(Originally published Wednesday, March 11, 2015 on http://haltfermi.blogspot.com/)
Is nuclear power a good idea? Well, that depends.
Utility companies operating nuclear power plants make the basic argument, “We need the energy.” “We” in this context means “our society,” or “our economy,” or just “we, the people who use electricity.” We need the energy.
Picture yourself coming home from work at the end of the day. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. Whichever gender you are, you may be tired from a full day of work, but still need energy to deal with ordinary household stuff – getting something to eat, fixing a leaky faucet, making sure the children do their homework, and so forth.
Well, here’s a solution. Take a hit of cocaine. That will give you the energy to deal with a whole list of household items. Cocaine will actually work – in the short term.
In order to think it’s a good idea, you have to ignore the long-term effects, and just focus on the short-term benefits. You need the energy; take cocaine. Don’t think about consequences for next month or next year. Don’t worry about making a habit of it, just get through the day.
That’s exactly the sense in which nuclear power is cocaine for the electrical grid. Sure, there’s the possibility of a meltdown, causing the permanent evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people – or millions, depending on which way the wind blows. Sure, there’s no known solution for what to do with “spent fuel” and other highly radioactive waste. Maybe we can put off dealing with it for a century or so longer. (That’s the actual summary of current nuclear industry recommendations for their toxic waste.)
Get energy now. Ignore long-term consequences. Pretend that someone will figure something out, so you don’t have to worry about it now. Just get the damned energy you “need.” if you actually accept all the consequences, maybe you’ll figure out you don’t really “need” energy that comes with all the risk of disaster.
The nuclear industry and their political servants will argue endlessly that “we need the energy.” Well, do we? Do you accept that idea, or not? That’s the fundamental question you have to answer for yourself.