Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Learning from Another Worst-Case Scenario

In my climate change class, I have become accustomed to saying that “nuclear energy has to be on the table” as an alternative source of energy.  It has been an easy thing to say as it appeals to the political conservatives I have in the room and generally appears reasonable to others in light of the grave risks of climate change that we discuss in class.  Now I ask myself, how does Japan change things?  Do I still espouse the view that nuclear energy should be among the energy alternatives that we seriously consider and likely pursue? 

One thought that I am having is that, as we make energy policies, our decision-making processes must identify and analyze worst case scenarios.  As we learned with the BP oil spew (I can’t call it a spill when it wasn’t) and now this, worst case scenarios really can happen.  Also, the events in Japan are changing my thinking about the human health and environmental risks of nuclear energy.  I must have drunk some of the industry’s Kool-Aid on the safety of nuclear plants because I had become accustomed to thinking that the most significant risks were in waste disposal. 

Also, like the BP oil spew, this tragedy brings me back to the pressing need to reduce our energy use.  Energy efficiency is not only the SAFEST energy source, but also the most abundant, cleanest, cheapest, and fastest.  For a primer on energy efficiency policy, I recommend viewing “Clean, Cheap, Plentiful: Energy Efficiency” a video produced in late 2010 by International Rivers.  Consider this statement made in the video by Dr. Art Rosenfeld, who has been called the father of energy efficiency:

"If we had kept up the rate at which… electricity was growing in 1973, 5% a year…[then today] every eight miles between the Mexican border and San Francisco, there would be a nuclear power plant. Now obviously that didn’t happen. In fact, there are 2 instead of 400."

Now that should motivate some energy efficiency, shouldn't it?

- Lesley McAllister


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