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The End of an Error?

March 18, 2011

As someone who’s grown up in the Cold War at the tail end of the Nuclear age, I thought for a long time that Nuclear power was a sensible alternative to oil with a very big danger-factor. Sure, oil spills happen, and they are hard on the environment; but they seem pretty small potatoes compared to what we endured with Three-Mile Island and then Chernobyl.

Then Nuclear industries have characterized what they do in a way that Harry Shearer loves to lampoon so much; “safe, cheap, too clean to meter.” And France adopted power plants across its countryside, and other nations did the same, including, of course, Japan. Throughout that process there were self-appointed canaries in the coal mines; Shearer has been one, especially on his creative internet broadcast, “Le Show.” We’ve all known the folks in town who kept the peeling “No Nukes” bumper stickers long after it seemed to be an issue. “We’re not going to obliterate each other with nukes,” we all said. “Nuclear plants are for energy.”

And then it went into high gear, and now there are nuclear energy plants in many parts of the world.

But the recent tragedy in Japan, with its incalculable human toll, is a watershed moment. Nuclear industries have succeeded in making their “safe/cheap/clean” message normative, to the point where we just about stopped questioning it. This disaster reveals though, that Nuclear energy is a stop-gap measure that ultimately fails; the cost is too great when it goes bad.

As usual, I think we blow it when we try to have it too many ways. We want power for all our beloved devices and lifestyle items (read: air conditioners), but we demand that it all be dirt cheap. And not only cheap: we want it to be out of sight, and not like those “big ugly windmill farms” that folks have tried to erect. If that equation keeps running in the same way, it means that we’re going to need more and more nuclear plants to keep up with demand.

But nuclear is just an excuse. It truly is too dangerous. I believe if we want to continue to have the amount of power we have, we need to explore different ways of getting it. And that’s why I believe in wind farms, now more than ever. At least with a wind farm, we see the true cost of our energy spread out across the land. No more “out of sight, out of mind.” It’s right there, several stories tall. And to equal the amount of power we get from Nuclear plants?

We’re going to need a LOT of windmills.

I continue to pray for a low toll on the lives and environment in Japan and the surrounding countries. I hope we don’t have to lose one heroic worker to radiation sickness. And to honor their efforts, we should stop building these things and move to more responsible (even if less efficient) energy sources.

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