We’re always highly suspicious of government policy that erupts out of crisis rather than as the logical result of a governing philosophy. So we turned a rather fishy eye last summer on the drive to drill for oil domestically. To us, this seemed ideological game playing: Congress putting a stick into the eyes of pesky environmentalists because it could also seem to be fixing a problem. But it wasn’t a fix; the eventual oil glut due to consumers buying less gasoline was the fix. All this stood to the side of our chosen niche and it was hard to think how nuclear energy could be the center of a similar crisis. But now it is.
Here’s what’s happening:
Slovakia, Bulgaria, Italy, Britain even Germany are among those countries giving nuclear energy another look, following the dispute between Russia and Ukraine, which has cut the flow of Russian natural gas to Europe has alarmed governments about the issue of energy security. Slovakia and Bulgaria, among the worst hit by the gas cutoff, announced last week that they may reopen Soviet-era reactors that had been dismantled in recent years, before the countries joined the European Union.
The story attempts to build out its thesis on some tenuous evidence, since Britain, Italy and Germany have been moving nuclear-ward at their different paces for awhile. We wrote about Slovakia and Bulgaria last week – they’re the ones turning their shuttered plants back on.
Should we support this hasty (re)embrace of nuclear energy to solve an immediate problem or at best see it as a mixed blessing?
Well, it dose have its good points: it broadens the arguments about energy security considerably to rope in natural gas and nuclear energy; these were mostly missing from the American drama last summer. And depending on where you get your uranium (or thorium, if you’re feeling sporty), nuclear energy is almost certainly more germane to domestic/green/base load energy than just about any other source you could name - certainly more than oil, which seems likely to face harder times whether drilled in Saudi Arabia or America.
But “energy security” is abstract – not being able to afford gasoline or shivering in your Sofia apartment are concrete. Both are temporary, both vulnerable to political grandstanding. Gasoline is affordable again and Russia will start the natural gas flowing again. Domestic drilling solved nothing while nuclear energy isn’t being sold as a policy solution to the energy security problem. Nuclear energy is helping to stop people shivering, so it has had an impact where domestic drilling has not. Still, in both cases, no argument is being made and won – instead, it’s all about desperation and politics. And thus are follies born.
So, we sympathize. We hope Slovakia and Bulgaria see nuclear energy as a long term solution and include it as part of their energy policies. But we also have to display enough intellectual honesty to view this particular nuclear good news story with some trepidation.
Bulgaria’s Koluzdoy nuclear plant. Or at least the parking lot and a couple of towers. This is the one the Bulgarians are switching on.