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the Tallahassee Democrat

Invest in the Future, Not in Nuclear Power

Patrick Detscher

Our government has studied ways to warn future generations of the danger of nuclear energy waste, "long after society and languages have changed," as government documents phrase it.

One idea was to invite the Native American tribes near the proposed disposal sites to pass the information related to this danger from generation to generation, by word of mouth. In other words, tradition might be one of the best ways to communicate that the yellow and black placard means death, and that it would be a good idea to stay away from this area for several thousand years.

With this image in mind, it was of great surprise to me when our Public Service Commission gave the green light to build two more nuclear plants, 10 miles north of the existing Crystal River facility. Better yet is the fact that Progress Energy can charge customers up to $9 per month, right away, even before breaking ground to help fund the two plants. I've lived long enough to have seen this type of logic, although now we have other options besides nuclear, and when these plants are built in 10 years, there's a good chance they might not be needed.

Recent cost projections for the geologically and politically problematic Yucca Mountain Nuclear Disposal Facility have reached $90 billion, and it's not opened yet. I often wonder if some contractor has been hired to inform future generations of the danger within the mountain. Without any good place to safely store spent nuclear materials and certainly no way to warn future generations of the danger, new nuke plants don't make a whole lot of fiscal, environmental or security sense.

The main argument for nuclear is that it is needed for "base load" power supply. Base power is what the industry calls consistent dependable power, and it's the same thing solar energy has traditionally been criticized for not providing. But solar thermal energy production is capable of supplying base power, and if the nine bucks Progress Energy wants to charge its customers for this nuclear fantasy were properly used, we could take a figure of $2 or $3 (the price of a six pack) and spread it around the entire rate-paying population.

This money could then be placed into an energy freedom incentive program, providing a path for our state to achieve energy independence. The Germans did this over a decade ago when Russia threatened to shut down natural gas to the country. Now cloudy and rainy Germany is powered to nearly 25 percent with renewable energy. The Germans call the incentive program a "loaf of bread tax." I'll stick with the six-pack-of-beer incentive.

The nuclear industry has always had a strange habit of crawling out from under some large rock to offer "cheap," "safe" energy, and it seems that only a near meltdown at Three Mile Island kept it from convincing us, back in the '70s, that it had a magic answer to all our problems. Does any of this sound strangely familiar, or should I keep going? During this time, concern grew regarding nuclear power, and a group of musicians who survived the disco era (yawn) held a concert in New York called "No Nukes." I recently found an original copy of the LP (made from oil) at Vinyl Fever and paid a whopping $2.99 for the three-record set. The music speaks of a "clean energy future," and 30 years later it is sadly clear that we have made little progress to make that future a reality.

So its deja vu all over again, except this time we have a host of new problems, including carbon and something called peak oil upon us. Some would call this a perfect storm.

I admit to being intrigued by $4-per-gallon gas, and, like many of you, I have kids that drive. When I hand them a $10 bill for gas, they laugh. What happened to the promised clean-energy future? Shouldn't it have arrived already? There's no time to wait. Let's embrace $4-per-gallon gas and use it as a tool for change. Let innovation take root. If gas drops below $4, use the extra money to enhance renewable energy.

Leadership means having the intestinal fortitude to do things that are at times difficult. The investment in a clean energy future is critical, and this future can happen only if we break our oil addiction and collectively fund alternate sources of energy.

--Patrick Detscher

Copyright ©2008 Tallahassee Democrat

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