and pass notes in class. Neither requires electricity, though the sheets of paper add up to trees fallen.
What’s left after that can be dealt with by having solar panels on our roofs, windmills in our yards, and — last-but-not-least “passive solar technology”. Passive solar technology sounds sooo scary and high-tech. Do you know what passive solar power is? Building your house with a concrete wall facing toward the sun in winter. The concrete takes and keeps the heat for hours, helping to heat the house. “Passive solar technology” is putting water in a dark container and putting it in the sun so you can use it for showers, or making sun tea by putting tea bags and water in a jar on your back porch. If everybody in America used one or two passive solar technologies on their property, had a windmill to generate electricity or a water pump and solar panels, burned methane they made themselves (sort of kidding there) or whatever, I am certain that we would have the kind of power we needed to meet our needs long before we got to needing nukes.
What’s my problem with nukes, you ask? Well, I have two or three. First and foremost is the waste they create and the storage of it for (I kid you not) hundreds of thousands of years. Tied for first place is the potential for nuclear accidents and betting on perfect technology in order to avoid them. Plus, there’s the whole terrorist-threat thing which makes the bid for perfect technology even more difficult.
Now, before some genius says “they don’t explode like a nuclear bomb”, yes, that’s true. They don’t explode like that. They do explode like a sealed tea-kettle that been left on too long. Regarding creating jobs, yes, they do do that — while they’re being built. But after that — while they’re running — well, Homer Simpson and a few of his friends can run one — and Homer doesn’t need many friends at all. I suppose you could count all the jobs de-commissioning the plant after 30 years, and all the jobs safekeeping the plutonium. Still, I’m not sure that the threat of radioactivity makes it worth the job creation.
Anyway, that’s my spiel on that. See, there are places where I disagree with our president…