Lately I am informed that nuclear energy is safe, clean, and the only sensible solution to our climate and energy woes. Opposition is ignorant and parochial, because “the technology is better now.” This is usually said by earnest and reasonable people who are at least a decade younger than me.
When I was a young’un, the idea was that we would reduce our energy consumption. “Technology” would help us do that, by becoming ever-more energy efficient.
Hahaha. Oh, the naiveté of youth.
Today, I live not far from a “solar farm,” acres covered with solar panels. The panels are expensive, took a lot of energy to produce, transport, and install, and will be outdated and obsolete in a decade or so.
My region builds ever-expanding “wind farms,” miles of enormous turbines. These make audible and inaudible vibrations, kill birds, disrupt local water tables and wells, and resemble science-fiction alien invaders. They are expensive, took a lot of energy to produce, transport, and install, and will be outdated and obsolete in a decade or so. Their construction converted many miles of formerly bike-friendly country roads into nightmarish hell-gravel.
Wind and solar would save us, we thought in the ’80’s. Turns out they’re costly, disruptive, rely on fossil fuels and mining to produce, and barely make a dent in supply. People recognize they’re more of a symbolic gesture than practical, and it’s time to stop playing these expensive, silly hippie games. If we’re going to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, we need nuclear.
And so I see popular support, especially among young people and Libertarians, for building more nuclear power plants. The Fukushima disaster was barely 11 years ago, but memories are short. And optimism, so lauded as a desirable character trait, informs points like “the technology is better now.”
The technology was “better now” when Fukushima was built, too. All previous nuclear power plants were new once. They were all the latest, best technology, rigorously vetted for safety.
The Chernobyl Disaster occurred late April 1986, when I was 18. I heard about it on the radio, went back to my university dorm room, and cried. My assigned roommate, a born-again Christian, rolled her eyes and explained that she was “saved” so had no worries about things like that.
When I was 20, I moved from Urbana, IL to Santa Cruz, CA, and immediately volunteered at the anti-nukes community newspaper, The Monthly Planet. A project of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze, it also opposed nuclear power, both for its own sake and its role in supplying radioactive materials to war machines.
When I was 30, my future-ex-husband wrote and performed a one-man play called Deep U, about depleted Uranium. At the time, Depleted Uranium weapons were being dropped on Serbia by the US military. Although prized for their “tank busting” density, these weapons were also radioactive.
Like many children of my generation, I had nightmares about nuclear apocalypse. Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island showed that active war wasn’t the only potential path to this flavor of doom. There were also real reports about real places dealing with real nuclear waste affecting real people, not to mention real other life forms.
I am no expert, but I am reluctant to discard years of concern for the dangers of radioactive waste and nuclear power plants.
“Not a problem now!” cheer younger-than-me people, as they describe spent reactor fuel sealed in concrete and stored at the very plants that produced them. All it requires is our new and improved technology, and money, and for no one to cut corners, because no one ever cuts corners and budget cuts would somehow never touch nuclear plants. We’re in control, we can always be in control, we can do it!
When nuclear goes out of control, it is very, very bad. But maybe I’ve just been “tricked by movies and television shows” to think that. Maybe the young youtubers are right, and “we solved nuclear waste decades ago.” Heck, maybe I’m the dupe. Maybe all the 1980’s anti-nukes propaganda was funded by the fossil fuels industries, who didn’t want the competition. And I fell for it!
Or, perhaps, I remain skeptical because I have seen so much go out of control in my 54 years. Pretty much every well-laid human plan goes awry. The current naive and youthful support for nuclear seems utopian to me.
But my own generation’s youthful hopes that humans could voluntarily reduce energy consumption was even more utopian. Global population is still growing, energy demand still increasing. Today’s optimistic and naive young people need a constant, high supply of energy to mint NFTs, share Greta Thunburg memes, and organize Extinction Rebellion protests. “Green” energy has been shown to be not so green. So hell, let ‘em have nuclear. I’m nearer the end of my natural lifespan than they are; I won’t have to live with the consequences. Humanity will get the power it deserves.
I still feel bad for the rest of life on the planet. But humans are a force of Nature, like earthquakes and asteroids. My mistake was wishing our ability to “think” and “make decisions” meant we could conscientiously change course. We’re like the ancient cyanobacteria that excreted oxygen as waste, driving extinct most anaerobic life and converting Earth’s atmosphere to the highly flammable “air” that drove multi-cellular evolution – leading to us! Perhaps what looks like intractable human stupidity, is the foundation of a whole new radioactive ecology.
To the Future!