Nuclear Energy, is it really that bad?

This was an email I wrote to Socialist Worker in response to the dozens of articles they had online about the evils of nuclear power. They had emailed me back saying they would post it, but it seems I fail at using their site. This was written a month or so ago, and stands pretty much just as well now as it did then.

Since the ongoing disaster in Japan there has been a new upsurge in talk of ending nuclear power, due to it’s inherent risks. This position comes not just from the left, calling for an end to the ‘inherently capitalist’ nuclear power, and from the right, based on general safety concerns. As a devoted socialist it saddens me to see our camp so infiltrated with such baseless, and counter productive (not to mention counter-revolutionary) ideas. There is no denying that nuclear power has issues, this is true of every form of power generation, of every technology. Thus we can’t just throw it out so simply, we must examine the claims and we must look at the alternatives. In doing so we can see that not only are the calls to end nuclear power because it’s capitalist but the safety concerns are not as impeding as they seem at first glance.First off, without going to far in depth into how nuclear reactors work, it must be said that (as with most things) the claims in the mainstream media about the disaster at Fukushima are extremely exaggerated. It essentially boils down to this, the amount of radiation being put out even while the spent rods are burning, though dangerous, are not threatening to anyone outside of those working to fix it. This is not Chernobyl, and it is essentially impossible for it to become Chernobyl. So while Fukushima is in trouble, it’s nowhere near as bad as everyone seems to think. Even though this incident is what is bringing the question of nuclear power to light, and we can see that it is nowhere near as drastic as it appears, the issues that are brought up surrounding nuclear power can’t just be dismissed out of hand.

These concerns, as stated, seem to fall essentially into two catagories; saftey and for us socialists, the capitalism behind it. Since the most disconcerting thing to me is this view of nuclear power as inherently capitalist, I shall tackle this first. There is nothing inherent in the ideas behind nuclear power that is capitalist, the physics isn’t political. The forces which drive the innovation in nuclear generation at this point in time most certainly are capitalist, but this is no different than any other energy source. Without the investment of the German government, who are leaders in solar power, solar might not even be a viable energy source today. Just because the innovations are generated by capitalism doesn’t mean we must disregard it, and throw it away. This has nothing to do with the overthrow of the capitalist system, again the physics doesn’t take sides. Fukushima is an issue because of capitalism, but that is because of cost cutting which made safety a smaller concern than saving money. Nuclear power may even be a way out of not only the climate damage caused by fossil fuels, but the US imperialism dominated by oil concerns (since far less uranium needs to be mined than oil and coal). Until a viable source of energy, like solar, which doesn’t rely on mines is widely available, and effective enough, nuclear power is no more or less capitalist than fossil fuels. So disregarding nuclear power because it is capitalist would be the same as saying we should throw away all power generation technology, because it too is driven by capitalism.

With this out of the way we can question the safety concerns. Again, nuclear power is not completely safe but no other viable energy source is. Oil rigs explode (as we recently saw in the gulf of mexico), coal mines kill tens of thousands a year, and the emissions from fossil fuel plants are irrevocably destroying the planet. The main safety concerns with nuclear energy are, the threat of meltdown and the disposal of waste. With current technology meltdowns aren’t much of an issue, remember Fukushimas reactor was built in the 70s. We must also remember what happened to cause Japans disaster, one of the worst earthquakes in history. This is not going to happen in the United States, or in most of the world. A far more legitimate concern is that of nuclear waste, but even this isn’t all that hard to deal with. It would seem one of the best ways to deal with nuclear waste would be to store it in secure underground holding areas. This is not only not a difficult thing to do,relatively , but is clearly far safer than the emissions from fossil fuel plants which are driving global climate change.

So while nuclear power may not be the best option for ever, it is almost certainly the best option now. Moving towards lowering green house gas emission and reliance on fossil fuels is not only something we should think about doing, it is something we should be doing.


~ by Chris Stevens on April 28, 2011.

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