A wealthy man sought the world’s safest place to build his home. After expending a considerable sum, he determined an island in the South Atlantic best fit the criteria.
He spared no expense in constructing the most fortified house, but then something happened for which he had not accounted. The man found himself in the middle of the Falklands War.
Life is full of risks, and despite some people’s naïve belief, they are not avoidable. Instead, our focus should be on mitigating them in common-sense ways while living in the real world.
But we don’t.
For example, there are loud calls for moratoriums and a “re-evaluation” of our nuclear power program (codespeak for phasing it out) because of the situation in Japan.
So let’s get this straight. We should shelve nuclear expansion — zero emission power that significantly reduces foreign oil dependency from hostile nations — because of problems half a world away?
Problems resulting from Japan's location on the 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.
That’s not just naïve, it's self-inflicted stupidity.
The United States' 104 nuclear plants account for 20 percent of our electricity consumption. It should be more, but for decades, leadership has been sorely lacking in both political parties, and the American people are short-sighted on all things energy.
So now that we’re facing the possibility of $5 per gallon fuel and widespread inflation, what are our options?
We have none.
Our drills in the Gulf sit idle; Alaska is pumping 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 the stigma of Japanese nuclear problems, combined with political cowardice, will all but halt our nuclear expansion.
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 alternative.
So instead of punting such a proven and safe energy source, America’s leaders need to show political courage by telling the truth:
- Unequivocally, China will not allow its nuclear program to be sidetracked. They have 27 plants under construction, including the world's most advanced reactors. While we bury our heads in the sand and bog down 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, they will surpass us in a decade.
- Nuclear power plants are safe. Risks exist, but with proper oversight and increased fail-safe measures, many of which were implemented after the Sept. 11 attacks, those risks are within acceptable limits. And this author is no NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard — as there are four nuclear plants that surround my region. Outside of the Three-Mile Island incident in 1979, there has never been a major accident in the United States. Not only was no one hurt, but independent evaluations, including a 13-year study of 32,000 people, concluded there were no adverse effects to the population.
- The United States Navy operates nuclear-powered ships (including all aircraft carriers and submarines), requiring them to refuel once every 25 years. These environmentally-friendly vessels are not just cost-effective, but are a strategic asset to national security. And in more than 5,400 “reactor years” with 500 reactors, and over 130 million miles steamed, there has never been a nuclear accident.
- Much of the damage to Japan’s plants was tsunami-related. Common sense would be to build future American plants several miles inland and not on fault lines, especially on the West Coast. While the rest of the country is not immune to disasters, the likelihood of those catastrophic events occurring is extremely remote. And America’s nuclear facilities are designed to withstand the largest earthquakes.
America’s nuclear policy must not be formulated by what happens in other parts of the world where disasters (Japan) or incompetence (Chernobyl) exist.
The lessons-learned from Japan’s unfortunate situation, combined with major technology advances, would make America’s nuclear program the envy of the world.
Incredibly, it has taken a Democratic president to push this initiative, despite vehement objections from his party’s biggest constituencies.
With Republicans controlling the House and poised to take the Senate, there is no excuse for not pushing ahead on the next generation of American nuclear power plants.
With no end to soaring fuel prices and the Asian Tiger’s appetite growing, 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 investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, FreindlyFireZone.com, and he can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com
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