The Nuclear Genii Strikes Back
by Art Goodtimes
Mar 25, 2011 | 1201 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WEIGHING RISK … “The experts were wrong” insisted The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson in the wake of Japan’s triple-header: earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe … Even in my short lifetime on this planet I’ve seen that trope repeated many times. Too many times to ignore the reality of “best available science” and “state of the art” technology – they are, in reality, nothing more than educated guesses … And Pachamama is full of surprises. From the synchronicity of overlapping mishaps to the perfect storm of unexpected events … You can call such apocalyptic incidents “black swans,” as Robert Madsen does in Foreign Policy, but they are not theoretical constructs like quantum wormholes. They happen. And woe to those unprepared for worst case scenarios … But can any of us prepare for the kind of improbable atomic meltdown inherently possible in any nuclear reactor, as demonstrated at Fukushima? Is nuclear power worth it? When you weigh the impact of mining and processing uranium ore, refining of yellowcake, transport of fuel rods, the natural disasters that could rupture reactor cores and demolish structures to catastrophic effect, plant vulnerability to terrorist attack and finally the unsolved puzzle of long-term storage for radioactive wastes that continue to proliferate around the world and balance all that against nuclear as an affordable source of “clean energy,” its ease of operation under normal conditions, its reliability as base load generation, its “proven” technology, is it worth it? … Considering that the US has 104 operating nuclear plants dotted around the country and 20 new generation reactors in the planning, some close to population centers or along seismic faults or at the edge of the sea, is it worth it? … Knowing that the two nuclear reactors in California are only designed to withstand 7.0 and 7.5 earthquakes, is it worth it? … When you finally learn that the Price-Anderson Act of 1957 (era of the “peaceful atom”) meant as an incentive to partially subsidize the nuclear industry, caps private liability from a catastrophic event at $12 billion, and then hooks the American people to ante up any indemnification over that, is it worth it? … Is nuclear power worth what we’re seeing happen to Japan, over and above the human toll, as the economy there falls deeper into a disastrous recession that appears to be as unpredictably toxic as the nuclear pits newly burned into the coast … “Pick your poison,” some industrialists say. Any energy has downsides… Coal, gas, nuclear. Even solar has potentially toxic spinoffs, they insist. But truth is, when you weigh all the factors, can we afford nuclear’s clearly identifiable radioactive impacts, all in the name of continuing this unsustainable, no-longer-resilient industrial growth model of human life on earth? … The question really is not just “is it worth it,” but “what of worth will we gift the next seven generations?” Just to be clear – what’s at risk is far more than just us.

GRANDMA LILY … As I’ve shared before, my grandmother was born an orphan, probably in Yokohama, and raised Japanese – her ancestry was unclear, as what papers she had were stolen on steamer passage to America. She died when I was 1, but I think I absorbed Japanese through her skin holding mine, at least some of her deep cultural sensibilities … We are all sad for Japan – thrice now inflicted with the curse of nuclear disasters. Sad for the people. Sad for the many tragedies and all that’s been lost.

ENERGY PIG… Reader Bryan Cashion of Montrose had a very revealing response to my UBC column of Feb. 17, in which I shared the recently deceased Lance Christie’s proposal to add a $300 a ton carbon tax to our energy tax bills – phased in over six years at $50 increments. Said Bryan, “While I think that a carbon tax will be the most efficient way to drive people to lower energy usage (as opposed to cap-and-trade, that would carry a lot of bureaucratic burden), the real issue will be the amount of the tax” … Then using my own energy use figures of 60 kWh/day for January, he does some calculations (math I didn’t do when presenting Lance’s idea). Using 1.606 pounds per kWh as his standard – a Colorado number from http://cfpub.epa.gov/egridweb>, Cashion multiplies $300 a ton times 60 kWh/day at 1.606 pounds of CO2 per kWh. Thus he calculates the potential added cost of a carbon tax to my January power bill and comes up with a figure of $434. That would have been my January bill if a carbon tax had been in effect … Finally Bryan asks the hard question (but a necessary one), “Are you ready to write that check?” Ouch! Put that way, I think not (the one caveat is that this value could vary depending upon the energy source makeup for San Miguel Power) ... But caveat or not, the true cost of what Lance was proposing, and I was advocating, is a sobering thought. Honestly, I think I would quickly reduce my power usage at those figures. Then again, isn’t that exactly the point? … Perhaps a more graduated scale or certain classification exemptions for seniors and those on fixed incomes could ameliorate the impacts of such a carbon tax. But as Bryan is suggesting, if we’re serious about reducing our carbon emissions, it’s going to cost us.


Dancing in the Streets

40 Years Later

As the reform hope of the 60s

Gradually fell like dead leaves

In the disco-soul-killing 70s

Jackson Browne sang about

“The resignation that living brings.”

They sold us the fake actor turned governor

& then sold us the fool’s gold

Of Milton Friedman’s trickle down.

We staggered from one bubble

To another while Clinton got a knob job.

Now, both we & our troubadours

Near retirement. Even ravaged-faced

Keith Richards pens a memoir.

In a parallel universe they film

A documentary about Wavy Gravy.

Today I watched a still youthful &

Very articulate Jerry Garcia trying

To save the rainforest from 1988.

Now both Jerry & the forests are

Gone or going. Orangutans & bonoboos

Run for disappearing cover.

The Dali Lama turns 75, while in Chinese cities

Jaded consumers discover Buddhism.

It’s always a race against time’s ruin.

Tired of the NPR station’s

Endless begging, I put on Jerry singing:

“You are my shining star.” … And he was!

-Phil Woods


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