Sunday, March 20, 2011

Answering the Question: Yes, But…

The Washington Post has up a collection of articles asking the question: After Japan’s disaster, will nuclear energy have a future in America?

Here’s a bit from Stephen Hayward from the American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan think tank with a free market orientation:

It is remotely possible that the aftermath of this disaster might ironically lead to the go-ahead for a new generation of smaller, safer nuclear designs that are in development. If Japan can come through the worst-case scenario, it might calm our longtime nuclear phobia.

Virginia’s Gov. Bob McDonnell:

Virginia is home to two nuclear facilities, in Surry and Louisa counties. They generate roughly 40 percent of our electricity. They have multiple redundant systems to provide backup electrical power. The stations were also analyzed against worst-case acts of nature, such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, and modified as necessary to protect them. There are 19 emergency drills scheduled for this year.

We must use all our God-given resources here in America to pursue our goal of greater energy security. Nuclear energy is an important part of our energy portfolio.

Robert Shrum, a Democratic strategist and senior fellow at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service

This is not the end of nuclear power but the end of the fantasy that a nuclear deus ex machina can redeem our energy economy from dependence on foreign oil.

I’m not sure that was ever really an issue, minus the development of a flux capacitor a la Back to the Future. Electric cars would do the trick for curbing oil dependence and they would benefit from nuclear energy.

Apologists for the industry will work to explain away the accident. Anti-nuclear activists will tout it as a warning of catastrophic danger. Caught between the polarities of energy needs and nuclear fear, public policy will compromise — or, more bluntly, muddle through.

Shrum has some good points to make, though a bit cynically.

NEI’s President and CEO Marvin Fertel. Apologist? Not so much:

The tragic forces of nature and the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant will have repercussions for our industry but also will result in changes for the better. President Obama has reassured our nation that there is no threat to public health from the Japanese accident and that the U.S. industry is safe. Every U.S. nuclear power plant is reexamining the programs in place to respond to extreme natural events or significant loss of critical plant systems.

Seems pretty clear eyed to me.

Even traditional anti-nuclear advocates included in the mix seem muted and they are to be commended for it. Time enough for the old fights later. For now, getting Japan back on its feet and resolving the remaining issues at Fukushima Daiichi remains paramount.

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