Friday, December 3, 2010

Hiding in Plain Sight

In her book Third World America, Arianna Huffington describes several disasters that have recently struck our country that all have two things in common:  their impact could have been prevented or mitigated except for the incompetence or malfeasance of those in power, and the long term impact was much worse than the powers-that-be led us to believe.  The list is long and tragic, and includes:
  • The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • The impact of the Katrina hurricane and destruction of the levees.
  • The bursting of the housing bubble.
  • The foreclosure crisis.
  • The inadequacy of the stimulus package and its anemic impact on jobs.
  • The licensing process for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig. 
Notwithstanding the deleterious impact on the deficit and the economy if tax windfalls for the wealthy are allowed to continue, there’s another disaster-in-waiting that is being ignored by the regulators and those in governmental power.

Today, America is at a crossroads with regard to energy production.  As electric vehicles, large data centers, and the  general increase in demand on our electricity grid, significant investments in research, development, and deployment of clean, efficient power generation technology will be needed over the next decade and beyond.  There are many who look at nuclear power generation as a panacea for our dependence on polluting fossil fuels from domestic and foreign sources.  Yet, the unsolved problems with nuclear are usually downgraded or ignored in the discussion.  I’m not referring to a Chernobyl or even a Three Mile Island meltdown, but rather to the yet-to-be resolved issue of transport, storage, and safekeeping of tons of toxic nuclear waste.  Today, most commercial nuclear waste is stored on site.  Even ignoring the expense of mitigating the risk in transport to a safe location, the United States has no comprehensive plan for the long-term secure storage of such waste.  The safeguarding of our waste repositories against terrorists is usually performed by private for-profit low-bidder contractors.

Instead of investing our taxpayer and utility dollars in nuclear with its often hidden (i.e. unreported) long-term costs, we should spend that money on developing and deploying efficient renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.  This will probably be portrayed as being more expensive in the short term because the fossil fuel industries (including nuclear) fail to take into account the clean-up costs from normal operations and the inevitable accidents.  Can there be accidents with wind turbines?  Sure.  But I can’t imagine a scenario where a wind farm would require billions of dollars and several millennia to make things whole.  Yet this is the exact scenario we are facing with nuclear power. 

America needs to invest billions to secure our energy future.  Let’s spend our money wisely and forego the problems of nuclear that are hidden in plain sight.  Place our energy bets on solar and wind –where we have better odds of a clean and prosperous future.

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