We are not Japan — Our nuclear is clean, safe and reduces foreign oil
There is a story about a wealthy man who sought the world’s safest place in which to build his home, a place free from all dangers, natural and man-made. After expending a considerable sum researching such a location, he determined that a particular island in the South Atlantic fit the criteria.
The man spared no expense in constructing the most solid, fortified and beautiful home — one that was virtually impregnable.
But after planning for all contingencies, something happened for which he had not accounted.
The man found himself directly in the line of fire — of the Falkland Islands War.
The point? Life is full of risks, and despite some people’s naïve belief that risks are avoidable, they are not. Instead, our focus should be on mitigating those risks in common sense ways while still living in the real world.
But we don’t.
Already, we have heard the calls to reevaluate our nuclear power program (codespeak for phasing it out of existence) because of the situation in Japan. And God forbid that we should actually forge ahead with new nuclear plants, several of which have been recently approved. That would be dangerous and foolhardy, we are now told.
So let’s get that mentality straight. We should shelve nuclear expansion — a virtually zero emission power source that significantly reduces reliance on foreign oil from hostile nations — because of problems half a world away?
Problems that directly resulted from Japan being front-and-center on the notorious Ring of Fire — home to 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes and 75 percent of its volcanos. And problems that, for the most part, America doesn’t have, since almost none of the country sits on that Ring.
That’s not just naïve. That’s self-inflicted stupidity.
The United States has 104 nuclear plants in operation, accounting for 20 percent of our electricity consumption. It should be double that number, but for decades, leadership has been sorely lacking in both political Parties, and the American people are extremely short-sighted on all-things energy.
So now that we’re facing $4/gallon fuel — with experts predicting $5 by next year , which significantly inflates the prices of almost everything due to increased transportation costs — what are our options? We have none.
Our drills in the Gulf sit idle, Alaska is pumping but a fraction of its resources, there is no drilling off our continental coasts, and natural gas companies are shutting down operations because the demand is so low.
And now, the stigma of Japanese nuclear problems, combined with political cowardice, will all but halt the expansion of our nuclear program.
We can’t have it both ways. If paying less at the pump, bolstering national security and reducing greenhouse emissions are important, then nuclear power is the only real alternative.
So instead of punting away such a proven and safe energy source, America’s leaders need to show political courage by telling the people the truth, not what they may want to hear.
And here is the truth:
1) Unequivocally, China will not allow its nuclear program to be sidetracked or slowed by the problems in Japan. They have 27 new plants under construction, including the most advanced reactors in the world. While we bury our heads in the sand and bog down any new construction with litigation, our biggest economic and military competitor will continue to challenge our status as the world’s only superpower. And because of their determination and mettle, they will surpass us in a decade.
2) Nuclear power plants are safe. As is the case with anything, risks exist, but with proper oversight and increased fail-safe measures, many of which were implemented after the September 11 attacks, those risks are well within acceptable limits. And for those who may think this author is a NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard —there are four nuclear plants that literally surround my region.
Outside of the Three Mile Island (TMI) incident in 1979, there has never been a major accident in the United States. And not to minimize the seriousness of TMI, not only was no one hurt or killed, but numerous independent evaluations, including a 13-year study of 32,000 people, concluded that there were no adverse effects to the surrounding population.
3) Numerous ships in the United States Navy are nuclear-powered (including all aircraft carriers and submarines), allowing them to travel non-stop at high-speed without needing to refuel for twenty five years. Not only do these vessels represent a huge cost savings and are environmentally-friendly, since they forego two decades’ worth of oil, but they are an incalculable asset to America’s national security. And in more than 5,400 "reactor years" of operation with 500 reactors, and well over 130 million miles steamed, there has never been a nuclear accident.
4) Much of the damage to Japan’s plants was due to the tsunami after the earthquake. A common sense policy might be to build American plants several miles inland from the sea and not on fault lines, especially on the more-earthquake prone West Coast. While the rest of the country is not immune to earthquakes and tidal waves, the likelihood of those events occurring on even a fraction of the scale in Japan is remote. And America’s nuclear facilities are designed to withstand the power of the largest earthquakes.
America’s nuclear energy policy cannot and must not be formulated by what happens in other parts of the world where natural disasters (Japan) or human incompetence (Chernobyl) exist.
Common sense tells us that we can increase our nuclear-power knowledge from Japan’s unfortunate series of events. Those "lessons learned," combined with the huge technology advances that have been realized from the days of TMI, would make America’s nuclear program the envy of the world.
Incredibly, it has taken a Democratic President to push this initiative, despite the vehement objections of his Party’s biggest constituencies.
With Republicans in control of the House and poised to take over the Senate, there is absolutely no excuse for not pushing ahead on the next generation of American nuclear power plants, which would be the first constructed in three decades.
With no end to soaring fuel prices and the Asian Tiger’s appetite growing every day, Americans should embrace nuclear power for what it is: a gift of clean and limitless energy.
To ignore this reality would be too great a risk.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigativereporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]