Saturday, December 12, 2009

Taken For Granted

We take a lot for granted in this country, and far too many people have absolutely no clue about the systemic relationships that affect our lives. Take nuclear reactors for example. For all the good they do, they also produce dangerous waste and have unique safety and security requirements. They are a target of NIMBYism, and understandably so. Meanwhile, most of us appreciate the benefits of nuclear medicine, which enables so many procedures that decades ago were inconceivable.

Ever think about where the isotopes come from that enable those procedures? Would it surprise you to find out that they come primarily from a Canadian reactor that is currently offline? We are dependent on foreign sources for those isotopes and are only now working on "growing" our own. The currently limited supply is having an impact in some quarters, hopefully not yours. But that could change with deleterious effects more widely felt.

Think about that the next time you assume we can simply "do" something to fix whatever the problem du jour is. We can shut down American nuclear reactors if we choose to. Can we really live with the consequences if we do?

1 comment:

The North Coast said...

Nuclear power is essential to maintaining a reasonable standard of living with reliable on-demand electricity as fossil fuels deplete, and I am appalled at the efforts to shut down the nuclear power industry in this country. Only people who have had such easy, soft lives and such access to plentiful, cheap energy as we've had could be so cavalier about our nuclear power.

It disgusts me that we are permitting India to pull ahead of us and develop Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactors, which employ a vastly safer technology that produces almost no waste and which could extend the fuel cycle for thousands of years.

I am also appalled that we refer to as "waste" the bi-products of fission that reside in containment pools all over the country, and include "rare earth" isotopes that China is restricting exports of, and that have unlimited application.

We've allowed the NIMBY contingent and the nuttier fringe of the environmental movement to influence energy policy to our detriment. We will live to regret the strangling of the nuclear power industry in this country.

As for waste being extremely dangerous, well, much more dangerous materials are used and disposed of every day in industrial processes that our lives would be much harder and poorer without. At least nuclear material decays to something less threatening, while many highly toxic materials remain so forever. The safe and sensible handling of dangerous materials is part of having an advanced civilization. Are we willing to accept the tradeoff involved in discontinuing the use of every hazardous material? I think not, because that would mean reverting to a way of life that was intrinsically much more dangerous and meant vastly shorter lifespans and more daily tragedy for everyone.

The issue of nuclear power has become so emotionally charged that people are not capable of thinking rationally about it anymore.

I just ask this- would you rather have a train loaded with low-radiation waste coming through your town, or one loaded with liquified natural gas, or any of about a couple of hundred substances so toxic and so volatile that a derailment means you have to evacuate the whole county?

And if people think that nuclear is dangerous, wait till we devolve to the point where everyone has to light their houses with candles and heat with coal stoves, and we revert to the filth and cold of the 19th century, with an average lifespan of 56 years, where most children died before the age of 10.