Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Thursday, June 30, 2011 1:08 PM
“Officials Say The Darnedest Things” blogs quotes from politicians with just enough context to make you roll your eyes.
The Atlantic Wire counts four reasons why Obama is probably hand-wringing over his reelection chances.
Horacio Castellanos Moya on what it’s like to be a writer in exile.
“The discussion page for the article on ‘Toilet Paper Orientation’ is 2x longer than that for the Iraq War.” That nugget comes from a wastefully informative infographic that presents everything you never needed to know about the different ways to hang your toilet paper. Let us ask, Over or under?
Bookforum ponders what the Bestseller List would look like if authors could only make the list once in their careers.
GOOD magazine examines The Eternal Shame of Your First Online Handle. Was yours worse than “Fink Ployd” or “principalrichardbelding”?
Jorge may have earned a PhD in the United States, but he’s still an illegal immigrant with a bleak job outlook.
It’s Poop Week at the birding and conservation blog 10,000 Birds. Boy, is it ever.
What are you doing this summer? Please come to Washington and help stop a massive oil pipeline, say Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry and other green leaders.
Fukushima who? Nuclear power supporters get back to business as usual.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011 4:09 PM
How many times have we been told, since the Fukushima nuclear crisis began, that we’re not being told everything? The revelation that three reactors suffered fuel meltdowns soon after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami—a scenario vigorously denied by plant and government officials at the time—only reinforces my view that whatever the technological wonders of nuclear fission, it’s humans that can’t be trusted. The continually shifting “facts” and belated revelations about the disaster have me wondering how nuclear proponents can continually be seduced by the wonders of this “clean” energy while completely overlooking how miserably it’s being managed, and how the cover-ups keep piling up.
Science journalist John Horgan writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Chronicle Review about his on-and-off status as a nuclear proponent, noting that he “jumped on the pro-nuclear bandwagon” again last fall after being convinced of its safety and its low emissions relative to coal.
Fukushima took a bit of the green glow out of him, though: “I was still congratulating myself for my open-mindedness when the tsunami smashed into Japan, which had been a paragon of nuclear competence.”
The past competence of Japan’s nuclear industry is not very impressive when you dig into it. But setting that aside, Horgan’s main point—that Fukushima ought to at least give us pause—is a rare admission for a nuclear proponent. Horgan, who teaches a class in the history of science and technology at the Stevens Institute of Technology, concludes his commentary by noting that he encourages a healthy skepticism in his classrooms full of techno-optimists:
Here’s what I say to my students: I wish I could encourage you to make a career in nuclear power. Given the current limits of wind and solar energy, we need more nuclear generators to reduce our reliance on coal and other fossil fuels and to curb the effects of global warming. But given the checkered history of nuclear power both in this country and elsewhere, I don’t blame the public for opposing new plants, or for not wanting to live as close to one as I do.
This opposition may thwart the nuclear revival in America. If you want to help solve our energy problems, I tell the young engineers in my classes, you should probably look for a more stable industry. In short, I’m staying on the nuclear bandwagon, but I’m not encouraging anyone to join me.
It seems to all come down to who, and what, you believe and trust. Nuclear power is like a religion, and you’re either a true believer or a skeptic.
Rod Adams pushes a hard pro-nuclear line at his Atomic Insights blog and was one of the people who helped usher Horgan back into the pro-nuke fold after they appeared together on a post-tsunami Bloggingheads.tv discussion. Adams spends a lot of time hashing over the technological arguments surrounding nuclear power, but ultimately even his views are largely an act of faith. One of his most telling personal revelations came in a recent comments-field back-and-forth over a blog post questioning whether Nation environmental reporter Mark Hertsgaard is “a nuclear skeptic or a nuclear crank.” Adams wrote:
. . . I am unabashedly in favor of personal mobility, fresh vegetables in the middle of winter, and moderate indoor temperatures even in July and August in the steamy southeast U.S. I like fast boats, cruising back roads with the top down, and flying to exotic vacation spots every once in a while. I think our creator has offered us a technology that makes it possible to both eat cake today and to have some available tomorrow.
So there you have it. Adams is very well-practiced at debunking nuclear-energy opponents with oodles of techie talk, but at the end of the day he believes God wants us to drive deluxe motorboats and convertibles and live lives of comfort and convenience—thus he’s given us the knowledge and power to split atoms. To me, this makes Adams little more credible than the anti-nuke zealot who has a gut feeling, deep down inside, that nuclear power is just wrong.
