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Do We Need Nuclear Power? A Fisking.

Feb 17, 2012

Remember fisking? Back in the early 2000s, when blogging was hitting its stride, a popular approach of many bloggers was to take a printed article from the dinosaur media and subject it, point by point, to a critique, showing the mistakes, biases and flaws in reasoning, accuracy and truth.

The term comes from journalist (cough) Robert Fisk. His reporting from the Middle East was criticized so often and so effectively by the early bloggers, before journalists became canny enough to realize that for the first time in their careers independent sources existed outside of the typical media echo chamber to hold their work to accountability, that the practice of eviscerating shoddy, misleading writing was known as "fisking."  ?

Do We Need Nukes?

Is there a case for nuclear energy again? Some people think so. Some people you probably wouldn't expect, in fact.

By the way, this reporter currently lives in New Zealand, where nukes are about as popular as Greek government bonds are in Germany -- they don't even allow nuclear-powered ships to dock, and gave up membership in an American-Australian defense treaty over the issue, so we'd appreciate it if you wouldn't repost this on any Kiwi sites. Don't need my kids getting labeled at school as "that nuke jerk's kid."

Christie Whitman, former governor of New Jersey, former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, current co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, has written a piece for the HuffPo titled "The Case for Nuclear Power Is as Strong as Ever," coinciding with the approval of the construction of the first new nuclear reactor in America since the release of The China Syndrome, the most fortuitously-timed two-star movie in Hollywood history.

Obviously that can be read one of two ways, much like "the greatest showcase of Bob Dylan's singing." If you like ol' Minnesota Mud Throat you'll read that one way, if the phrase "cats strangled by barbed wire" comes to mind, well, you'll take it as a warning.

On The Whole, We'd Rather Have Nukes, Yes.

We realize that it's imperfect as every energy source is, but that on balance, nuclear energy is A Good Thing. Developing it without being aware of, and providing for, the hazards is, of course; inexcusable; protesting it simply because there are some hazards is equally mindless and counter-productive.

Again, no need to e-mail this to my and my kids' friends here in Aotearoa, thanks.

So let's look at Whitman's article in the style of fisking. Not that we're expecting anything close to all the wild inaccuracies and outright deceptions of a typical Robert Fisk piece, but we just like the style. We come not to slice Whitman to ribbons, but to see what she says and offer our 2¢.

"?It has been suggested recently that, in light of the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, America needs to plan for a massive catastrophe at one of the country's 104 working nuclear reactors."

Not sure what nuclear power has to do with deep-sea oil drilling. What, if auto accidents go up we need to improve airplane safety? Who's "suggesting" this? And we have 104 working nuclear reactors? Great.

The Death Toll From Nuclear Reactor Meltdowns Is...

"Preventive safety work is already being done every day at our nation's reactors. In fact, the United States nuclear energy industry has accumulated an outstanding safety record since the days of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979."

Death toll from radiation exposure in the entire history of the American nuclear power industry: Zero.

"For more than 30 years, nuclear plants have delivered about 20 percent of America's electricalpower safely and securely, without major incident."

Sweet. Let's build more.

"Analyses conducted by the independent Electric Power Research Institute concluded that the structures that surround U.S. nuclear power plants would protect against a release of radiation if struck by a Boeing 767 jetliner."

Not that we're looking forward to verification. ?

?"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds nuclear reactor operators to the highest safety and security standards of any American industry... Nuclear energy meets a higher standard for safety than any other American industry."

And rightfully so.

Is Energy Consumption Among American Leftists Falling? No?

"Virtually every form of energy production -- coal mining and oil drilling come to mind -- involves significant safety risks. But not producing domestic energy represents another risk, in the form of greater dependence on foreign oil and other energy sources."

