A solution to our energy problems – opinion
For the fossil fuel industry, the availability of a plentiful source of cheap energy is a threat to its survival. Sophisticated nuclear energy plants with redundant safety systems would relegate the use of fossil fuel to the very expensive and filthy alternative it is. Alternatively, it would force the use of fossil fuels to the production of durable goods that improve safety, medicine and many other fields. That would be a rational decision.
The reckless production, marketing and disposal practices that the fossil fuel industry has practiced, mostly with the complicity of legislators and to some extent the government, should be one of the worst passages of the history of our last two centuries. The influence that this sector brandishes is not limited by party association, education levels, or geography. Federal environmental regulations are limited if not non-existent with relation to oil and gas production. Gas and oil production are regulated by the states. These states also depend heavily on the accelerated exploitation of the resources to balance their budgets and to some extent improve the quality of life of its citizens. How do you spell c-o-n-f-l-i-c-t – o-f—i-n-t-e-r-e-s-t?
The resulting morass is a heavily unbalanced climate that favors the fossil fuel industry. Its leaders learned early on how to play on the paranoia created by the media with regards to nuclear energy.
On the other hand, many environmentalists are purist in their believes, maybe because they only see the protection of our planet as an utopic goal. They have also been brain-washed by the media, especially Hollywood that has made many movies exaggerating the relative risk of nuclear power. Many will not even consider the rational discussion of the possibilities of nuclear power. To many nuclear power was frozen in their minds with the explosions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More recent episodes like Chernobyl and Fukushima have served to reinforce this un-analyzed phobia. When in fact a comparison of the deaths caused by nuclear power is but a very small fraction of the deaths caused by traditional fossil fuels even when you consider the two atomic bombs we dropped on Japan. This article provides more information in this respect.
How did we get here?
With the advent of what today we call organic chemistry and the discovery of petroleum as a resource, the world appeared at the verge of a glorious era. Since the biggest need at the time was for cheap energy to power the industrial revolution, a paradigm was created. Billions have been spent in conserving this paradigm and in discrediting anything that limits it. That includes denying that human activity can alter our climate and yes, nuclear energy.
The petrochemical industry has over the years synthesized tens of thousands of products for use as plastics, medicines, medical equipment, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and weapons. As a sideline, only a few thousands have been thoroughly tested for chronic and even acute effects on life.
Of all these uses, many are necessary for life, others we must tolerate until we find other options and others should never be used in our ecosystems. A little-known fact is that after EPA approves a pesticide or herbicide for use, if it wants to recall it because of adverse effects, it must pay not only for its disposal, but it must compensate the companies involved at full cost. No wonder there is no real driving force to retire a product from the market, even when it is harmful. The new EPA (back to basics) will even be more reluctant to exercise its recall authorities according to recent articles.
So how should we use nuclear energy?
It should be used as the real bridge energy source. We should get busy compiling state-of-the-art technology to make it safe. The disposal problems should be handled as France has shown us, with the increase of breeder reactors.
We found the lamp with the genie, we plugged back up, it is time we consider its real benefits instead of relying on the fossil fuel industry and Hollywood to tell us.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is an engineer, Vietnam Veteran and sees the benefit of Nuclear Power. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook (Mario Salazar).
Featured image: Rich, Flickr Creative Commons