Learning to love nuclear power

One reason I appreciate a good newspaper/news site is its potential for stopping people like me in our tracks to make us think fresh thoughts (if not always change our minds) while events are fresh, maybe even still in progress. Strike while the iron’s hot, right?

A column in the Guardian, a national British newspaper, provided a valuable example this week. Like any good column, this isn’t objective “reporting,” but it uses “reportage” to make a point. In this case, George Monbiot, a regular writer for the Guardian, makes the case FOR nuclear power, which isn’t what you’d expect from an environmental activist. His column came out just a few days ago — that is, after the tsunami hit the Japanese nuclear plant in Fukushima, sending entire nations, such as Germany, into full retreat from their nuclear programs.

The fearful responses are understandable. I’m not all that comfortable with nuclear power, and the Japanese disaster has resurrected old fears around the world. On the other hand, living in southern Appalachia, I’m not all that thrilled with what the coal industry is doing to the environment either. Mountaintop removal, anyone?

I don’t discount for a moment how many jobs rely on coal mining. But we need a long-term energy plan that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, both coal and oil, and we have only so many options.

That’s Monbiot’s point: nuclear isn’t perfect, but by analyzing data he’s concluded it’s not only a viable option, but a more desirable and safer option than fossil fuels.

What to do? It’s not a simple issue, and I’m not really sure. But I’m grateful for Monbiot and other writers who don’t impose artificially simple solutions on complicated problems and retreat into predictable positions. Rather than steer away from complexity, he did his homework and drove a surprising route right into the middle of it.

I wish more journalists would do that.

2 thoughts on “Learning to love nuclear power

  1. He was interviewed on “All Things Considered” yesterday via Skype, http://tinyurl.com/4n6vtkb.

    I was most convicted by this statistic, “Now, in China alone, between 5,000 and 20,000 people every year are killed in industrial accidents in coal mines. And the death rate from coal-fired energy is hundreds, thousands of times greater than the death rate in nuclear.”

  2. I heard Monbiot on All Things Considered yesterday and was impressed with his reasonableness. He said something like, “If, after the worst tsunami and earthquake damage imaginable, the damage isn’t actually catastrophic, that speaks well of reactor safety. Some expect on Fox made the point that every power source has its own downside, carbon emissions for carbon based sources, environmental effects to land from hydro electric and of course, radiation from nuclear–but reactors are just plain scarier, whether or not the Japanese damage results in actual long term illnesses or death. I would like to know how advanced current designs are to the Japanese models. Bottom line, there are consequences to any power generation tech we chose so we’d better be realistic.

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