IS NUCLEAR POWER THE GULF TRAGEDY'S 'OTHER SHOE'?
By Ritt Goldstein
We humans are an interesting species, our achievements demonstrating that we are capable of virtually incalculable greatness. Unfortunately, our catastrophes - such as that ostensibly "one in a million" chance oil debacle in The Gulf - demonstrate we have our downsides too. Of course, sometimes even I happen to have that ever so rare occasion when, dare I say it, even I actually make an error; though, I reassure myself that this just means I'm only human...but 'human error' can be a problem.
I just finished reading an opinion piece in The New York Times, "Recipes for Ruin, in the Gulf or on Wall Street", the author - an academic from the University of Chicago - made a good point about estimating our capacity for grave miscalculation and its consequences. He noted that "we do not live in an ideal world", and then (simultaneously offering that he felt compelled to utilize a genteel term) keenly observed that "stuff happens". And indeed it does.
Thanks to legislation dating from the Exxon Valdez disaster, we have some recourse to seek damages from those business entities that, for one reason or another, find themselves responsible for adding oil pollution to our already less than pristine environment. But just as our all too human capacity for making mistakes was responsible for 'Exxon Valdez', and certainly appears to have played a role in The Gulf, it also was found to have been a factor in America's best known nuclear accident, 'Three Mile Island'.
While we got lucky at Three Mile Island, managing to avoid a scenario that could have been far worse, the illusion of infallible nuclear safety systems was temporarily tarnished. Then came the Chernobyl Disaster, and with it a reminder of our sad capacity for boundless technological optimism, plus the inherent dangers which we, as beings which are 'only human', bring to any equation.
I won't mention that our faith in those with the US Minerals Management Service, and their 'faith' in those they were meant to regulate, brought us that huge bowl of 'oil chowder' we had once called The Gulf of Mexico. If there's currently a better example of our all too natural capacity for error, then it escapes me.
I won't cite President Obama's March decision ending the moratorium on offshore drilling just weeks before BP's Gulf Debacle began, but it does show that even those who are smart and capable do make mistakes. However, what concerns me far more is The President's February decision to support the construction of two new nuclear power plants, the first since the 1970's.
While the ongoing Gulf Spill presents an ecological crisis of yet untold proportions, the effects of any substantive 'nuclear spill' would be far worse. But hey, even the best of us 'make mistakes', and given that, maybe the President will realize his position on nuclear power could well prove a huge one.
Of course, Obama has also called for a vast increase in renewable energy, and that does seem a much better idea. I sincerely believe our President a decent and capable man, and so let's try and avoid our all too human potential for errors, especially those that are 'nuclear'. The damaging effects of radiation can last a lot longer than those of oil...it won't be pretty if that 'other shoe' ever drops.