Back in my engineering days, I worked on a project that centered around a new and innovative nuclear reactor design. Although I wasn’t a nuclear engineer, and my specialty focused on spacecraft, rockets, orbits and the like, I nevertheless absorbed a journeyman’s knowledge of nuclear power and related matters (e.g. nuclear waste). I also learned quite a bit, then and since then, about the politics surrounding all things nuclear.

One of the biggest lessons was the simple fact that most people don’t have a [redacted] clue what they’re talking about when they start mouthing off about the dangers of nuclear power. Much of this is simple ignorance mixed with fear of the unknown and spooky, and is fueled by a grossly irresponsible press corps that can’t be bothered resolving its own ignorance, let alone try to present nuclear power in a factual and logically grounded manner.

The relevance of this collective ignorance is greater today than it was back in the 80s and 90s when I was in that world. In a world concerned about climate change aka anthropogenic global warming (AGW), nuclear power, which generates no carbon emissions and which does not suffer from dependence on the vagaries of sunlight and weather that plague solar and wind power, should be at the fore of all conversations about “alternative energy.”

Yes, there is a debate as to whether AGW is a threat (yes, there is, the science is not settled), and, yes, I’m a lukewarmist who doesn’t believe that carbon caps and taxes are anything other than futile, wealth-destroying, murderous stupidity, but I do allow for the possibility that new information and research will change my mind about the need to address AGW. I’m also of the belief that nuclear power is a terribly underexploited resource in the world today. If it turns out that we need to address global warming by reducing global carbon emissions, we’re going to have to make power in different ways. Nuclear should be number one with a bullet on everyone’s alternative energy list.

The fact that it isn’t tells us a couple things.

First – anyone who is a strong advocate for alternative energy, purports to be informed on the topic, and does not lead his list of alternatives with nuclear is either ignorant or is driven by a different agenda.

Second – anyone who believes we must act, now and drastically, to counter the threat of global warming and is not an advocate for nuclear power is, to quote a Facebook page I follow, “not serious.” He’s living in a world of pixie dust and rainbow pots of gold, where humanity will get the power that supports its living standards from (remarkably carbon-free) unicorn farts. Yes, solar and wind power can contribute to that, but no, they will not come anywhere remotely close to supplanting carbon energy to the degree we are told is necessary.

Contrary to popular belief/ignorance, nuclear power is incredibly safe (how many know, for example, that neither Three Mile Island nor Fukushima killed anyone via radiation?), and state-of-the-art reactor designs are even safer than those that have posted this safety record over the past half century. The nuclear waste question is a purely political “problem,” in that the tech and engineering are all well-established and that it’s overblown and overstated by ideologues. If you don’t already know this and want your eyes opened, watch the documentary Pandora’s Promise, currently on Netflix.

Despite this reality, politicians (who have enough voices talking in their ears to dismiss any assertions of genuine ignorance) are shutting down nuclear power plants all over the West – without any real plans to replace that power production. Here in NY State, Governor Cuomo and the Greens are finally getting their wish and shutting down Indian Point, and over in Germany, Merkel & Co. are trying to take nuclear power away from a country that isn’t exactly a sun-belt solar-power mecca. Even France, which for decades has made most of its electricity from nuclear power without incident, is looking to reduce the share of power production that comes from nuclear.

While it’s certainly a consideration that some plants are near the end of their useful life, the fact that the West is not charging ahead with new reactors based on modern designs is a travesty. Energy will become more expensive, and that greater expense will harm living standards all over the First World. Unless some paradigm-shift invention suddenly bursts onto the power generation scene, nuclear is the answer to AGW concerns (should they prove valid). Even skeptics of catastrophic AGW predictions should back nuclear power. Done right, it provides a world of benefits, especially in developing nations, where power production is less clean and efficient, and where the other emissions from carbon energy plants (e.g. particulates) are an indisputable public health concern.

My big boss on that nuclear rocket project used to pronounce “nuclear” in that oft-mocked “alternate” way hinted at by the title of this essay. I was puzzled by this – he was a very smart and informed man – until I heard his explanation. When he entered that world, he said, countless nuclear PhDs said the word that way – probably because much of the work was happening down South (Savannah River National Laboratory, for one place). So, he realized, “who am I to argue with them, it’s their world.” I was highly amused by this, and while I still say “nu-klee-ar,” I have occasional fun with “new-cue-lar.” What’s the broader lesson? Before mocking and dismissing something as broad (and as misunderstood and misrepresented) as nuclear power, it behooves one to cure one’s ignorance on the subject. Similarly, before one goes either all-in on global warming, or one dismisses it as a giant hoax, it’s worth learning some more about both that subject and the inextricably-intertwined subject of remediation via carbon caps and taxes. I did, and what I learned over decades has made me a lukewarmist: neither claiming that it’s all a con job, nor claiming that we are destroying the Earth.

The future is nuclear. We just have to get out of the way and let it happen.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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