Some nukes is good nukes
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid exercised his “Nuclear Option” last month to change the Senate rules to end the filibuster in judicial nominations. Nevada Sen. Dean Heller claimed it was a “scary day for Nevada” because if the Republicans took over the Senate, they could use the nuclear option to revive Yucca Mountain, turning Nevada back into the nation’s nuclear waste dump.
Ever since the “Screw Nevada” law was passed creating the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Suppository, er, Repository, Sen. Reid has hitched his political wagon to the star of opposition to the dump. He has managed to thwart the Congress through parliamentary moves of dubious legality that have tabled the project indefinitely. The federal courts are not happy and have issued rulings that the law must be obeyed. Still, they don’t command the army it would take to stop the powerful majority leader from imposing his will.
Strangely, Reid’s signature cause of blocking Yucca Mountain could be outflanked from the most unlikely of sources: The environmental left.
Nuclear power originated from the military industrial complex. The A-bomb was its birth mother. Through subsidies and liability caps, the government created nuclear power before a free market would have. Nevada’s grassroots environmental groups, first Citizen Alert and now PLAN, have conflated nuclear power with nuclear war. They have succeeded in exaggerating the dangers of nuclear power and waste while minimizing the benefits. Pro-nuclear grassroots groups have never been able to excite Nevadans for nuclear power because the fight against Yucca Mountain has turned them against it.
Within the green-energy wing, there is a growing rift between those who are committed to “renewables and efficiency gains” and the new environmentalists who are pro-nuclear power. These new environmentalists contend that renewable energy is simply not reliable enough, or cheap enough, right now or in the near future to be a major energy supplier. Former NASA scientist James Hansen, a leading voice against catastrophic global warming, is calling for a national program to immediately build a nuclear-based national energy system because that alone can reduce greenhouse gases significantly enough to “save the planet.”
There are also growing numbers of free-market environmentalists who are pro-nuclear. They are futurists who envision a new generation of non-water cooled nuclear plants that are even more efficient and safer than the aging plants online now.
These new environmentalists challenge the old green ideology that no amount of radiation is safe, that nuclear power plants are dangerous and nuclear waste unmanageable. The number of fatalities, even including cancer increases, resulting from nuclear incidents such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima are remarkably few. Even the toxic materials needed to produce solar panels can kill. There are enormous start-up costs to nuclear power, but once up and running, the energy is clean and almost free.
Libertarians wish government had never gotten involved in energy production. The system is much less efficient and much more expensive because the progressive model of a government-regulated monopoly like NV Energy results in a single entity that produces 85 percent of the state’s energy. Without the state’s involvement, the markets would provide much more choice in who supplies our energy.
Environmentalists and Indian tribes won a major victory when Gov. Brian Sandoval signed off on shutting down Nevada’s coal-powered plants. But heavily subsidized renewables are not the answer. Nevada’s energy future should lie in natural gas and nuclear. Time will tell if Harry Reid’s crusade against Yucca Mountain and nuclear power will actually produce the positive legacy he craves.