The USA has lost the will.
by Joe Mehaffey
updated October 2008
In my college days, I loved Electrical Engineering and Physics and studied Nuclear Physics extensively. I earned a BSEE degree and a tuition paid Master’s Degree was in my future. But when it came time to pick a MSEE or a MS degree in Nuclear Physics, my faculty advisor told me that he did not think “politics” was going to allow Nuclear Power to achieve its potential in the coming 20 years and he thought I should get a MSEE degree instead.. I did and he was SO right! Unfortunately.
In the first 2/3 of the 20th Century, our culture was bright with ACHIEVERS. Through the efforts of entrepreneurs and engineers of all kinds, and light regulatory laws, we managed to achieve food for everyone, a home for almost everyone, a car, TV, the Interstate Highway System, and many of what the rest of the world considers “luxuries” for even our “poor”. We even achieved something dreamed of since the beginning of time. We sent men to the moon! Some of this was done by people who chose the most direct route to the goal and who did not have too much concern for how they left the environment. These excesses (and they were excesses) were recognized and have been for the most part corrected.
The last 30 years we have spent "playing it safe", "limiting development" and "conserving resources".
In the process of this “environmentalist revolution” many such people used hysterical scare tactics to push their “safety” and “clean environment” agendas. In the process, they worked very hard and managed to create in the minds of many an image of a nuclear bomb being the same as a nuclear power plant. That image sticks in the minds of many today despite the fact that none of our 103 or so nuclear power plants has ever had a radiation related fatality. A joke going around says that it has proved more dangerous to go riding with Ted Kennedy (or hunting with Dick Cheyney) than the dangers of all the USA Nuclear plants combined. It’s a fact! Not a single person has died in a nuclear power plant from radiation in all history. Yet all you hear in the media is how "dangerous" nuclear power plants are!
Don't think for a moment that any technology except Nuclear Power has the ability to supply, using present or on the horizon technology, the vast energy needs of our country!
But, say some, something AWFUL could happen if we use nuclear power! Well, actually that is true. But.. Airplanes crash, cars crash, trains crash, buildings burn, hurricanes happen, people shoot people, people get burned with gasoline, people get electrocuted and in a thousand other ways, people die every day. Yet, life goes on and we do not stop building cars, airplanes, trains, and we do not shut off the flow of electricity or gasoline. Why is nuclear power singled out for rejection when it is likely the safest industry we have in the country? In my opinion, it is a totally irrational fear of the unknown by the unknowing.
The facts show that in the last 50 years or so of nuclear power, there HAVE been power plant accidents. Some were pretty serious ones. BUT.. No one has died from nuclear radiation causes in the USA nuclear industry. And, the properly designed reactors with containment vessels that we use in the USA, Europe and Japan have done no irreparable damage to the environment. That includes Three Mile Island. Remember how the alarmists foretold to "thousands, maybe tens of thousands dying from Cancer as a result of the Three Mile Island radioactive gas release? It was HOGWASH! Don't believe me? See: http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=three+mile+island+cancer+deaths.
How about Chernobyl you say? Well, that event in Russia resulted from total incompetence. When you put unskilled engineers, and inadequately trained technicians in charge of doing an extremely dangerous test on a reactor without a containment vessel, when they shut down ALL safety devices and put the plant on a collision course with meltdown, you get what you get. Even with that extreme disaster, there were a TOTAL of less than 200 deaths in the 20 years since the explosion which have been directly related to the disaster. This includes the 28 firemen and soldiers who died immediately after the accident. I bet that almost no one reading this can believe that small number! And yet many fearmongers use Chernobyl as the ultimate example of WHY we should never use nuclear power plants. In fact, Chernobyl IS likely an ultimate disaster and the relatively small number of deaths is a prime example that the people who predicted (and still predict) 10,000+ deaths from the event did not know what they were talking about! When will we stop believing these demagogues?! Many unknowing people convinced other unknowing people that such explosions were akin to the end of the world and by so doing stopped progress for 20 years. For the latest report see: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/chernobyl/inf07.htm. Also, use your search engine and search on "Chernobyl+deaths". Now.. There ARE a lot of speculative ideas about how many people MIGHT die from various cancers as a result of the radiation that resulted. The numbers vary from 400 in the next 50 years to 100,000 in the next 50 years (GreenPeace) and many numbers in between. At http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_accident, Some Russian authorities claim that up to 4000 additional cancer deaths have occurred in the last 20 years due to the accident. But there is no proof that this is the case. Automobiles cost us about 40,000 deaths in the USA per year and we weight the cost vs benefit and keep building automobiles. I think we need to only look at the safety record of the USA nuclear industry (zero radiation related deaths in 60 years) to conclude that the price has been EXTREMELY reasonable. Why then NOT build more nuclear power stations?
