Many public officials and even leaders in the environmental community, myself included, were beginning to accept that nuclear power was not only a part of a clean energy future for America, but a cornerstone for the package of alternatives to fossil fuels that would enable the nation to reduce its pollution while maintaining economic strength.
Nuclear power, which still suffers from huge economic uncertainties and local concerns about safety, had been growing in acceptance as what appeared to many to be a relatively benign, proven and (if safe and permanent storage for wastes could be arranged) nonpolluting source of energy for the United States’ future growth.
That supportive coalition undoubtedly died on March 11, 2011, the day that an earthquake and tsunami in Japan damaged nuclear plants to the point of radioactive contamination and possible meltdown. Bureaucratic barriers that were erected after Three Mile Island will be constructed again, and the questions that will be asked, answers that will be demanded, and safeguards that will be required will make it impossible to accelerate the building of U.S. nuclear power plants at a pace necessary to make this source viable as a widespread alternative.
Here’s the kind of thing we’ll hear a lot of:
“I think it calls on us here in the U.S., naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what’s happened in Japan,” Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut and one of the Senate’s leading voices on energy, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Of course, the best way to save lives is to reduce our use of energy, because the extraction of energy is a dangerous endeavor by any means. Whether it enslavement of human beings, the subterranean death of mine workers, the slow poisoning of waters and air, the specter of exploding oil platforms and the sliming of waterways, or—as we see now—the earthshaking under nuclear reactors, energy comes at a high price.
Perhaps that is the lesson of this day.