So I heard some very interesting news this week on NPR. (Did I mention I have a huge crush on Ira Glass? Don’t tell my husband, please.) A utility company called Southern Co. was given the thumbs-up to build two new nuclear reactors near Augusta, GA. These reactors will be the first built since 1978.
Not sure how to feel about this news, actually. Admittedly, I concede I am no expert (not even close – I’m a fox, not a hedgehog) on nuclear power, but I do try to keep up with current events in the energy industry so that I’ll be properly armed to engage in a healthy, expletive-rich debate should the opportunity present itself. (I might leave out the expletives, but only if I’d had enough sleep the night before. Which is unlikely, with a baby and toddler in the house.)
So, do we think this is progress? Sure, jobs will be created. And more electricity will flow into the grid as a result. Those are positives, no doubt. (Oh, and someone will make a ton of money on this deal.) But do these pros ultimately outweigh the cons? Is it worth the risk? We should take some comfort in the knowledge that a new process for cooling the reactor, involving water and gravity, has been established that will ideally prevent similar catastrophes like the one that befell Fukushima, Japan, recently. Evidently, someone really smart decided that it probably wasn’t prudent to rely too heavily on electricity to cool a nuclear reactor. (Anyone else appreciate the irony of this?)
Nuclear (incidentally, I can never not think of George W. when I hear this word) power does have some advantages. It’s “cleaner” than fossil fuels in terms of the resultant air pollution and impact on climate change. That perk is quickly negated by the potential implications of, oh, groundwater contamination at waste disposal sites. “Scotch with a splash of plutonium, please… ?” “Sure thing, I’ll have it for you in a half-life!” Not to mention the risk of a nuclear meltdown and the potential release of cancer-causing toxins into the air we breathe.
Somehow, people don’t seem to be too concerned about fossil fuel usage, however, and its contribution to the green house effect. Of ComEd’s energy sources in Illinois, Fossil fuels compose 55% and nuclear accounts for 41% of the energy supply that powers homes and businesses. Among those who use Power2Switch to change electricity suppliers, a mere 11.5% of you opted for a green energy component to your electricity supply. Perhaps it’s because the threat of the big C from radiation hits home a little harder than a little acid rain and melting polar ice caps… ? The impact on us individually is less tangible, and is yet to seen fully. One overt effect is that as the planet warms, energy use will increase in response to these rising temperatures, e.g., you will use more electricity to cool your home. Which, in turn, contributes more pollution to the environment through the use of fossil fuels to generate that additional energy. If any of you have taken Econ 101, you should know that with increased demand, supply must also increase, or else cost will invariably increase — hence the need the for additional energy sources to meet this increasing demand. It’s a cyclical process that must become a linear one.
Additionally, according to the EPA, infrastructure for energy production, transmission and distribution could be affected by climate change. For example, if a warmer climate is characterized by more extreme weather events such as windstorms, ice storms, floods, tornadoes and hail, the transmission systems of electric utilities may experience a higher rate of failure, with attendant costs.” And I think we all know who will be covering those costs. You and me, baby! Although, unlike most of y’all, I actually opted for a renewable plan when I switched electricity suppliers. Yep, not feeling ANY guilt about destroying the environment every time I flip the light switch. How about you?
Sure, nuclear power and energy derived from fossil fuels are “cheaper” in terms of price paid per kilowatt-hour than renewable energy sources. But at what cost to our planet?