Going nuclear

Contaminated, radioactive water stored in tanks at Fukushima

Recent reports on the condition of the Fukushima nuclear power reactors in Japan indicate that highly radioactive water used in the makeshift reactor cooling system has been leaking from buried storage tanks damaged in a tsunami several years ago. Decommissioning and closing the plants seems to be years away, and in the meantime the Japanese seem unable to adequately control contamination of the ocean abutting the plant, endangering fish, the food chain and potentially human health.

Then, just this week, the former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency Gregory Jaczko held a news conference to announce that in his expert opinion America’s existing nuclear power plants should not receive reauthorization or renewal beyond the initial 40 years of operation of which they were granted. His primary reason was plant safety, and his fear of serious system or structural failures that might result in a catastrophe.

While all this was going on, the President nominated a candidate for Energy Secretary who is wildly popular with members of both parties in congress. A past member of the Clinton Administration, Ernest Moniz supports nuclear energy due to its lack of emissions of greenhouse gasses. While global warming is a major issue of great import, it does not justify the continued use of aging reactors, and certainly not any expansion. Despite the horror in Japan and the expert advice of the former chair of the highest regulatory authority in the nation, the nuclear lobby continues to sell itself as the best solution to global warming and the provision of electricity.

The last time I wrote on this topic was not long after the Fukushima fiasco. Proponents of nuclear energy called me stupid and short-sighted, a no-nothing and “dumb journalist.” My daughter happened to be in her car at the time, and turned on the radio. Lo and behold, a radio personality named Dr. Bill was referring to me by name and belittling the content of my column. She called me later to tell me how amused she was to hear me being called-out on the radio.

The recent events have stiffened my opposition to nuclear energy, not dispelled it. We are gambling on a poisonous technology which has the potential to contaminate vast areas and make them uninhabitable for many generations. Three Mile Island was a warning, but we have not heeded it. The next accident on American shores may well be far worse than a warning.

My wife and I have two grandchildren, and one more on the way. They are delightful beings, full of imagination, joy and confidence. As grandparents we want the best for them. We cannot protect them from the unknown, but at the same time, we cannot remain silent when choices can be made; our existing nuclear power plants are at their rated lifetime, nuclear wastes remain vulnerable in aging infrastructure, and the pro-nuclear lobby has sway over congress with large campaign donations and junkets.

It remains within the power of America to change course and abandon this planet-threatening technology. Solar power is still in its infancy, and were it not for energy-lobby opposition, could be massively deployed within a decade. The time for bold leadership and action is now. As poet Larry Robinson says, “Which snowflake will cause the avalanche that changes the landscape of the world?”