Your Own Private Chernobyl

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

Earlier this week, I discussed our reluctance as a culture to find alternate fuel sources for our cars. Then later in the week, another power resource issue came to the forefront for discussion. A combination of a tsunami and an earthquake damaged nuclear power plants in Japan, which luckily stopped short of a full meltdown.

It is unclear to me from what I’ve read whether Japan, or any other part of the world, was in any real danger of a nuclear meltdown. There were evacuations in Japan, and there was talk about how much it might spread if things went bad.

For years, I have heard that nuclear power is safe. Sure there was a storyline on the TV show “24” where terrorists forced a meltdown at a US plant causing a major explosion, but in “24” they manage to get across Los Angeles in less than fifteen minutes, regardless of the time of day. Maybe it’s not the best gauge of what could happen. The situation in Japan, on the other hand, might raise a few questions.

Why do we have nuclear power? Well, as it turns out, it’s because it’s a more efficient, and cleaner, way to create electricity than burning fossil fuels. But wait, that was the whole point of my article earlier this week. There are folks out there saying not to worry about using up our oil. So if we’re not worried about it then why go with nuclear power, unless, of course, we’re worried about oil consumption.

So I became curious as to why we’re pushing nuclear power over the many other forms of energy we could use. I looked up dangers of renewable resources. I wanted to know if there was anything else out there that could potentially kill people and wildlife on a mass scale because of a simple accident.

As it turns out, the big concern about solar energy is the materials used in making solar panels. Many of them, if not recycled or disposed of properly, can pollute areas. Otherwise, solar energy is a convenience issue. The cost to go solar currently tends to outweigh the savings, and the number of conditions where the panels will save the energy, are limited, requiring certain types of sunlight.

Wind turbines can break in extreme weather (though they won’t melt anything down) and can be a danger to flying creatures when grouped together in wind farms. Hydropower is limited, because of wildlife concerns. And geothermal energy raises issues about pollution of water.

So what is the solution? Nuclear power probably is safe overall. My only concern is the one time that something goes drastically wrong. The results can be devastating. The problems in Japan raised concerns for many European countries moving toward nuclear power. Is it really safe?

Proponents for nuclear energy basically came back with this simple retort, “That won’t happen here.” I’m paraphrasing. The statements we’re more to the effect of, “We don’t have extreme weather conditions, and we don’t have extreme seismic activity.” I’m still paraphrasing, but one sounds less nonchalant than the other. It doesn’t mean that both statements aren’t nonchalant. Answering a concern of, “What if this happens?” with, “It won’t,” isn’t addressing the issue.

I think the issue, again, comes back to the consumer. I think it’s probably safe to say that we use more energy than we need. The reason for the growing need for more energy is more power usage. I’m not suggesting anything extreme like reading books only when there is a full moon so you don’t have to use your reading lamp. I’m just suggesting that maybe we would do ourselves some good to cut back where possible. Again, nothing extreme. I’m not going to sleep at night to conserve electricity, but I’m ok with not leaving my computer and TV running when I’m not using them, or unplugging my cell phone when it’s fully charged. There are hundreds of energy saving tips. There is really no reason to ignore them, unless it is specifically beneficial to you to ignore one or more.

One reason given for nuclear energy is that it burns cleaner than fossil fuel, so there is less pollution. It’s just so weird to me that we’re all about that mentality when it comes to building potential industrial plant sized bombs, but we don’t have that mentality when it comes to the millions or maybe billions of cars on the road. If we no longer had pollution from cars, and there were less or no fossil fuels in cars, then using fossil fuels for electricity would not have as devastating of an effect on the environment. If we then lowered our overall electricity usage, we would use less fossil fuel for energy production. It’s not so hard of an equation, so I’m not sure why we fight it so much.

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