Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The nuclear issue & security

I've been very disappointed, though not at all surprised over the hyperventilating over nuclear energy in the aftermath of the disaster in Japan. I noticed even as early as Friday night, the day of the earthquake and tsunami, that some voices on the left, eager not to let a crisis go to waste, had started building the case against the use of nuclear energy.

Without question this has been an extremely serious situation which could still have catastrophic consequences, so it's understandable to want to have a knee-jerk reaction to this, but we need to stay focused and rational as we take a deeper look into the issue of the use and security of nuclear energy.

I think we all should be assessing the risks of nuclear power and how to make it safer. In the case of the Fukushima plant in Japan there was much that went right {the plant apparently withstood the earthquake well} and many things that went wrong {backup systems apparently failed due to the tsunami}. But to me this is no reason to now take a hard stand against the use of nuclear plants in the U.S. nor prohibiting the addition of more of them.

Nuclear power clearly isn't the panacea to our ever-growing energy problems, nothing yet designed is or could be, but I do think it is one of many sources that we're going to have to rely on for many decades to come. In fact, I believe we will need to rely on it more as we move away from coal — a move which most environmentalists demand and I agree with. This in concert with hydro-electric, limited use of coal & natural gas, along with more wind, solar and perhaps tidal generation, while continuing in energy conservation should easily meet our energy needs into the 22nd century. We'll also still be cutting carbon emissions as we do.

From what I've read over the years, nuclear facilities are much safer now than they were decades ago. That said, in the U.S., are standards are reportedly well below that of the Japanese, and their standards are clearly not adequate for the conditions they are likely to deal with in the region. We need to take a very serious look at that. What safety regulations are we going to need to match conditions which we have to meet with tsunamis along the coasts, hurricanes in the Gulf, earthquakes in places like California, Missouri and New York, and tornadoes throughout the mid-west.

Of course this isn't all. One thing that has concerned me even more than natural disasters or equipment failures leading to a, is terrorism. The way I see it, when it comes to a nuclear attack, we face a larger probability of terrorists seizing a nuclear power plant rather than somehow acquiring a nuclear or radiological device and bringing it into the country to detonate.

Just as on 9/11, terrorists didn't find a way to use military planes to bomb us, they used our own infrastructure against us. They hijacked our civilian planes, flew them into non-military buildings, and it required little resources to do this. I'm concerned of the same sort of terrorist jujutsu in regards to nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

It seems to me that security at our nuclear facilities should be more like military bases, or super-max prisons. From what I've read they are not nearly secure enough, and that is inexcusable.

I'd like to see much more focus put on making nuclear power plants safer and less lobbying to eradicate the technology entirely. There are risks inherent in relying on it as an energy source, but there are ways of minimizing those risks and developing contingencies to deal with it when things go wrong. It's not practical in the foreseeable future, however, to take nuclear power out of the equation and still meet the energy needs our country is going to demand. Unless, of course, we don't mind a lot more coal and gas-fired plants.

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