Find the Way Back to Nuclear

As any dedicated recycler knows, even Alamedans are still learning to sift their refuse correctly. Dirty diapers and plastic bags in the green container; broken strollers in the blue; Styrofoam peanuts in the gray — at least it’s off the street, and the bags of half-consumed fast food tossed fashionably from cars provide a free lunch for the corvids. 

Better yet, it’s an improvement over the practices of my boyhood, when one of my chores was to burn the trash — cans, cartons, food scraps — in a single metal incinerator, which I loved doing until the authorities determined that the dioxin was dangerous to breathe.

Today, as heat records continue to fall, it is our moral duty to turn the tide of climate change, as Amos White so eloquently urges in his recent editorial (“Climate Matters: Putting Out a World on Fire,” Aug. 8). I’m not convinced the end is nigh, though, because we are already converting to cleaner fuels and because 2030 (the year environmental systems are supposed to collapse if we don’t radically transform how we live) has become a political scare tactic, but I do agree that we can set an example for other communities, and an island city with a peak elevation of 10 feet can’t afford not to.  

But greenhouse gases know no boundaries, and as long as the 2.6 billion people living in India and China desire more cars, buildings with AC and electric grids we take for granted, with coal to meet those needs, an entire USA working together won’t make a nerf ball-sized dent in global CO2 as it teeters toward 400 ppm. 

Though we contribute 15 percent of the planet’s total carbon emissions, a figure made all the more striking by the fact that Americans comprise only one in 23 of the world’s population, that leaves numerous developing countries in earlier phases of energy refinement. For these reasons, a growing number of environmentalists are embracing an energy source they once found verboten: nuclear power, and you can count me among them.  

Expensive to establish but inexpensive to maintain, it would be the practical solution because — let’s face it — wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass simply can’t fuel a world growing in population as well as affluence.  Nuclear power has a better safety record than hydroelectric because dams can break, and nuclear is four times cleaner than solar, experts tell us, yet fears about accidents, breaches, waste storage, and the supposed incentive to build nuclear weapons keep it taboo. 

We are all well-versed in the rhetoric condemning “Big Oil,” too. In our idyllic vision of wind turbines and solar panels lovingly blanketing the new world, we can’t imagine that “Big Green” might have its own agenda for power, so to speak. Germany’s emissions have actually increased since it shut down its old nuclear generators. When its weather doesn’t support green energy, Germany buys nuclear energy from its neighbor France. 

By all means, let’s make Alameda even cleaner and greener than it is. Let’s hope the boom launched last year from Alameda Point can help corral all of those shards of plastic in the Pacific.  But let’s not kid ourselves about our energy future: in a world that adds 82 million people annually, the paradigm shift will be from oil and coal to natural gas. 

If we can get over our bias against nuclear energy, then perhaps by 2050, we’ll be turning on lamps fueled by a thorium reactor, which has the advantage of not producing weapons-grade plutonium as a waste product. Solar panels have a 20 to 30-year life span and contain toxic metals; air pollution kills seven million people per year.  Nuclear energy’s biggest casualties are accurate information and trust.  Do the research.