Here's where Whitman gets into the meat of the issue. Yes, we'd all like it if we could wave a magic wand and get all the energy we need from unicorn breath, but that's probably not happening. Solar's unfeasible for the lifestyle American environmental activists demand, all that power has to come from somewhere. There is no risk-free energy source, so what are we supposed to do?

"With our electricity demand poised to rise 23 percent by 2030, we are going to need to expand our portfolio of energy sources, not limit them."

It's no good bleating about how demand shouldn't be rising so fast. It is. That's the reality, that's the world of real-life tradeoffs that American citizens have to live in and make work. You don't like nuclear power? Fine. What's your alternative? Buying more overseas oil? Fracking? Covering Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico with solar panels to provide enough electricity to power suburban Salt Lake City?

Nuclear Energy? Americans Say Let's Go.

"The latest Gallup poll found that 62 percent of Americans -- an all-time high -- favor the use of nuclear energy to produce electricity."

Probably because prices at the gas pump feel like all-time highs.

"The Obama administration [decided] to restart the nuclear power industry with its first industry loan guarantee to build two new reactors in Georgia."

Must be an election coming up, and somebody must be tired of hearing about Solyndra.

"This broad-based coalition of supporters has been drawn to nuclear energy because no other full-time electricity source offers the same kind of impact in addressing America's environmental and economic challenges. Nuclear plants produce virtually no carbon dioxide or other harmful emissions; U.S. reactors generated more than 70 percent of the country's emissions-free electricity last year."

Where else are you going to find a non-polluting, clean, renewable source of energy that we don't have to subsidize terrorist-supporting regimes to get? Again, if you have an energy source that's capable of filling this need better than nuclear power, let's hear it. Fine, do all the solar research you want, but don't take a sledgehammer to proven energy sources until you can demonstrate that solar can match their output. Here, I'll hold my breath for that to happen.

Greenpeace Co-Founder: We Were Wrong About Nuclear Energy.

Maybe this is why the head of Greenpeace Co-Founder Patrick Moore recently lamented how the organization played a major part in killing the American nuclear power industry for about 30 years. One can only imagine how far along in energy self-sufficiency we'd be now had we been developing nuclear power for the past two generations.

In fact, Greenpeace is still opposing nuclear power, much to Moore's chagrin: "Greenpeace tended to take a more black-and-white approach to many of these issues, and today they are opposed to all nuclear energy, even though it's a safe and clean alternative to fossil fuels."

"Nuclear energy has a proven safety record, it is subjected to stringent regulatory oversight, and it is domestically produced and managed. As we look toward meeting our increasing energy needs, investment in nuclear energy, along with conservation and other clean energy sources, should be a priority."

Hard to argue with that. In fact, if you do argue with nuclear power, you have to do so on the grounds of what-ifs and maybes and other imaginative scenarios. Don't agree? Get back to me with the death toll from the Fukushima reactor accident.

The Light Bulb Went Off For Moore.

Moore's position is worth looking at a bit closer. Of course he doesn't get invited to the annual Greenpeace Christmas party anymore, but certainly leading Greenpeace for 15 years established his greenie bona fides and cred beyond all doubt. Until...

... until he had his "light-bulb moment," in 1982 at a United Nations Environment Program Conference on the environment in Nairobi, where, as he says, he "heard the term 'sustainable development' for the first time," and realized "our long-term mission was much broader than just focusing on the environment alone, that it had to take into account the social and economic priorities that keep our civilization running. We need to be able to adopt environmental policies that take into account the social and economic priorities that keep us alive every day."

In other words, you can't step up and say, "Hey, I'd rather that we be able to get all our energy from wind power, so let's shut down all fossil fuel and nuclear and coal and it'll happen."

Which is pretty much where Greenpeace is still at. Which is why Moore had to leave.

Moore is right, though, and so is Whitman: Americans, left-wing environmental activists included, simply won't accept a lowering of their standard of living to that currently attainable using only solar, wind and other clean, green energy sources. We need nuclear as the best alternative to fossil fuels for the future.