A friend of mine came up to me the other day and lobbied me to lend my voice to the fight against nuclear energy.Â She argued well that despite my beliefs that nuclear is the â€œbridge technologyâ€ required to get â€œusâ€ from petroleum based energy consumers to renewable based energy consumers, nuclear energy may well not be the best solution.Â Well enough for me to take a closer look, anyway.
First a little background.
My basic thinking going into the conversation goes a little something like this:
1.Â Oil, as an energy source is simultaneously running out and necessary (for certain vital purposes). Not only should the use of oil be curtailed – for the sake of the environment etc. – but conservation of the resource should be a priority.Â Therefore, some substitute must be put in place, and this alternate energy source needs to be implemented (or at least begin getting implemented) very soon.
2. Nuclear power, and related infrastructure, currently exists to a degree that can support the transition between petroleum and renewable energy sources.Â Further (and possibly more importantly), the existing – non-depreciated – investment in nuclear energy, and the corresponding stakeholders interest in seeing their investment through to maturity, create a formidable barrier to entry for new technology.
3. I believe that ultimately, nuclear energy is not a safe solution for the planet.Â Nuclear waste is unstable and dangerous for roughly 10,000 years (scientists tell us, obviously, this is an untested number).Â On a planet with swiftly dwindling open spaces due to rapid population growth, there is no reasonable way to expect we will be able to co-exist with the volume of nuclear waste for the next few hundred years, let alone the 10,000 it will take before the first batch is considered a non-biohazard.Â Further, based on the afore mentioned rapid population growth, non-renewable (i.e nuke) solutions are rapidly ceasing to be an alternative in long range planning.
As such, I have been left with my existing mindset that nuclear power is the logical bridge (but only a bridge (read: a transitory connector) to renewable energy).
The problem with my thought process and conclusion (in my mind), and the barrier to me really entering the conversation, is two fold.Â First of all – and I can admit this – I am generally ignorant on the topic.Â For the most part I am dealing with a very small sub-set of the data available on this topic.Â Secondly… in a word… money.
I find it hard to believe the money necessary to implement a nuclear bridge will be invested in something that is a known temporary solution, making the entire idea of nukes as a bridge technology a non-starter.Â If we start down the path of increasing the footprint of nuclear power on the national energy supply, I do not see that tack changing until forced by some critical, probably life threatening, situation.Â This course, to me, is untenable based on point #3 above.
My uncle, one of the most intelligent people I know, once told me (and I have since heard the same thing said many times) that people will not make substantive change until there is an actual need to do so. Until a critical mass of people believe a problem has reached the point where it is a threat to them, that problem will not be a barrier to the status quo. (Note: that is my paraphrase of the concept, not a direct quote… sorry if I butchered your message Pat )
In just the past few years, we have seen this with the internet bubble and with sub-prime mortgages. Many argue we are seeing this very phenomenon at work as the world wrestles with global warming. While Just In Time (JIT) practices work well in some business situations I think it is pretty obvious that when the stakes are high enough, brinkmanship should not be the order of the day.
If Al Gore is right about Global Warming (and Iâ€™m not here to say he is or isnâ€™t… that is a topic for another day), hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people may be put in harms way before we have time to react to the mess we are creating.
Nuclear waste gives me the same reason for pause.Â Can we afford to be wrong about this?Â Can we afford to wait however long it takes for a critical mass of people to be threatened by it?Â
Being wrong about company valuations and mortgages cost people money; being wrong about the potential dangers of nuclear waste (or global warming) could cost people their lives.
I teach my kids the concept of the â€œone time mistake.â€Â The fact that there are certain mistakes that are so large, you only make them once… and then all (relating to that mistake) is lost.Â When you face a choice that includes an option that, if you are wrong, is a one time mistake; you had better be damn sure you are right before following that path.
I fear that nuclear energy (specifically nuclear waste), en mass, might be such a mistake. I am not absolutely certain that we wonâ€™t contaminate our planet beyond habitability before enough of us even realize we are doing it to make a necessary course correction.
There is no one capable of deeming humanity â€œto big to failâ€ should we make a fatal mistake; there cannot and will not be any â€œbail outs.â€Â If we mess this up we live (read: die) with the consequences.Â With that in mind, and knowing there are safe, sustainable, renewable options… does it really make sense to roll those dice?
I love to gamble, as an of my friends (especially the ones who have been to Vegas with me) can attest. However, as Kenny Rogers would say, â€œyou gotta know when to fold â€˜emâ€ and when it comes to nuclear energy, I think its time to run…