A New Nuclear Energy Debate

Like most liberals, I’ve generally been opposed to nuclear power. Creating waste products that are hazardous for millennia seems dubious to me. The Chernobyl disaster has always loomed large in my mind as a tragic warning about nuclear power.

But I’m perfectly willing to reconsider my own opinions as the situation warrants. Lately, I seem to have found more and more reason to reevaluate my position on nuclear power.

I was reminded a few months ago of the fact that Europe and other parts of the world make extensive use of nuclear power. Much of Europe receives over half of their energy from nuclear power plants—France almost 80% (Though it should be noted that there is a move to reduce nuclear production in many nations, such as Germany, Belgium, Spain and Sweden). Despite the widespread utilization of nuclear energy, there has never been any accident or disasters outside of Chernobyl. Are our fears unfounded? Is nuclear energy essentially safe? How does Europe and other nuclear dependent nations deal with waste disposal? Have they resolved the issue in a manner we could examine and adopt? I haven’t studied the issue enough to say, but it seems worth investigating.

More recently, a number of environmental advocates have begun to advocate the expansion of nuclear power. In several of his interviews, and presumably in his book, Tim Flannery has suggested that nuclear power is, despite its flaws, a better alternative to continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Over the weekend, no less a person than Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, threw in his support for Nuclear Power. Whoever would have imagined that in their wildest dreams?! But he seems to make a compelling case.

I’m not yet swayed. I’m not about to start beating the drum for reactors here in Utah. There is no magic energy pill that will solve all our problems. The first step in dealing with energy issues is to try as much as possible to curb our energy consumption. Energy producers and users should not be allowed to externalize their costs by shipping their waste elsewhere. If they’re gonna reap the benefits, they should deal with the consequences themselves.

But in light of the fact that energy consumption will continue to grow regardless of attempts to conserve, and the fact that the environmental effects of fossil fuels continue to grow, I think it worthwhile to open the debate and reexamine the issue.

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