Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 14, 2011

Lessons of Japan's nuclear peril

The prospect of partial or full meltdowns at nuclear power plants in Japan has spawned new fears of this source of energy. "U.S. Nuclear Push May Be Impeded," says a headline in the print edition of The New York Times today. What's happening at those Japanese reactors could pose a grave danger to life and health. But before we abandon nuclear power as an option, we might remember that other forms of energy are far from risk-free.

Last year, as Slate's William Saletan notes, 11 workers died when a drilling rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, unleashing a huge oil spill that took months to clean up. No one, however, proposed that we stop all drilling for petroleum. Coal miners die in mine accidents by the hundreds worldwide each year.

Nuclear power, by contrast, has an enviable record of safe operations. The only fatal accident in the last 40 years? Chernobyl, where Western safety standards did not apply.

We have a tendency to exaggerate the threat of rare, catastrophic events, while ignoring commonplace hazards that kill far more people. Nuclear power may not be the best energy option. But we shouldn't let a single disaster blind us to its virtues.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

as most democrats would say, never let a crisis go to waste.

Most democrats believe in science. You know science don't you, the discipline that brought you evolution and global climate change. Advancements in nuclear energy make it safer than ever. But we have not completed a new facility since the 70's.

"No one, however, proposed that we stop all drilling for petroleum. "

Clearly, you and I don't follow the same news commentators. Lots of lefties were calling for an end to oil drilling long before BP destroyed our Gulf coast. Afterwards, you'd have been hard-pressed to find one that didn't at least call for an end to off-shore drilling.