Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Didn’t Know But Now I Care

One Sunday when I was about six I got special permission to miss Sunday school. The permission was important because I didn’t want it to ruin my year of perfect attendance. By the way that was the one and only year when I got perfect attendance. On this particular Sunday my whole family was going to the Port of Galveston to tour the Savannah, a newly commissioned, nuclear powered cargo-passenger ship. I remember very little about the ship tour except looking through large glass windows somewhere in the ship and being told that what we were looking at was the nuclear reactor.
Way back then nuclear energy promised a glorious clean future. People, my parents and grandparents ages had clear memories of the dirty years of the industrial revolution and even of smoke and cinder spewing steam engines. Nuclear energy promised to be the clean and almost eternal energy of the future. Yes, nuclear power was dangerous but science promised that it could be controlled and back then we believed in the power of regulators to regulate.  
Now forty years later I still want to believe in Nuclear Energy. I want to believe it is one of the ways we can produce clean energy and free ourselves from a dependence on foreign resources but I find that harder and harder to believe. We now can see how fortunate we were that the accident at Three Mile Island was contained. The people of the Ukraine were not as fortunate. The accident at Chernobyl involved the breakdown of one reactor but finally required the creation of a 448 sq. km exclusion zone around the plant. And now we watch the disaster at Fukushima continue to develop. What will the final result before the breached reactors and the spent fuel rods? What will happen to the radioactive water? What about sea life? Is a 12 mile evacuation zone enough? Is a 19 mile evacuation zone enough? There are, will continue to be many more questions and I am afraid more bad news.
I am left with a very uncertain belief about the viability of nuclear energy. A quick search shows that there may be as many as 6 nuclear power plants within 100 to 150 miles of where I live, two in Virginia, two in Maryland and two in Pennsylvania. I didn’t even know and before now I had not even cared, but now I do.


  1. Nice new lay out. Is this a theological statement?

    Don't count this in your count...!

  2. What's happening in Japan does make nuclear look very scary... but it's important to consider the alternative: coal.

    NPR had an interview with an environmentalist who'd formerly been anti-nuclear power until the Fukushima Daiichi plant disaster. His change of heart boils down to "Nature threw the worst it could at a very old plant. And, while the result is a disaster, it's nowhere nearly as deadly as coal."

    Or, to put it another way: here's a visual comparison (which is only a little disingenuous, given the amount of power supplied by coal vs. nuclear, but still).