Caribou, Costs and Politicians

May 1, 2001
It's time to re-evaluate America's choices on searching for energy to feed the growing demand for power.

Caribou, Costs and Politicians

California, they say, is where we all go some day. Well, let me paraphrase a great cynic. "Nobody ever lost a dime underestimating the intelligence of the average California politician."

Politicians are passing laws in California to make it illegal to cut off power to all kinds of customers even while they make it impossible to build any new generating capacity in the state as demand continues to soar.

They need to check out the physics and the economics of light bulbs and factories and Las Vegas and the rest of this wonderful world that engineering and enterprise have created. If these complaining pols did such, they might be shocked, shocked! Nuclear is back in style.

Safety concerns? Not a single life has been lost nor has anyone sustained a serious injury in our experience with nuclear reactors for electric power generation. Can’t say the same with coal or oil, unfortunately. Even more unfortunate is the fact that risk is part of life, and to produce energy for a modern economy means a lot of energy. We will burn lots of coal, oil and gas for many years, but nuclear can provide a lot of what we will need as well.

Wind power? Solar? Tidal power? Add up all the electrical power that we can create with those "green" sources and you get enough for one big Hollywood party. These are warm and fuzzy solutions that anyone with what used to be a high school education can dismiss.

In the past 30 years, much new technology and many new systems have been developed in the energy industry. Efficiencies are way, way up. Coal-burning technology is much cleaned up. Drilling for oil in Alaska will be hardly noticed by the caribou — or environmentalists — and nuclear power technology is more sensible and safer than ever. It’s being used all over the world with great success.

What about nuclear waste disposal? Right now, we bury the stuff or re-use some of it from so-called breeder reactors. However, many nuclear physicists point out that research should provide many ways to neutralize this byproduct of nuclear power plant operations in coming years. Sunburn is worse than living next to a nuclear plant.

Meanwhile, we have choices. We can cut our use of electricity way back to levels not seen since before the ‘50s. We can shut down our super-efficient manufacturing world or we can learn to live with candles again. We can sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter (except for those wealthy OPEC folks). In other words, we can go back to nature and reminisce with the caribou or continue to enjoy an ever-higher standard of living.

The new administration inside the Beltway has put new power plant construction — including nuclear, drilling for American oil, and using coal — on the discussion agenda again. Let’s support this return to adulthood!

Let’s all look a little more closely at all these options this time. Let’s raise the level of the discussion. Tell your politicians and your kids’ teachers to check out the physics and the economics of energy, as well as the caribou. Then they can help educate the rest of the American people. Otherwise, we may have to turn California down, if not off — and the rest of us soon after.

George Weimer

contributing editor

[email protected]