Environmentalists Must Embrace Fission

It’s fission or frickin’ fracking.

“woman holding green leafed seedling” by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash

Lack of pragmatic reform from environmental activists has painted the United States, no check that, the world, into a corner. America continued burning cheap oil all throughout the last decade of the twentieth century. Oil was so cheap nothing could compete on price. Americans have opposed a tax on a gallon of gas ever since independent presidential candidate John Anderson proposed it in his 1980 campaign. Americans WANT cheap oil!

In America, it is easy to talk about saving the environment, but if it makes gas prices go up, then nobody can stomach it. Many environmentalists preach conservation. Through conservation, they say, the United States can reduce emissions. Throughout most of its history, the environmental establishment has focused on what industry and people cannot do, rather than what it can. This has made Americans look at environmentalists as job killers and impractical dreamers.

The idea of a pro-nuclear environmentalist is an oxymoron to many. The events in Japan at Fukushima seem to have killed nuclear power as an energy option…again…just as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island did back in the eighties. However, the climate has deteriorated significantly during this time, so perhaps the world is ready to reconsider fission, warts and all. Global climate change has reached a tipping point. Ignoring atomic fission is no longer tenable when one considers all the facts, even in light of Fukushima. Nuclear power is the last hope of maintaining a high standard of living in conjunction with a relatively clean environment.

The libertarian-socialist must step forward to give the public the whole story concerning nuclear power. The ideologically motivated claptrap that has been used to persuade the American public to drop nuclear power as an energy source is criminal in its misrepresentation of the facts. A future without nuclear power can only be a grim one for this planet, but especially for the United States of America. The Earth’s climate stability cannot stand another generation of fossil fuel combustion, like the last.

We now know that the major oil companies knew climate change was happening back in the eighties. Congruently, there was a global anti-nuclear weapons movement that was gaining enormous transaction. It became widely understood that nuclear weapons were doomsday devices. It did not take but a fraction of the mega-tonnage available to trigger a nuclear winter. The anti-nuclear weapons movement began to target nuclear reactors as well. It was bit off base, since weapons were not being made at the facilities, but the “No Nukes” movement encompassed all things nuclear.

Oil companies were preparing to drill in an ice free Arctic even in the eighties. One wonders what other forward thinking plans these companies implemented. In retrospect, one wonders how much oil companies spent to manipulate the fledgling “No Nukes” movement. It probably did not take too much money at all to point them at their main competitors for electrical production. The nineties were a decade with some of the cheapest oil, relatively, that had been seen in many people’s lifetimes. This seriously crippled alternative energy sources. Fission needed a more concerted effort to cripple its development and “No Nukes” provided that.

Some have pointed to Chernobyl as the real cause of fission’s decline. Certainly a case can be made. The accident certainly had a hand in hastening the end for the Soviet Union. That nation’s reputation was deeply damaged by the nuclear accident. This can be partly attributed to the Russians lying about the state of affairs at the reactor. Their lies were transparent to the world’s Geiger counters and destroyed many trusting national relationships.

Fukushima and the radioactivity fears that nuclear energy drags around like a boat anchor are overblown. These fears have a real basis in fact of course. Radioactivity is invisible and dangerous. However, one of the beautiful things about nuclear power and radioactivity is that Geiger counters are cheap. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible to hide nuclear reactor problems, like radioactivity leaks.

Unlike other technologies and chemicals like the MTBE groundwater pollution that cleaned up California’s air only to destroy large portions of the state’s water supplies, radiation leaks are very easy for the public to detect with inexpensive Geiger counters. At Fukushima, like Chernobyl, it is impossible for governments and corporations to cover up what is going on and how bad things really are. The patriotic libertarian and the patriotic socialist understand that ease of detection is a huge positive for nuclear fission.

Fukushima is a near worst-case scenario in Japan, a 9.0 earthquake and an 80-foot tsunami hit the reactors. Yet the world did not see the kind of enormous radiation leaks such as what was released at Chernobyl. Also worthy of consideration is that Fukushima is a very old design from decades ago. If this level of safety from an obsolete architecture does not give people some confidence, it is hard to imagine what will.

