Monday, August 23, 2004

what else is left unspoken

in sunday's NYT, daniel akst commits a couple hundred words to solving our nation's ongoing energy 'crisis' in the name of frankness and honesty. and like most solutions that seem surprisingly pat and straightforward, he indulges in exactly the sin he rightfully pins to our esteemed presidential candidates.

"We'll also need to be like the French," he says, "and start a national nuclear power program!" At this point, stunned by his own words, the candidate looks suspiciously into his glass, then pours himself a refill. "France gets three-quarters of its electricity from nukes, thanks to standardized construction, strong centralized oversight and - are you ready for this? - American technology. It works great."

By now there is an ominous hubbub in the room.

"Oh, grow up!" the candidate says. "Global energy demand is insatiable. It's tied to the growth that is hauling China and India out of poverty. Fossil fuels kill more people in about five minutes from coal-mining accidents, air pollution, wars and whatnot than have ever died from nuclear power. Nobody in their right mind would build a plant like Chernobyl today, so don't worry about that. We'll even recycle spent fuel."

This is honest straight talk ? Sure, nuclear power solves the carbon dilemma quite nicely, and from a clean air perspective its a giant leap forward. But Akst's confident dismissal of reactor safety is irresponsible at best, and his failure to even touch on the vexing issue of nuclear waste beyond the notion of recycling spent fuel is equally troubling. even assuming that Akst is planning for a future in which nuclear plants are not INCREDIBLY attractive and potentially nightmarish targets for al quaeda and the like (a future we would all love to plan for, but can hardly afford to) perhaps the most surprising aspect of his piece is that it resides in the NYT's Business section while conveniently omitting the fact that nuclear power is one of the most expensive per KWH power sources on the planet, even WITHOUT taking into account massive government subsidization or the issue of insurability.

hey, we'd all love for there to be an easy answer. and nuclear power may be a small or large part of the eventual solution. but the answers won't be easy and they wont be simple. if the discussion is going to be honest and open, lets hold ourselves to the same standard.

- LH


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