Nukes Versus Hydrocarbons

(cc photo by Eurapart)

I’m with Will Saletan on this: “let’s not block construction indefinitely while we go on mindlessly pumping oil. Because nuclear energy, for all its risks, is safer.”

The significant safety risks associated with coal and with oil and with natural gas and with nuclear power are a good reason to promote the use of clean solar and wind power. But I worry that if you simply increase the burden on nuclear power without doing anything else to change the energy dynamic in America then what you’re really doing is promoting fossil fuels. So ask yourself how resilient the alternatives would be in response to a 8.9 earthquake and a tsunami. We’re currently told that the death toll in Japan will be at least 10,000 people of whom approximately zero seem to have perished in nuclear accidents. What happens when a tsunami hits an offshore drilling platform or a natural gas pipeline? What happens to a coal mine in an earthquake? How much environmental damage is playing out in Japan right now because of gasoline from cars pushed around? The main lesson is “try not to put critical infrastructure near a fault line” but Japan is an earthquakey country, so what are they really supposed to do about this?

I don’t really want to be the nuclear apologist guy. I think of myself as a clean energy guy. I’m an energy efficiency guy. But what I’m definitely not is a fossil fuel guy. And you can’t make sense of the safety concerns around electricity generation unless you put the nuclear risks in some kind of context.