The State Journal's editorial last Friday asking us to stop and think about nuclear power seemed like a reasonable stance — until you stated we "cannot afford to rule out a clean source of energy... that has operated safely and effectively in the state for 40 years."
By what standard of evidence and consensual reality can you blithely label nuclear energy clean or safe?
The fact that reactors do not produce carbon dioxide does not seem like a sufficient benefit to outweigh the fact that we are using one of the most toxic substances in the world. It's a poison without an antidote — one that needs half a million years of high technology maintenance to protect us and our little planet from its unstable and toxic waste products — as a source of heat to boil water.
As someone who is addicted to the layers of comfort and convenience that electricity provides, I shamefully acknowledge the legitimacy of the question you raise about what to do about increasing demand — a vexing challenge especially in the face of an unsustainable status quo.
Coal, despite industry's attempt to brand it as clean, is filthy at every stage of its utilization, from safety issues and the environmental horrors involved with its extraction, to the toxic byproducts of its combustion — whether it's mercury in our fish or lakes of ash slurry flowing into water and homes.
Natural gas, until recently, seemed like a relatively clean alternative. Then the even more nightmarish details emerged about the innovative extraction technique called fracking. The image of water from the faucet catching fire is hopefully etched into our public consciousness in ways that no amount of slick "clean natural gas" industry advertising can counter.
And oil? As they say in the movies — "forgetabouit." New revelations about the continuing lack of enforcement of safety standards and the new research about the totally flawed design of blowout preventers are unnerving, especially in light of the flurry of new deep water drilling permits spewing from Obama administration regulators.
So what can we do?
Our current menu of options is dismal. The State Journal editorial claimed "wind, solar and biomass each show promise. But each also has flaws, and all have limited potential." The editorial added: "Conservation is important but insufficient."
These flaws and limitations result from our lack of political will to pursue these options as if our lives depended on them.
We built our interstate highway system by putting the program under the umbrella of national defense. Perhaps it's time to recycle that umbrella and mobilize all of our national will to overcoming those flaws and removing the limits on the potential of these alternatives.
As your editorial stated: "The continuing tragedy in Japan should not be minimized. But lessons will emerge."
It's time to make them emerge quickly, or Fukushima will become the icon of a very bleak future right here at home.
Golden lives in Madison.