Sunday, July 3, 2011

Watching the Watchers: In Which I Change My Position On Fission

For a long time, I have supported nuclear fission as the best of a bad group of choices for large scale power generation. It doesn't depend on geography the way solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power does. It doesn't produce airborne pollution. And, costs remain competitive with fossil fuels. (Though the costs are going up across the board, enough so that in some areas wind power is now competitive with nuclear.) Of course, the little matter of radioactive waste remains. For the most part, I trusted that proper safety and disposal was in the best interests of the nuclear power industry, in spite of the failure of the Yucca Mountain national nuclear waste repository.

In recent years, we have seen government fail over and over to address pressing long term issues, including the aforementioned waste disposal. The Fukushima disaster highlights the dangers of stored nuclear waste, and the US has been without a comprehensive plan for decades. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shined a light on the all-too-cozy relationship between industry regulators and the industry they are supposed to police. And now the AP's Jeff Donn gives us a massive article showing that the nuclear industry, favoring continued operation of its aging reactors, and the profit compared to new infrastructure, over safety. I know it's a lengthy read, but I think it's well worth the time.

In light of the influence industry now holds over government, trusting that altruism will win out over the Darwinian game of growth and profits that the stock market imposes on the deregulated utility companies appears to be putting our faith in a very fragile, possibly already broken, system. And so, I live and learn. As of now, I'm completely off the nuclear bandwagon. Alternative, renewable energy sources continue to improve every year. Putting the investment into the infrastructure needed for those technologies instead of a new generation of nuclear reactors seems to make complete sense. The time has come to stop thinking of the best of a bad set of solutions and start thinking about some that can actually be good.

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