It’s as fair and comprehensive a look at the resurgent nuclear question as anything I’ve read.
Oddly, despite the subtitle — "How I tried to stop worrying and love nuclear power" — one reaches the end of the piece not at all sure that Lewis has stopped worrying. In fact she seems more worried than ever.
I have but one (rather large) quibble with the piece. Here’s how it reads: It’s a long examination of the very real dangers and pitfalls of nuclear power; and then, looming on the other side, you have Stewart Brand saying, "global warming would be worse."
Almost all green pro-nuclear arguments amount to this environmental Sophie’s choice. Either you accept nuclear power or you get global warming. Pick your poison.
But Lewis doesn’t really examine the very first and most important question: Must we accept that choice?
Is it really true that only nuclear power can ramp up fast enough to roll back CO2 emissions? Is coal the only other realistic alternative?
Lewis breezes past the question with a single quote from James Lovelock:
"We cannot continue drawing energy from fossil fuels, and there is no chance that the renewables, wind, tide and water power can provide enough energy and in time … we do not have 50 years."
Why should we simply accept what Lovelock says?
It’s fashionable to say something along these lines: To get the power we now get out of coal from wind you’d have to "carpet the Midwest with wind turbines" or some such. But this is a rhetorical gambit, not an argument.
The real question is: Could we achieve the same power shift, with the proper investment of resources, with a combination of conservation, wind, solar, and hydrokinetic power?
I’d like to think so. And I’ve yet to see a convincing argument that we couldn’t. Shouldn’t it be incumbent on advocates of nuclear power to make that argument convincingly before we hand over the keys to the shop?