Thursday, March 18, 2010

Debating, Constructing, Demanding

jakarta_by_night_-4 Discovery News poses a series of questions to Tom Kaufmann, NEI’s senior media relations manager and Edwin Lyman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. We really like this kind of interaction, but perhaps we could make a suggestion.

Here’s a question:

Often times the topic of Chernobyl comes up when nuclear energy is mentioned. Could a Chernobyl-type accident happen in the United States at a nuclear power plant?

Here’s how Kauffman starts out:

No. A Chernobyl-type accident can’t happen in the United States. It’s physically impossible.

And then Lyman:

The short answer is yes. An accident resulting in a large radiological release to the environment comparable to or worse than that of Chernobyl could definitely occur at a U.S. nuclear power plant.

See the problem? Either Kauffman or Lyman are wrong here or the truest answer is too ambiguous to be definitive. From the story, there’s no way to know except to apply your own tilt (and where might that be for us? Hmmm!)

So that leads to the suggestion: Lyman and Kauffman (or any two debaters) do an email exchange, with Lyman kicking off on one question and Kauffman another. Each writer gets to respond to the other and make his own points. Perhaps there could be two exchanges, then a summing up by each. Since it’s the Web, add in as many links as back up the point. Then, publish the exchanges on the Web. It’d be livelier and packed with useful info. Some minds would be more likely to change, too.

The story is well worth reading, with Kauffman representing the nuclear side of the debate quite well, but we wish someone would go further with this.

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We must say that there are no more countries that would surprise us if they decide to pursue nuclear energy – well, maybe Monaco or Vanuatu – but color us unsurprised when we read this:

Indonesia's House of Representatives gave a green light to the government's plan to build nuclear plants.

That decision Monday came after the parliamentary commission for energy, technology and the environment visited the country's National Nuclear Energy Agency, which is known as Batan, during the weekend.

And why might Indonesia want to do this?

"Indonesia can no longer rely on non-renewable energy sources such as gas and coal to generate electricity in future," said Teuku Riefky Harsya, chairman of the commission, in a statement.

Much of the discussion in the United States and Europe over carbon emission reduction focuses on a mechanism to move industry in that direction, but countries such as Indonesia and UAE know exactly how to go about achieving that goal, without mandates: build nuclear power plants. (We’re being vaguely provocative – we know the issue is much more complicated that that.)

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As you may imagine, a fair number of people are very annoyed with the closing of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository:

A coalition of leading national and regional organizations -- representing energy and individual taxpayers; state elected and regulatory officials; communities and energy-related businesses -- expressed vigorous support for the continuation of the Yucca Mountain repository program in letters to key Congressional appropriators.

The groups represent large slices of the interested population - National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners; United States Chamber of Commerce; National Association of Manufacturers – and local concerns, too - Alliance for Nevada's Economic Prosperity; Economic Development Partnership of Aiken and Edgefield Counties (SC); Nevadans 4 Carbon Free Energy; and Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce.

So far, this isn’t much more than a press release with demands – we’ll be interested to see where it leads.

In case you associate Indonesia exclusively with Balinese dancers and the like, here’s Jakarta at night.

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