THE NON-NUCLEAR OPTION

March 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

As Japan’s nuclear crisis spreads to a fourth plant in the wake of the earthquake and ensuing tsunami, we have a rare opportunity here in the US to review not only our current energy policy but also where it will lead in the future as we continue to disengage from fossil fuels.

Let’s say you head to a dealership to buy a new car. You find one that attracts you; the salesman gives you information about the car, its price, warranties, etc. It all sounds great: the car is extremely fuel efficient, gives off no exhaust and will provide you with a good quality of transportation for years to come. Ready and willing to slap your money down, you ask one final question:

“Is it safe?”

The salesman does not blink, responding with alacrity and confidence:

“Absolutely!”

So you drive your shiny new car off the lot, chuckling with glee all the way home. You’ve solved your transportation needs for the foreseeable future while staying within budget. You couldn’t have asked for more.

Except that two blocks from home, a child runs out onto the road. You swerve suddenly, losing control and heading toward a tree. Nonetheless, right before you make impact, the reassuring thought flashes across your mind: “I’m not going that fast and anyhow, this car is safe.”

Yet the car, upon hitting the tree, even at a low speed, crumples. Airbags do not engage and your seatbelt rips out of its housing, sending you into the already twisted windshield.

After leaving hospital, you return to the dealership and confront the dealer: “You told me this car was safe!”

He looks at you with a blank stare, stunned. “It is.” He replies, astounded at your outrage. “You asked me if the car was safe while it was sitting on the lot. I never said it was safe to drive.”

Sounds insane, I know. Yet that is exactly the bill of goods we’ve been sold when it comes to nuclear power: great in theory- just don’t read the fine print. Put aside the fact for the moment that it’s always pitched as an alternative form of “clean” energy- I guess the people propagating that idea have forgotten about the deadly, indestructible waste that hangs around for thousands of years as a byproduct of producing this kind of “clean” fuel. The greater problem here is that even if we could dispose of the waste in a way that wouldn’t threaten to harm us and all future generations, we’d still have the tiny stumbling block of public safety.

Public safety. Does that concept carry any heft anymore? It doesn’t appear to. The lessons that were not learnt in the aftermath of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are being presented again: that nuclear power is neither safe nor clean and never will be.

Close them all down. We’ll figure out another way to create that energy. Or… maybe we’ll consider the Unspeakable Option: give people a certain energy allotment and then tax the hell out of them for exceeding it. We have to start paying for our polluting with cash, instead of simply with the degradation of our natural world. Maybe then people would begin to change their habits.

But one thing’s for certain. Nuclear power is a car going nowhere, except into a tree. It’s time to find a new model.

Picture: The Chernobyl reactor in the wake of the 1986 accident, resulting in the resettlement of 336,000 people.

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