On Japan’s nuclear troubles: Nuclear Power and methadone
There is no doubt that nuclear power has some real advantages over coal and oil. In the short run it probably has fewer toxic emissions (mercury from coal fired plants is a significant health problem, for example). Mining uranium, while implicated in toxic waste, probably has less damaging effects than the large-scale land and ocean pollution from oil (oil tankers routinely take more cargo than they can handle and if the weather acts up, they simply jettison it). Though a Native American, with cancer rates eighteen times the national average from uranium mining on Indian land, might disagree.
As well, in the long run, nuclear power produces far less in the way of Greenhouse gases. It is cooler than oil and much cooler than coal.
There is of course this little problem of storing nuclear wastes, poisonous for tens of thousands of years. Storage facilities in the U.S. are all “temporary,” because the federal government has yet to convince any state to accept the wastes. All the promises of “state of the art” and “guaranteed safety” just don’t seem to carry much weight. And the nuclear wastes won’t just take themselves to the storage facility either. They have to be transported. Any time you transport, you face the possibility of accident. And the chance of that simply goes up the more of the stuff there is.
High technology will save us? Fine. Though keep in mind that the people monitoring the safety of the Japanese plant that is now on the edge of blowing up completely were falsifying safety reports for years. Technology is only as good as the people who design and implement it. And the people are only as good as their level of emotional maturity, technological competence, and professional ethics. Since the people involved are ultimately the government and corporations, does that make you feel really safe and secure?
But the real question here is: what are we doing with all this energy that we claim we “must” have, that we “need”? When will we confront the countless ways in which we overuse and waste? Face the simple fact is that no matter how “efficient” the zippy electric cars or the magic nuclear facility, we simply use too much: energy, food, water, land, minerals.
Even at its best, nuclear power is to oil as methadone is to heroin. Perhaps a little less dangerous in some ways, but tying ourselves to it is simply a commitment to the same old pattern. For the addict, it’s an admission that she or he cannot handle life straight. For the wider society it’s a tacit confession that we can’t or won’t face the fact that something large has to change. The addict needs the dope, in just the same way that we “need” constant economic growth and lots of toys.
Of course we can’t go cold turkey on energy, but we sure could cut back. Sadly, we probably won’t. We’re too busy trying to find the next fix.