Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Eww Factor

What is it about nuclear power that drives enviros completely 'round the bend? Why does the Sierra Club and every other environmental watchdog group practically lapse into hysterics at the mere mention of it? Easy answer---Three Mile Island. The accident in 1979 catalyzed the growing anti-nuke movement, a subset of the anti-nuclear war ethic, into a roar of disapproval for nuclear power in general. We are about to hit the 30 year anniversary of TMI and the anti-nuke movement is poised to do whatever it can to torpedo any plans for new reactors which are being contemplated in the wake of escalating energy prices.

In the decades since the accident the anti-nuclear power stance has become a deeply imbedded article of faith in the broader environmental movement. "Faith" is a weak word really for the intense fervor displayed by opponents of nuclear power. Snarling white-hot hatred comes much closer to the mark. Anything, anything at all, that smacks of a renewed intent to build new nuclear power stations is reflexively leaped upon with every obstructionist method in the extensive toolbox of the modern environmental extremist.

In the oil producing states here in the U.S. there was a phrase of some currency during the 80's oil boom that said "Let 'em freeze in the dark". This bit of oil patch hubris expressed contempt for the people in non-oil producing sections of the country who were complaining about high oil prices. By all appearances the very model of the modern greenie zeitgeist would be perfectly willing for large parts of the country to sit in the dark and freeze rather than allow any new nuclear power plants to be built. This sentiment is not expressed directly as such of course but is ranged about with endless maundering about how conservation and alternative energy sources will be our salvation so the dreaded nukes need not be employed.

Time and technology do not stand still. There have been numerous reactor designs that have been proposed in the last 29 years that are far safer than the 50s-60s tech not only of TMI but of virtually all other existing powerplants. This matters not a whit to the anti-everything crowd. It really wouldn't matter how safe a proposed design is because to a great many the concept, the every idea itself, is so inchoately horrifying that no argument in favor of nuclear power can be allowed to gain the slightest public traction by the environmental movement. Any such idea is attacked mercilessly, derided and demeaned relentlessly, vasty legal action threatened, media events staged, mailings issued, etc. etc. along with any other tactic, fair or foul, to derail nascent thoughts of nuclear power.

This unbelievably intense fervor has descended into the neurotically paranoiac and will likely remain there for some time. Even the current extremities of global warming alarmism are insufficient for all but a few environmentalists to countenance the idea that nuclear power could be a big contributor to the lowering of our carbon footprint. The anti-nuke propaganda has been so successful over the years that the average person, when he thinks about it at all, probably considers the whole idea as just, well, icky. This "Ewww factor" is more than just a vague public unease with the whole idea. Encouraged and abetted by the anti-nuclear lobbies it is a crushing impediment to the lowering of our usage of fossil fuels and lowering our CO2 atmospheric contributions.

The part about lowering CO2 output doesn't particularly bother me but the left's eternal nuclear kibosh is obstructing our ability to reduce our use of fossil fuels. No other single enterprise, no overpriced impractical inadequate "alternative", has a similar potential to directly reduce fossil fuel use by millions of tons per year. But no it is not to be allowed and no better, sweeter, definition of irony is possible than that the left's hysteria over nukes is in direct conflict with its other salient hysteria, global warming.

The current runup in motor fuel prices is causing a few chinks in this obstructionist armor but we're far away from a major policy retreat by the anti-nukers. The usual last extremity of the anti argument is that we haven't "solved" the technical problems of how to safely store nuclear waste. The general public assumes this is true due to endless propagandizing by the no-nukes for three decades. This assertion is entirely false. We have handily solved the technical problems but what we cannot seem to solve are the political problems. NIMBY NIMBY NIMBY Sounds like a playground taunt when said that way but the cultural juvenilia exemplified by Not In My Backyard is precisely what impedes our nuclear waste solution.

The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site in the Nevada Desert is the safest storage solution that mere humans are going to able to achieve on this planet. It's not perfect but the old saying that "better is the enemy of good enough" applies in spades here. Yucca Mountain is far far better than "good enough". The site is spang in the middle of a vast trackless desert and deep underground in strata as tectonically stable and leakage resistant as exists anywhere in the country and probably the world. Opposition to it is NIMBY writ large and that sentiment is abetted and encouraged as much as possible by the no-nukers. All this in spite of the fact that no Nevadan, casino owner, gay activist, sharpei, toad, or scorpion is likely to be even slightly inconvenienced or nanoscopically exposed to radiation in any way--ever.

Not good enough apparently. Scientists, not being idiots, cannot absolutely 100.00000000000000000000% guarantee that some small leakage of radioactive material could not occur in the next 100,000 years. So long as there is the remotest possibility that there might be a 1 at the end of those 20 zeros then the Yucca site, or any other site, will be resisted to the last desperate gasp by, well, you know. In the final analysis nuclear power, or for that matter nuclear anything, seems to elicit a primal revulsion in activists that submits to no rational argument. What we as a society can do to allay this fear is unknowable but its continued neurotic persistence is a clear threat to our long term economic well-being.


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