Sunday, February 1, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Per Capita Davis: Is nuclear power worth the dangers?

JohnMott-SmithW

By
From page A3 | February 16, 2012 |

Well, I can’t put it off any longer. A small newspaper article buried deep in the interior pages on Sunday announced that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted a license for two new nuclear reactors to be built in the state of Georgia. The plant will take a while to build — estimates are it could begin producing power in 2016 — and there certainly could be delays between now and then.

But still, the tiny announcement raises a huge question that I don’t have an answer to: What do I think about nuclear energy?

It used to be simpler. Whether for real or imagined reasons, there has not been a new license issued in the United States since 1978, when Jimmy Carter was president, a gallon of gas cost 79 cents, and the first cell phone was introduced.

The Three Mile Island nuclear near-meltdown was in 1979 and since that event, nuclear power has been, at least in this country, judged to be too risky.

Certainly, the nuclear industry continued to advocate for this source of power, but public opinion held it to be too dangerous, for several reasons: Nuclear power plants can blow up or leak radiation, there’s no safe place to store the waste and for all practical purposes it lasts forever, and even if there were a place to dispose of the waste no one wants it transported from the plant through their city or town to the waste dump.

Not insignificantly, some nuclear waste could be used to build atomic bombs, something the planet does not need more of. And besides, until recently, electrical energy was cheap and the threat of climate change was not yet in the public mind.

Back when I was in college and sitting around very late at night with other undergraduate English majors discussing with deep seriousness what we took to be the greater philosophical issues of the human condition, one of the participants asked a question that sparked general hilarity: “If you’re standing up to your neck in a vat of rhinoceros poop (not an exact quote) and someone throws a bucket of elephant vomit at you, would you duck?”

This is where I am with the question of the role of nuclear power in our energy future. On the one hand, it’s carbon-free and to the extent that it replaces either new or existing coal plants it would be a positive in terms of climate change. But it comes with very serious risks, as we have seen at Chernobyl (1986), and most recently with Fukushima (2011).

Nuclear proponents argue that the fears that derailed the nuclear industry are no longer as relevant as they once were. Risk cannot be eliminated, but nuclear power is said to be safer with significantly lower incidence of accidents (unless, perhaps, you build one in the path of a tsunami).

Proponents also argue that new technology substantially reduces the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons and point out that 30 countries operate nuclear power plants, with France leading the way with nearly 80 percent of its electricity coming from this source.

Others point out that we have new worries: Nuclear power plants could be targets for terrorism, for example, and nuclear plants sited near population centers (17 million people live within a 50-mile radius of Indian Point in New York) are prime targets.

And it’s not like it never happens: Since 1980, there have been nearly a dozen attacks against nuclear power plants in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Israel.

So, when I’m confused, I turn to the experts. There are two I look to most for their opinions on matters related to climate change. One is Bill McKibben, who has been a powerful voice on the subject of global warming and is spearheading the 360.org campaign to bring atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to safer levels.

The other is James Hansen, who was one of the first and over time the most consistent ringer of the warning bell about the adverse consequences of climate change. The trouble is, they’re on opposite sides of the issue.

McKibben says no to nuclear power, pointing out the dangers. Hansen says the technology has improved, the risks have been reduced substantially, and more than anything else the problem of global warming is so serious (think rhinoceros poop) that we have to include nuclear energy in our response. No help here, other than to reinforce my confusion.

Another hero, Amory Lovins, is coming to Davis later this month to make his case for why he thinks we don’t need nuclear to get out of the way of the global warming train wreck; he says we can do it all with solar and other renewables. His is not a universally shared opinion.

I hope I’m not boring you with all this back-and-forth. It seems to me that many of the people I have brought this up with have a similar confusion or ambivalence, with smart, thoughtful people on both sides.

This is going to take more than one column. In the meantime, I’d appreciate any thoughts anyone might have on this topic.

— John Mott-Smith is a somewhat confused resident of Davis. This column is published on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Send comments to [email protected]

Comments

comments

John Mott-Smith

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    The end of an era for The Enterprise, as pressroom closes

    By Kimberly Yarris | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Jewish fraternity vandalism classified a hate crime

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

    Well-loved library has services for all ages

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
     
    Man arrested after body parts found in suitcase

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Islamists post beheading video

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    More than a foot of snow possible for Midwest, Northeast

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    UCD Med Center patient tested negative for Ebola

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Kudos to the Thomsons

    By Sue Cockrell | From Page: A3

     
    Arboretum ‘I do’

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    The story of Mark and Maria

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

    Summer lovin’

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    Stories come alive at the library

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

    Lee will speak Wednesday about city issues

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Training starts Tuesday for Jepson Prairie Preserve tour guides

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Lecture looks at women in Egypt

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

     
    Stepping Stones supports grieving youths

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9Comments are off for this post

    Vote for your favorites in Readers’ Choice poll

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Japanese students seek Davis host families

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    And bingo was the game-o

    By Tate Perez | From Page: A9

     
    Tuleyome Tales: Searching for the elusive McNab cypress

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    Questions and answers about breast cancer set

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    Davis Arts Center welcomes students’ work

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    .

    Forum

     
    How much drinking is too much?

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    Help a veteran feel loved

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A10

     
    Three old ideas going, going, gone

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A10

    Act would let patients control their own fates

    By Our View | From Page: A12

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

    They’re experienced and honest

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Toy drive was a big success

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    One-way street solves dilemma

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Council, follow your own policies

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    Ensure that you’re protected against measles

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

     
    Wi-Fi in our schools could result in health impacts

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13

    Life goes on in Rutilio Grande, despite country’s gang violence

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13 | Gallery

     
    .

    Sports

    UCD women survive against winless UCSB

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Foursome will represent Davis at national soccer tournament

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Depth charge: DHS girls defeat Elk Grove

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Blue Devil boys lose on Herd’s buzzer-beating trey

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Kings get past Pacers

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Sharks blank Blackhawks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    UCD roundup: Aggies make a racket but fall to Sac State, Pacific

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    And the survey says: Success for Davis Chamber

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

     
    Putah Creek Winery launches ‘Give Back Tuesday’

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

    Doby Fleeman: Toward a more perfect Davis

    By Doby Fleeman | From Page: A12

     
    Ullrich Delevati, CPAs, adds senior accountant

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

    Seminar will cover business challenges

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A13

     
    Japanese fondue dips into Davis scene

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A13 | Gallery

    Novozymes, Cargill continue bio-acrylic acid partnership as BASF exits

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13

     
    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, February 1, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8