Once upon a time, nuclear energy was just a domineering question mark. Its variables, limits and potentials were only a matter of speculation, without any variables to draw from, and the more curious nations resembled first time bike riders. Their neighbors, the tropical agriculturalists, tentative Easterners and cross-eyed Westerners would watch to see how they fared from their respective living rooms, while somewhat interested, but not enough to dip their toes in.
They saw single speeds, hybrids and city bikes, noting how they fared in traffic and the durability of the paint. There would be mental notes when they fell, with crossed fingers at the intersections. Inevitably, in the face of an accident, the mantra rose that it wouldn’t ever happen to them.
The kids have grown and we’ve seen that. For all of our concerns with the nuclear activity on adjacent shores, we’ve turned blind eyes to our own. Nuclear plants in this country resemble the aforementioned bikes, sans kickstands, breaks, or an adjustable steering wheel. From the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona to our very own South Texas Nuclear Generating Station, the plants, as well as their surrounding areas, have almost certainly been accompanied with their own respective time bombs. The magic question isn’t if they’ll find themselves in jeopardy, but when.
If a reason is needed to re-evaluate our nuclear stance, you’d only need to turn to the 1984 incident in Athens, Ala., which resulted in a six-year outage in the area, and was immediately followed by another incident in the same area the following year.
Or Plymouth, Mass. in 1986, yielding an emergency shutdown of the plant and a shadow that still looms over the area. Or Chernobyl, Ukraine; Idaho Falls; Leningrad Oblast or Oak Harbor, Ohio.
Most recently, the three-fold disaster in Japan demonstrated the unforgiving nature of nuclear slip-ups, killing three workers, and rendering parts of the country unlivable for at least the next couple of years.
Even still, there are opponents to a shut down, with their reasons in tow. “Nuclear energy is more efficient;” “It’s less wasteful in the long run;” “Once the ball’s rolling, the increase in productivity is exponential” and, maybe the most recurrent of all, “Nuclear energy is the future.”
But whose future, exactly? More than negligent, it is stupid to say that these factors, along with countless others, justify the potential disarray our entanglement with nuclear endeavors entails.
After the incident on Three Mile Island in 1979, during which radioactive gases and iodine were released into Dauphin County, Pa., the public’s nuclear endorsement dropped to 43 percent. Last year’s “accident” in Fukushima knocked the bar even lower, so that “64 percent of Americans opposed the construction of new nuclear reactors.”
It’s a start, but if these are the magnitudes required to raise awareness, it’d be a tragedy to find out what would result in a unanimous approval.
With more than 100 nuclear plants still operating in the nation, it’s a terrible method for punctuating progress.
Bryan Washington is a sociology freshman and may be reached at [email protected].