The Real Nuclear Option and an old poem
Unless it involves an invasion of a foreign country, blackouts, or massive corruption, energy policy may make the news, but it penetrates the American popular consciousness at about the same level as Crystal Pepsi. We may never know who took part in Dick Cheney's Energy Taskforce, it's privileged information because they were all either meeting Karl Rove's therapist that weekend or visiting with Matt Cooper of Time Magazine. What we do know is that whoever makes the Administration's energy policy probably isn't color coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security (Isn't it reassuring that we're borrowing nomenclature from apartheid South Africa?). How do I know that? The president more or less quietly announced his most recent plan for energy self-sufficiency. It wasn't shale conversion, alternative fuels, or trading in the bulletproof limo for a Toyota Prius. His idea of a bold forward looking initiative was to build more nuclear power plants. btw Why haven't I seen the media ask the President the obvious question, "Mr. President if you're going to build more nuclear power plants do you also have a strategy to make them safe from terrorists?"
After all, this is a bigger deal than dropping something at the Pottery Barn.
Holy Chernobyl! What a great idea! After all, even the primitive French use nuclear power to generate a substantial percentage of their electricity. At this point, the process of boiling water with nuclear fission has become a mature technology. I believe the US has been meltdown threat headline free since Three Mile Island in 1979. Since then, it got much harder to build new power plants, something about no such thing as a small accident when it comes to large uranium rods at thousands of degrees. One positive note, this was the first time President Bush ever acknowledged that "Greenhouse Gases", something that nuclear power plants don't emit, are a source of any concern to his administration. Equally surprising, this was one of the only times in the last year that the President failed to mention the social security surplus (Now there's a modest proposal for you, solve the future shortage in the trust fund by minimizing the number of recipients with one or two well-timed core meltdowns) or Terrorism.
A couple weeks ago, I got stuck in traffic near the Golden Gate Bridge after a big rig jacknifed and overturned on Highway 101. Had it been during rush hour, thousands of cars would have been stuck there. Imagine if a group of terrorists had planned the event and combined the jacknifed big rig with say a cloud of anthrax, maybe purchased from right wing terrorists in the US, and a couple fertilizer bombs a la that well known Al Qaeda operative Timothy Mcveigh. The immediate human cost and economic harm might have dwarfed 9/11.
Now imagine this, terrorists pull a 9/11 on a working nuclear power plant in the vicinity of a major city. Feel safer now? And how is it that if Iran can't or shouldn't have a nuclear program because of the dangers of proliferation, etc., but it's a goood thing if we build more nuclear plants? If we build all these new concentrated sources of radioactive material, how the heck do we keep them protected from terrorists? In the 2004 election, it came out that homeland security doesn't check cargo ship containers, guard chemical plants, key mass transportation facilities, or highways. For most of us, homeland security means waiting in long lines at airports and changing the color code each time the president drops in the polls. There's also this minor matter, fully one third of all our active military is currently in Iraq. There is no surplus National Guard or reserve unit to mind these power plants, nor do prospects look especially good for recruiting more young men and women to preserve the honor of the Downing Street Memo.
Article on 9/11 Terrorism and Nuclear Power Plants The danger is less one of a possible explosion or stolen bomb making materials, then it is a meltdown and subsequent contamination of the cooling water and its source.
I imagine if something like this happened, many of us would prefer to be in a persistently vegetative state.
Why the sudden disconnect between Energy Policy and Terror? I doubt that anyone can say for sure, but it might be fun to look at who might benefit should we take this trip back to that time in the 1950's when Oak Ridge was the vision of America's energy future rather than the place where they gathered the material for both the bomb and country music banalities. Nuclear power plants mean big construction contracts for say companies that build huge turbines, concrete structures, various meters and high performance electronics. Oddly, these same folk often happen to be defense contractors or existing energy companies. Second, until they create micro-reactors, anyone remember the nuclear powered car? btw, if you design one you can use it for a master's thesis at Princeton. More nuclear reactors means an even more centralized power grid, meaning we are even more at the mercy of our local power company and energy brokers like Enron. In general, you don't make nearly as much money from conservation as you do from mammoth decades long building projects. If we've learned anything from the last ten years, it's that if we trust big business to account for our money ethically, we certainly ought to trust them to be accountable for our safety and energy security. Why does this most recent version of the Nuclear Option sound less like a serious energy policy than something out of Gotham City? Am I the only one who thinks that the president looks a bit like Jack Nicholoson's Joker?
Paul O'neill, Bush's onetime pro-industry Treasury Secretary, and now according to the Right a Judas like liberal because he wrote a book claiming that the War on Iraq was premeditated and "tax cuts" were Republican for "deficit of economic sense", was once quoted saying something to the effect that "Other than Three Mile Island, the accident record of the nuclear power industry has been rather good."
We might quibble about that carefuly use of the word "other", if nothing else Three Mile Island made thousands of people watch a Jane Fonda movie and isn't that scary in its own way? Do we want to give Hollywood an excuse to make another Jennifer Lopez movie? We can't, however, quibble about the difference between vulnerability to "accident" and vulnerability to well-planned acts of terrorism.
There's an Einstein bumper sticker built around a very un-Albert like paradox, "You can not prepare for and prevent war."
I'm sure God would not play dice with nuclear power plants. I don't know about a failed oil man and his energy-contractor "I picked myself" vice president. Talk about a couple of old "fossil fools" or is it "facile fools". The only fusion that matters here is this. Any President who claims to be serious about preventing terrorism wouldn't be building nuclear power plants. It might even be safer to have the Chinese buy all our oil companies with their end of the trade surplus from Walmart. This President is playing Russian Roulette both with our energy policy and the real war on terrorism. The Ukrainian phrase for that game is "Chernobyl meet Belsan"
Condemned to half-lives
My nuclear family sleeps
on pillows of melted down
While I stir their milk
with a geiger counter,
fearing even the spring rains
as they fall outside
All blame has been assigned
Alì suffering encased in cement
We work our crops for winter
As we reap a harvest of exploded plants