Saturday, July 20, 2013

What Druids Think About #2: Hypocrisy

I'm typing this blog post on a netbook. When the netbook runs low on batteries, I plug it into the wall to juice it up again.

Outside the temperature is flirting with 100. I have central air conditioning. It's running. There's a refrigerator keeping my food cool and fresh, and a heater in the basement that warms water for my showers.

The electricity that makes all of this possible for me is generated at the Salem Nuclear Power Plant. It is the second largest nuclear power plant in the USA.

Nuclear power plants generate energy through the fission of radioactive uranium. As the fission process occurs, high heat is produced. This heat turns water to steam, and the steam drives turbines that create electricity. The Salem Nuclear Power Plant provides electricity to 3 million households in New Jersey. My house is one of them.

I have always looked upon nuclear power as a really, really bad accident waiting to happen. But this week I got to tour the Salem power plant, which is not surprisingly staffed by people who think nuclear energy is fabulous. Did their unbridled optimism cure me of my anxiety over nuclear power? Not really. Do I have any right to criticize this form of energy generation? Not really. Not unless I take my little pink hairless behind off the grid.

There are silos of dangerous spent fuel on the power plant site, because no place in the nation is willing to accept nuclear waste. So I, Anne Johnson, am responsible for the existence of endlessly toxic chemicals, sitting around in a reinforced bin.

Although there are actually a few nuclear power plants being built right now here in America, the highest hopes for unlimited domestic energy come from the collection of natural gas from deep shale drilling (also known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking.") A great many people oppose fracking because of its environmental dangers. As for me, I'm beginning to see all of these protests as a kind of hypocrisy.

We Americans could severely curtail the nuclear power industry, fracking, and our need for Saudi oil, if we just started living like pioneers again. Pa and Ma and Laura and Mary didn't have electricity in the little house in the big woods. It seemed like a lot of fun for them until Mary went blind from a fever and Pa couldn't get his crops to grow.

The truth is, our entire society, including our levels of health and our technological innovations, depend upon electricity. Once again we find ourselves in the Body of Humanity. We can ease off our usage of electricity, but we can't live without it. Not life as we know it. That's why the power industry scoffs at the protests against fracking. If it's something that turns turbines, we Americans need it. Doesn't matter how dangerous or toxic it is to produce. Heck, it's no more toxic than food poisoning, after all.

Yes, yes, we have wind and solar. Both hold the possibility of greener energy production. But both are in very formative stages, and until someone figures out how to make tons of money off them, the fossil and chemical fuels will prevail.

I don't much like the fact that my power comes from a nuclear plant (although, damn ... up close those things are sure a monument to human ingenuity). But I'd be a hypocrite to protest the building of nuclear power plants. I like my safe food and my pure water. If someday everything just glows and blows, well ... it's the chance I took to live this long. There's nothing in this world that is given to us without a catch. Just ask the seagulls that flew into the wind turbines at Atlantic City.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Once the genie's out of the bottle, it's very hard to put it back in. We're all complicit in everything, quite frankly. Hypocrisy is the human condition.

Anonymous said...

While it is true that there is no such thing as "clean coal", there is such a thing as "cleaner nuclear". It's just that it makes so little nuclear waste that it is not usable for bomb-making, so no one wants to do it.
"Cleaner nuclear" is called a Thorium Reactor. There are people who can give you much more detail than I can about how it works, but it needs to be on the agenda for the power producers, and isn't. There is a law being proposed in congress to make permitting for thorium reactors easier, but who knows what this do-nothing congress will do....

Anne Johnson said...

Yes, Kim, I have kind of been waiting for fusion reactors to be created. The catch is, I think, that once the reactor is built, there's not much money to be made supplying it with fuel. No one would make a lot of dough, and consumers might even save money. The fusion technology is out there (it is used in bombs), so how hard could it really be to adapt it to power generation. Where are the fine young minds?

Anonymous said...

I just read an article that says if they start building thorium reactors, it will make the price of "rare earth minerals" go down because currently, part of the high price is trying to get rid of the thorium that they find with them -- there's currently not much market for thorium and it's expensive to get rid of.