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, Bloggingheads.tv, Atomic Insights
Image by Sakucae, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011 4:16 PM
President Obama’s tenacity in clinging to nuclear power is astounding. With the Fukushima disaster still spewing radiation into the atmosphere and brutal budget cuts on the table, Obama wants to extend another $36 billion in taxpayer-guaranteed loans to the nuclear industry to build new plants—in addition to the $18.5 billion he has already offered.
Writes Nation environmental correspondent Mark Hertsgaard, “As health, education, and other social services are being sacrificed on the false altar of deficit reduction, $54.5 billion is a massive amount of money. Worse, Obama is shoveling money at nuclear energy at the very same time he has diverted funds from renewable energy.”
Hertsgaard sees Obama’s nuclear ambitions as playing into “a larger meta-narrative dominating discussion of the Fukushima disaster here in the United States”:
Yes, Fukushima is scary, the narrative goes, but it is far away, our own nuclear plants pose little danger and, besides, neither our economy nor the fight against climate change can succeed without more nukes. Even the usually sensible nonprofit journalism enterprise ProPublica is publishing articles implying that anything less than a Chernobyl-scale disaster amounts to only “limited” impact.
The supreme tragedy here is that more nuclear power is not only unnecessary but downright unhelpful to securing America’s, and the world’s, economic and environmental future. Countless studies have shown that the enormous financial cost and long construction times of nuclear power plants make them the costliest, slowest way to supply electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (which is exactly why investors demand loan guarantees rather than risk their own money to build new nukes).
Even with Obama’s bully-pulpit backing, the phenomenally bad economics of building new plants are dogging the industry, reports the New York Times’ Matthew L. Wald. One expert tells Wald that he thinks nuclear plant construction will “go quiet” for two to five years, and Wald notes that “of the four nuclear reactor construction projects that the Energy Department identified in 2009 as the most deserving for the loans, two have lost major partners and seem unlikely to recover soon.”
Obama’s strategy is for U.S. taxpayers to take on the risk that energy investors are afraid to touch. Having already committed us to $18.5 billion, he wants to effectively triple our exposure.
“A federal loan guarantee is a little like a parent co-signing a child’s car loan; if the child makes the payments, the parent pays nothing,” writes Wald. But “If the builders default, as happened on some nuclear construction projects in the 1980s, the taxpayer liabilities could run into the billions of dollars.”
That’s a loan I wouldn’t co-sign. Would you?
UPDATE 5/6/11: Apparently, Rep. Ed Markey wouldn’t. The Massachusetts Democrat today released a letter he sent to the Office of Management and Budget demanding answers to several questions regarding loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors and the risk to taxpayers, reports the Nuclear Information and Research Service.
Sources: The Nation, New York Times
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011 12:53 PM
Before the extent of Japan’s nuclear crisis had even become clear—in fact, before the aftershocks had ended—nuclear apologists were rushing forth to point out that the Fukushima incident was no Chernobyl. Some of them were pointing out, correctly, that the two disasters were very different in their particulars—one was caused by human negligence and error, one by a tsunami, the reactor designs are different, etc.—but others were effectively saying, don’t worry, they’re simply not in the same ballpark.
Well, the latter group of prognosticators can eat their words. The Japanese nuclear regulatory agency has revised the severity of the Fukushima accident so that it is now ranked equal to Chernobyl on the International Nuclear and Radiation Event scale. Yes, more people were killed immediately in the Chernobyl meltdown, and in it more radiation was released—if we’re to believe what we’re being told by Japan’s nuclear spokesmen, that is—but under the nuke industry’s own rating system, the two events are now in the same category: The worst.
Grist’s Jess Zimmerman is still intent on delineating the differences between the incidents (even though that’s been done extensively), and unfortunately she does so under the CNN-worthy headline “How much should you panic?”
Well, I’m not panicking: Like many environmentalists, my own skin is not always my foremost concern. But I am worried for the many Japanese people who are and will be affected, for the sea ecosystems that will be polluted, and by the ongoing sense that this tragic story is still unfolding.
Sources: BBC, Grist, Pro Publica
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