Editorials

“Ruminations: The growth of civilization is tied to energy” by Rita J. King

Since I announced a moratorium on political discussions with family members just in time for the holidays, we found ourselves conversing about other issues. My father-in-law asked me what I learned while writing a series of articles on the nuclear industry, and if my feelings about the industry changed as a result.

When I first took this job, I didn’t know anything about Indian Point. I knew I didn’t like living within the so-called “peak fatality zone.”

For months, I resisted the invitation to tour the plants. Finally, Indian Point spokesman Jim Steets convinced me to bite the bullet, so to speak, and so I did. Standing on the edge of a spent fuel rod pool, I silently hoped the fuel would forever remain so innocuous-looking at the bottom of the water, and the nuclear fires some experts and scientists fear will never come to pass.

One thing I’ve learned in writing the series is Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano is correct when he says for every Ph.D, there’s an equal and opposite Ph.D. One expert will swear a nuclear fire from the spent fuel can render much of the eastern seaboard uninhabitable for thousands of years, cripple the world economy with the loss of New York City and kill hundreds of people right away, as well as thousands down the line.

Another will say that the very idea is preposterous.

The energy crisis in this world, and in our country, is indicative of the path of human nature.

Ever since humans discovered fire, our consciousness has depended upon the evolution of our energy acquisition. The sun is burning in the sky, ours for the taking, but we have not yet learned how to harness it. Our ability to change and grow as a civilization is largely tied to energy. People used whale blubber until the animals became scarce and kerosene was then used instead. Every period in human history, from the invention of the wheel to the dawn of the industrial age, is coupled with energy acquisition.

Perhaps we need to burn through all of our fossil fuel in order to evolve to the next level of intelligence. Nuclear power seems to provide a cheap alternative, but the problems associated with spent fuel are too potentially catastrophic to ignore. Part of my research was aimed at understanding the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Some correctly point out what happened in Chernobyl can’t happen at an American nuclear facility because of design differences.

But the spent fuel is another story. There are no containment structures to prevent a nuclear fire, and regardless of anyone’s best efforts to prevent it, this world is full of hazard, and I haven’t met an expert yet who believes that a moment of uncontrollable chaos couldn’t result in unimaginable devastation.

The prevalent idea seems to be that such devastation is “extremely unlikely.”

Besides, we need power.

Thanks to a number of sources, including Joel Bakan’s powerful book and film, The Corporation, I came to understand the role of corporations in our culture and the hazardous relationship they share with the government. Books can be found detailing dark deals and denial between all kinds of regulatory agencies and the industries they are intended to monitor and shape. The truth is, we aren’t safe anymore. We rely on linguistic tricks and illusions, as well as the basic faith on which this nation was founded to feel that our government is really protecting us. Many industries, nuclear included, are operating legally within an established framework and can’t be faulted for not insisting on greater restrictions and safeguards. The whole point of regulation is to keep industries safe for the public.

Money, apparently, is what makes the world go round.

But the fact remains; ideas can be applied like a filter on a lens, and all viewpoints can be enhanced by open-mindedness. Clinging to old ideas hampers the progress of all humanity.

I firmly believe that we will be stuck in the dark ages, not too much better off than when they ushered children under desks to give them the illusion of protection against the threat of Russian nukes, until we embrace the inevitable necessity for solar, and other renewable, forms of power. If history is any indication, we probably won’t get to that point until we are forced into a corner.

Would the world be better off without nuclear power? Only if we can come up with a viable alternative, and really put the money and time into understanding renewable energy sources. The current alternatives aren’t really much more appealing.

We can’t escape the fact that each life unfolds in specific historic circumstances, and this is our time. I believe each one of us is a cross-section of eternity, and that our species, blessed with consciousness, is capable of wonders we can’t even imagine at this stage in our development, the same way our ancestors couldn’t have imagined refrigerators or airplanes.

We’ve never been this advanced as a civilization, and we’ll never be this young again. As the marvels of human consciousness continue to unfold, our descendants will certainly look back and wonder why we acted the way
we did.

But they will also be grateful for the achievements and efforts that allowed them to build upon the knowledge that came before. We have to work tirelessly, to save us from ourselves. Creation and destruction are simultaneously eternal. The nuclear question, from safety and security, to energy and non-proliferation, is one of the great philosophical questions of this period in history.

The jury is still out.“

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