Libertarian-Socialists understand that energy production is a national security issue as great as any other. The United States is heavily involved in the wars and unrest in oil producing regions due to its dependence on foreign oil. Nuclear fission is the lesser of two evils, but certainly the lesser. Precisely because it is not perfect, means that environmentalists must get involved in the production of energy by fission.

Libertarian-Socialists will advocate the government nationalization of all nuclear generating facilities to be operated as national public utilities. The lessons of Enron’s manipulation of energy generation to boost profits demonstrates the need to nationalize. Libertarian-Socialists also believe that involving environmentalists as watchdogs of nationalization is a necessary action to get “buy-in” from this active segment.

Environmentalists must accept the need for nuclear fission and buy in to an agenda for its development. Environmentalists have a role, as government watchdogs, to make sure the bureaucrats do not cut corners at the expense of the environment and safety. Fission is really the only option for always available industrial amounts of power, but we all understand it is not perfect.

Just as many alternative energy sources are imperfect. there is no silver bullet. Alternate energy sources are subject to the vagaries of weather and still have a ways to go before they can replace current electrical generation methods. The generation of industrial amounts of electrical power on demand is a tall order. Excess electricity generated on especially sunny or windy days cannot be stored.

Germany, which moved away from fission in favor of renewables, has actually increased its carbon emissions. This is in conjunction with setting records for renewable power generation. Unfortunately, when there is no wind or sun, then electricity must be generated by oil or natural gas or COAL! Solar, tidal, wind and geo-thermal technologies are worth pursuing, but pouring the lion share of our precious financial resources into these technologies is not practical.

Huge amounts of electricity will be required for a transition to an electric transportation infrastructure. Some studies have shown that a plug-in all electric car will actually generate more carbon emissions. Using current power generation technologies an electric car may actually produce more pollution than the current internal combustion car does.

This is because the energy has to be created offsite and then transported to the vehicle. Creation of the power within the vehicle by burning gasoline is far more efficient. Because less energy is used to travel a given distance in a gasoline automobile, less pollution is created. This is not talked about enough.

The amount of money that the United States has dumped into the Middle East to preserve access to oil and energy is truly appalling. The only reason why this has been done is that there has been no other alternative in the minds of the leaders of this country. The lack of ideas has convinced the citizenry that there is no other path but occupying the oil fields. However, given the amount of money evaporated by Middle East military actions, a case could be made that some of that money might be better spent securing the energy grid here at home and powering it up to its maximum.

Fission is a proven industrial strength energy generator. Nuclear energy does not suffer from the limitations of weather nor does it produce significant climate changing emissions. Another factor rarely considered by those advocating alternative energy generation plants is how much the climate has already changed and is changing. We must spend billions to blanket an area of desert with solar panels or put wind turbines in the Great Plains. What if that desert becomes overcast due to climate change or tornadoes increase enormously and start tearing up the wind farm? Environmentalists have no answer.

I can hear the environmental apologists now. Who knew a hurricane would hit California? Uh, anybody paying attention to the weather ought to know that the storm track feeding storms into Mexico is gradually shifting north. Typhoons, Pacific hurricanes, are already sending remnants into the Golden State. It would only take a slight left turn in Baja for a typhoon to come roaring out of the Gulf of California potentially destroying any solar energy electric generation plant in the Mojave. We cannot spend money on these huge projects without understanding how the weather is going to evolve and we just don’t know that.

Environmentalists must understand unless the electricity is generated without atmospheric emissions, an electrical transportation infrastructure, can solve nothing. Nuclear fission can provide the juice. Atomic reactors can bring about a practical future based on fission-generated electricity. The United States will get additional synergies as well from a clear and focused build out of nuclear generated electricity generation.

No matter how things evolve in the future, it starts with embracing fission technology as it stands. The world and America in particular, cannot survive another twenty years of fossil fuel combustion like the previous twenty or even the previous ten years. Time is short to mitigate loss of America’s climate advantages. The reality is that it is fission or frickin’ fracking…that is the real choice.