Nuclear Bulletin #23
18 v 2011
Nuclear Renaissance Meets Age of Discovery
Personification of the Atom would not be quite the correct term. Since Walt Disney’s Our Friend the Atom (which I once produced in response to an idiotic witness subpoena requesting all of my “documents pertaining to atomic energy”) we have deified the Atom, bestowing it with the attributes not only of a living being, but of an immortal one, a god. (In the Disney version, the Atom is a magic genie granting wishes, minus the evil curse of authentic genie legends.)
Thus, the stubborn talk about “reviving” atomic energy, as if it is an organism starved for oxygen. This is entirely a linguistic artifact of our Indo-European mental prison. If Native American languages had predominated, with their gender distinction between animate and inanimate subjects, much of the catastrophe might have been avoided.
Speaking as we do, let’s review the atomic industry’s long-sought revival:
Germany is in process of shuttering seven reactors immediately, with the other ten to follow within a decade. Italy and Switzerland, the latter among the five most nuclear-dependent countries, have canceled all future nuclear reactor plans. Japan, with the third largest nuclear fleet, has also canceled all future reactors, in addition to permanent shutdown of the six reactors at Fukushima. Prime minister Naoto Kan sounds eerily like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Kan seeks immediate shutdown of the two reactors at Hamaoka, in an earthquake-prone region near Tokyo. Cuomo seeks immediate shutdown of the two reactors at Indian Point, on an earthquake fault north of New York City.
China, while not going so far as to cancel all future projects, has diverted its energy investments from nuclear to solar and wind. India appears to be following China so as to avoid competitive disadvantage.
These actions, taken together, define a new technological race toward supremacy in solar and wind technology, led by a discrete pack of countries that includes Germany, Japan, India, China, Italy, Denmark, and Israel. Germany’s Merkel has become spokeswoman for the group, sounding increasingly like Bonnie Raitt: “We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible.”
A 28-page report by a Merkel-appointed commission makes the industrial policy decision even more clear: “A withdrawal from nuclear power will spur growth, offer enormous technical, economic and social opportunities to position Germany even further as an exporter of sustainable products and services…Germany could show that a withdrawal from nuclear energy is the chance to create a high-powered economy.” Germany’s Unlikely Champion Of a Radical Green Energy Path by Christian Schwägerl: Yale Environment 360
For every winner, there’s a loser. The French, with caffeinated edginess, are caught in a Cul-de-Sac Atomique, or CSA, to coin a term. The Russians are saying to hell with all of it, as they remain contentedly awash in oil and natural gas. Russian satellites like Kazakhstan, which has quietly surpassed Canada and Australia to become the world’s largest supplier of uranium, by far, are also banking on the technics of a bygone age.
That leaves, of course, the United States, energy consumer below par excellence. All rational thought in the USA has been suspended by consensus, since this is the year before the year of a presidential election. American industrial policy will be established on the stump in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Sandusky, Ohio, as contingencies require, and as determined by the local phone-banking union operatives and assorted party hacks.
Nuclear loan guarantees will come up for a vote in the non-Olympus-like House Appropriations Committee in June, and the irony is that labor-led Democrats are pushing hardest for the industry bailouts, while budget-minded Tea Partiers are trying to get the corporate welfare canned. We may yet see bumper-stickers in New Hampshire that read “No Nukes! Vote Republican!” Though to be fair, the constellations in states like Vermont and New York are precisely the reverse.
Americans have just not had a knack for industrial policy, unless the playing field has first been leveled by aerial bombardment. Redevelopment from anything but ground level confuses us.
Geoffrey Sea holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Science from Harvard. He did graduate work in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and in radiological health physics at San Jose State University. He is co-founder of Southern Ohio Neighbors Group, which successfully defeated plans for the centralized storage of spent nuclear fuel at Piketon, Ohio. He has published in the American Scholar, the Columbia Journalism Review, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and many newspapers. He can be contacted via email at SargentsPigeon@aol.com