On Point: Time to Go Nuclear


by Austin Bay
September 2, 2008

"Das Leben Wahlen -- Stop Kernenergie" the sticker reads in German.

Choose Life. Stop Nuclear Energy.

The sticker is an artifact from a visit to Germany in the early 1980s.

Das Leben Wahlen is printed in German Green Party green, with a verybeautiful leaf. Stop Kernenergie appears in stark black and white, with a huge Xover a nuclear power plant whose etched alien detachment is ironicallyreminiscent of Gort the enforcer robot, the real star of the sci-fi classic "TheDay the Earth Stood Still."

Power from nuclear plants was Death with a capital D -- that was thepropaganda action line. Reject nuclear energy and you are -- to pinch anotherlabel from a divisive American social issue -- Pro-Life.

Attending an anti-nuclear power march was a hip afternoon for manystudents in school in Germany. Trust I didn't participate. I supported buildingnuclear power plants.

That view wasn't a popular one among American students, either. In 1982,a fellow graduate student at Columbia (the guy's hair always smelled ofcigarette smoke) told me I wanted to destroy the Earth. I remember the momentwell -- tea time in Philosophy Hall, and supporting nuclear power plants iscondemned as infinitely benighted and probably more dangerous than supportingthe Pentagon.

Back in Texas around 1990, I got into a verbal tussle on a softballdiamond because I thought the City of Austin was smart to participate in theSouth Texas Nuclear Project. Supporting the STNP was a tough position to take inTravis County four or five years after Russia's Chernobyl disaster, and arguingthat the United States isn't Russia and our safety standards are high made noimpression on an outfielder from South Austin who basically thought the UnitedStates and Soviet Union were moral equivalents.

I also pointed out that France was pursuing nuclear power, but thatproduced an angry, "So what?"

The structural, impersonal answer to the Deep Left Fielder's "So what?"-- some 18 years later -- is around 35 percent of the energy France consumescomes from nuclear power. You'll see higher figures (like 78 percent), but thoseusually reflect the percentage of French electricity generated by nukes.

Four dollars a gallon gasoline has provided a moment of clarity -- no,not for Deep Left Fielders who cling to their anti-nuclear religion, but forpeople able to rationally evaluate risks.

The world will continue to rely on oil and gas as its primary source ofenergy for at least another three to four decades -- with supplies increasinglysqueezed by growing demand from "emerging economies" like those of China andIndia. Beijing and New Delhi recognize that the oil and gas squeeze will affecttheir prosperity, so they are both pursuing nuclear energy as part of an "energymix."

Reliance on one or only a handful of energy sources is a bad idea --which is why solar, geothermal, tidal, wind, conservation and increased energyefficiency are part of any sound strategic energy policy. Run a house on solar,and take the home off the grid. Industry requires power, however, lots of power-- and it needs reliable power.

For three decades, the anti-nuclear lobby has blunted U.S. nuclear energyefforts -- not stopped, but blunted. The United States gets roughly 20 percentof its electricity from nuclear plants -- but it should be getting at leasttwice that much.

Unfortunately, it takes at a minimum of five to seven years to bring anew nuclear power plant on line.

Nuclear power provided an easy partisan political demon, one with anemotional component that frustrated rational discussion. Indeed, nuclear energyhas risks, but burning wood in a fire pit pollutes -- it can irritate your lungswith potentially carcinogenic smoke.

I can hear the fear-mongering ancestor of the Deep Left Fielder in acave, oh, 60,000 years ago. "Don't burn that log, Bay. You will anger the treenymphs, and they will destroy us."

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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