What about the
disposal of nuclear waste? We have developed storage and
processing for nuclear waste suitable for the foreseeable future at
Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
But because there is a one in a billion chance that something
might go wrong, it is just now beginning to be used. If it does turn
out that we have overlooked something, WE WILL HAVE TO FIX IT and fix
it we will. But the fearmongers will do most anything to delay,
stop, frustrate people who want to move nuclear power forward and the
prevention of the use of the already built underground storage facility
is one more way to stop progress. Ask yourself: Just HOW
dangerous IS nuclear waste? Ever hear of anyone that has been
killed by nuclear waste to date? Hurt? Injured? You
have the picture. If nuclear waste was as "dangerous" as many
people think it is, SOMEONE would have died from it! It CAN
BE dangerous, but not really much more dangerous than many chemicals we
truck around every day. Perfection is impossible, and
undoubtedly, accidents will happen. But when they do, we will
sort them out and live on. But
doing nothing because the ignorant are frightened is a sure formula for
disaster not to mention the huge costs involved with these endless and
useless delays in building more nuclear power stations and storing
waste products. After the dust settles in about 10 or 20 years,
we will all wonder WHY the Yucca Mountain Waste Disposal site took so
long to begin operation. Of course the answer will be that the
fearfully unknowing led the technically ignorant in the wrong
Keep looking in the energy news for the words "concerns", "questions", "fear", "safety", "pollution", "dangerous", and such and you will know how our news media are sowing fear in our country and making it politically impossible for us to become Energy Independent. A constant dose of pessimism IS contagious! Let me remind everyone that burning coal (old technology) is FAR more polluting than nuclear power (new technology) and yet I do not see anyone shutting down coal fired electric plants. Coal fired plants create acid rain, add hundreds of thousands of tons of sulfur oxides, acids and carbon oxides to the atmosphere every year. Why not start by replacing all coal fired plants with nuclear power plants which have almost zero emitted pollutants and a very small amount of solid waste which CAN be recycled? The answer to "Why not?" is that legislators are simply ignorant of the realities and the science of the technologies involved and the country's news media exploit every negative aspect of nuclear power without proper consideration of the overwhelming advantages.
Now we are faced with a really serious energy crunch. Oil and natural gas supplies are about balanced with respect to currently available supply and demand and US and Chinese and other country’s demand is ever increasing. A serious shortage is in sight and here we sit here in the USA paralyzed by fear. We are afraid of nuclear power, afraid of pollution from accidents at offshore oil and gas wells, afraid of acoustical and visual pollution caused by windmills, afraid of causing caribou inconvenience in the wastes of Alaska. We are, as a civilization, terminally afraid of the very progress that it will take to keep our nation prosperous and move us toward the goal that EVERYONE should have. Energy Independence in the next 20 years.
Our forefathers were afraid too.. But they never allowed their fears to trap them into becoming hostages and selling their children’s birthright to buy oil from foreign countries. By maintaining this false sense of the evils of technology, the United States are moving ever closer to the edge of a REAL energy disaster that will inevitably come unless we, as a country, decide to take a “risk” and do whatever it takes to take care of our own energy problems.
Roosevelt said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. That is as true in this situation as it was in the depression of the 1930s. Engineers have proved repeatedly over the last 200 years that every problem has solutions IF they are allowed to work on the problems. Today’s energy problems are no exception but it IS possible for the terminally fearful to put up roadblocks that are politically insurmountable until the day the disaster arrives. Life is dangerous. Living in the USA without adequate energy sources will be VERY dangerous, extremely inconvenient, extremely expensive, and not very comfortable either. We have already had glimpses of what this will be like.
It is time to put the fear mongers in their place, remove the anti-progress litigators from the equation and get on with the job of building nuclear power plants, developing oil fields, windmill technology, solar power and all the other things that will, unless irrational fear continues, make the USA once again, master of its own destiny.
The novel ATLAS SHRUGGED is an interesting viewpoint to consider in the context of this overall problem.