A fissure in the logic of nuclear power

Does anyone really believe our health authorities when they tell us not to worry about the traces of radiation that have now made it halfway around the world? Is anyone actually reassured by the words of John Auerbach, commissioner of the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services, when he tells us, “The drinking water supply in Massachusetts in unaffected by this short-term, slight elevation”? We also hear that there are now trace amounts of radiation in our milk.

I recently asked Pete Seeger whether the U.S. should build any more nuclear plants and he said, “Of course not.”

Hey, that’s good enough for me.

Seeger has been warning us for years about this stuff. Now he lives just slightly up the river from a nuclear plant that, if something there were to go really wrong, that plant could do for New York City what the recent plant failures have been doing for Japan. Would you like to live next to a nuclear plant? I know I wouldn’t.

The other day I asked U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican in a nearby New York Congressional district (the 20th), about the reports that he wants a nuclear plant in his district. It is clear that Gibson wanted to contextualize his earlier remarks. He’s still in favor of nuclear power, but he wants it only as part of a larger reform energy plan. More and more, politicians are finding that nuclear power is a political loser.

Every day the news grows more serious for the Japanese. The amount of radiation around Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex is now substantially higher than the acceptable limits, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The fact that radiation exists in virtually everything does little to reassure us. We’ll be finding out in pretty short order what is safe and what is not.

So this country has to decide whether or not we can afford to have nuclear plants. No less an energy authority figure than the president of the United States has always made clear his view that nuclear power has to be part of the country’s energy plan. In a speech the other day, he reiterated what every modern president has said and what all of us know. He wants to cut down on our reliance on foreign oil.

In my opinion, the problem is not only with the foreign component. Our problem is with what we might call “big oil.” Some might say that these corporations are the real government. If you don’t believe that, start reading some recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including the now infamous “Citizens United” case which gives corporations the right to spend whatever they want to in elections.

These corporate giants are in the energy business. It really doesn’t matter what the product is. In the end, they’ll control our energy. They have been blasted for the so-called hydrofracking approach they are now taking. They know that a big part of this country is sitting on shale and in that shale is natural gas. We have a lot of natural gas out there and trust me, the big boys want it. To get it, they have to force water (as in hydro) and a lot of chemicals, some of which may be quite dangerous, into the ground.

If you haven’t already done so, go see the film “Gasland.” That’ll make you sit up and take notice. There’s one scene of someone turning on a water tap and then putting a match to it and watching it burn. Do you really want to give that water to your kids?

I often wonder whether these powerful people have children or grandchildren. If you want that natural gas, you had better be able to prove, up front, that it can be acquired safely. If we’ve learned one thing from the failure of nuclear plants around the world, it is that you’ve simply got to get it right.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/2/11

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