OMFG. This essay from Tom Paine’s Patrick C. Doherty just made my day. It’s a concise, effective argument against nuclear power that isn’t based on nuclear waste.
Don’t get me wrong — nuclear waste is nasty. Nasty and more-or-less permanent. It’s a compelling reason to be leery of nuclear power. But I’m not sure it’s enough. The argument of the industry, taken up by some prominent enviros recently, is that we need a non-CO2-producing energy source, a big one, now, and nuclear is the large-scale source that’s available. If you’re convinced that nuclear power is viable, that it’s a large untapped source of non-polluting energy, the problem of what to do with waste isn’t all that compelling. Many people’s intuitive reaction is: We’re smart. We’ll figure something out.
So Doherty doesn’t even mention waste. He has two parallel arguments.The first is that the nuclear industry and its shills in the Bush administration are lying. Nuclear plants have been aging and crumbling since the 70s. The taxpayer subsidies the industry is after — some $8 billion — would simply go toward replacing those reactors. No additional power, or reductions in our economy’s total CO2 output, would be in the offing for at least 10 years, and the much-ballyhooed “pebble bed reactors” would be online in 20 years at the earliest. Conveniently, this allows Bush’s cronies in the oil industry plenty of time to squeeze every penny out of the declining oil market. Then, in 20 years, a new heavily subsidized and politicized industry takes over. As Doherty says, “It all adds up to a well orchestrated hand off from one powerful industry to another. Markets be damned.”
The second prong of Doherty’s argument is — praise Allah/Jah/Whatever! — a positive alternative: the “innovation economy.” I quote at length:
This preservation of the status quo denies America the opportunity of a century: A chance to build an “innovation economy” that delivers not only energy independence but a booming era of growth–growth in large part made possible by transforming our energy infrastructure.
Economists and business leaders are increasingly talking about the next economic boom being based on innovation, on the application of knowledge to solve problems and deliver higher-quality services and products. To the extent that America can exploit our scientific and technological advantage to produce the energy and resource efficient products and services the developing world needs, we will be able to dig our way out of the insecurity, indebtedness and inequity that defines today’s consumer economy.
The outlines of that “innovation economy” are emerging slowly, but distinctly. Information technology is driving revolutions in biotech, nanotech and materials science. Combining those technological innovations with innovations in the housing market known as “smart growth” –ending sprawl by integrating efficient transportation and healthier communities–America is poised to enter a new economic boom period.
That innovation economy requires clean, reliable, flexible and efficient energy. Clean, to mitigate climate change and improve public health. Reliable, to power the high-technology industries and services that require high-quality, uninterrupted power. Flexible, to accommodate the innovations in land use and transportation and the advances in efficiency that make turbines smaller and smaller. And efficient, to reduce overall cost and environmental impact.
Aaah. Like music to my ears.
Nuclear power consists of a small number of highly vulnerable energy sources pumping energy over long distances to consumers — exactly the buggy, vulnerable, opaque system we have now, with new corporate masters. The alternative is an open, modular, distributed energy grid, which puts power — both literal and political — closer to people on the ground. Doherty paints a picture:
The resulting vision is quite elegant. Build a new building or housing development, and you can put a clean new power source with it. And it’s not only dependent on natural gas. Wind turbines already allow rural communities to buy a town-sized wind farm and make money when they sell excess power back to the grid. As solar cells become more efficient, middle-class homes and urban rooftops could be generating–and selling–their own electricity. If that were to happen, big centralized plants couldn’t compete with a network of distributed power generators. David will have killed Goliath.
Bush is, always and everywhere, on the side of Goliath. Do enviros really want to join him there?