Nuclear power and the left
In Japan, horrible things have happened in the last couple of days. The damage and horrors are tremendous, and the nuclear power plant explosion and subsequent partial meltdown hasn’t helped things at all. Most people are preoccupied by dealing with the disaster itself that they’re not sweating the political ramifications.
But not Matthew Yglesias. Oh no, he instead writes this yesterday:
Today’s nuclear troubles in Japan seem to me like yet another reminder of how fundamentally odd American conservatives’ love for this particular modality of electricity generation is. The underlying presumption of the idea of safely operating nuclear plants, after all, is that the United States Government is capable of effectively designing and enforcing appropriate regulations and appropriately designing and implementing appropriate emergency response capacity. And yet in most contexts, conservatives insist that any public sector undertaking is necessarily going to end up as poorly run as the worst DMV line in America.
First, yes this is bad. However, it’s worth noting that nuclear accidents like this are incredibly rare. The Three Mile Island accident, often held up as an example of the dangers of nuclear power, has been overblown by history. Yes, it could have been horrible, but it wasn’t. In fact, two out of the three cooling towers are still operational and producing electricity to this day.
For what it’s worth, I do need to note that Yglesias doesn’t actually say nuclear power is bad. The implication is clearly there, and he’s making an argument about the potential dangers versus mentioning the extensive safety record in nations that actually give a damn about their people.
As far as nuclear power goes, keep in mind that no conversion from fossil fuels can really happen without nuclear power serving as a stopgap between that and truly “green” energy sources like solar. That, coupled with hydroelectric, produce the least pollution of any power sources we currently employ. Are there risks? Absolutely. I would have to be an idiot to not acknowledge them. However, they are also incredibly rare.
The key is for engineers to look at what happens in places like Japan and develop new safety measures that will prevent something like this. Granted 8.8 earthquakes are fairly rare, so we may never have another incident like this again, but why risk it? However, that risk isn’t sufficient to block the best way to create power without pollution. We need to simply learn from this incident.
It’s time to leave fear behind and start looking towards progress. That shouldn’t be a hard concept for a group that refers to themselves as “progressives”, now should it?