Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Going Nuclear

[This item was originally posted on my Xanga site]

A couple weeks ago, the Washington Post ran a very interesting editorial called Going Nuclear. The editorial is written by Patrick Moore, one of the original founders of Greenpeace and an active member of the environmentalist community... but it breaks with the predominant environmentalist position in advocating increased use of nuclear energy.
This is a point that has long made sense to me, and I've often wondered why there was such animosity toward the idea of using nuclear energy more significantly. Moore lists a number of possible objections, and gives his refutations of them.

Do you agree with Moore? Should we use nuclear energy more prominently for our nation's energy needs? Imagine electric cars with batteries that recharged with energy drawn from nuclear plants... that would be an excellent way to reduce our dependence on oil. And it seems to me that nuclear power would drastically reduce emissions. Would you feel safe with an active nuclear plant in your vicinity?

Of course, it is impossible to bring up the topic of nuclear energy at present without dealing with the Iran situation. Moore mentions Iran, but avoids taking any direct position. Speaking generally, however, he makes this statement:The only practical approach to the issue of nuclear weapons proliferation is to put it higher on the international agenda and to use diplomacy and, where necessary, force to prevent countries or terrorists from using nuclear materials for destructive ends.

At what point does the Iran situation move past diplomacy, to the point where force is "necessary"? The current scenario is bringing back vivid memories of the build-up to the Iraq war. The US is pushing for strong sanctions, and Europe is half-heartedly going along. Considering the risk, at what point do we assert ourselves forcefully?

For an additional perspective on this, you might read this rather long article that my brother Brad forwarded me last week, called Facing Down Iran, by Mark Steyn. It provided some historical context for the Iranian situation that I was not familiar with, and cast the dispute in the strongest of terms.

I came across another Washington Post op-ed written by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and titled Bush's Thousand Days. In the op-ed, Schlesinger argues that what he calls "preventive" war is bad policy, and that Bush should "forgo solo preventive war and return to cooperation with other countries in the interest of collective security". He also argues for a policy of "containment plus deterrence" with regard to Iran. Any thoughts? Schlesinger doesn't go into specifics. What might containment and deterrence look like with regard to Iran? What might contain their nuclear abilities, or deter them from developing or using them?

In a more general sense, what is a good way for the international community to encourage the global use of nuclear energy, without enabling widespread nuclear weaponry?

Mark

5 comments:

Mark Congdon said...

Also check the original post on my Xanga site for comments on this topic...

Mark Congdon said...

Kevin,

This is in response to your comment on my Xanga site. We might as well move the discussion over to this blog now.

I have to do more research before I'm totally comfortable with nuclear power IMBY... a lot of wide ranging, multi-generational statistics near nuclear plants and waste might be useful in that regard, if such data is available.

That would be useful research. It still hasn't been 30 years since Three Mile Island, and there only appear to have been a small number of limited studies done even about the health consequences so far from that incident (at least, that's the way it appears to me from a brief Google search). Maybe we should, as Stevie suggested, start increasing nuclear power capacity in small towns that would welcome the economic benefit, and wouldn't be concerned about having it in their backyard? Makes sense to me, I guess.

"Facing Down Iran, by Mark Steyn" was an interesting (and long!) article. I enjoyed reading it; thanks. His argument is persuasive. Apparently, at the end he's suggesting that we should destroy the regime in retaliation for their aggressions, without occupying them and without imposing subsequent order? Or is he just arguing for the removal of select individuals? Do you think there is a time limit on our retaliation for the offenses Iran has committed? I've read that the people of Iran overwhelmingly support their leaders' nuclear aspirations.

I'm not sure what specific action Steyn was recommending. He might not even be sure. In Iraq, our approach was to build a democracy, under the belief that democracies are more peaceful. As President Bush said to the UN in 2004: "Peaceful nations must stand for the advance of democracy. No other system of government has done more to protect minorities, to secure the rights of labor, to raise the status of women, or to channel human energy to the pursuits of peace."

That approach falls apart, it seems, when we come to Iran. Iran is a democracy, or as much of a democracy as it cares to be. And yet, it has no interest in peace, but overtly works toward the abolition of Israel and the Islamization of the world.

I'm just not sure what a good response to Iran is. Will diplomacy have any effect? I doubt it. Will economic sanctions change the situation? I'm not confident they'll make any change in Iran's religous fervor. If we assassinate key leaders, will that weaken their resolve? If we bomb their main cities? Should we just nuke the whole country and get it over with? (I'm kidding!)

Schlesinger's "containment plus deterrence" idea resonates with me... I just don't see any possible ways to effectively contain Iran, or to deter them from the objectives their religious fervor points them to.

Mark

Kevin said...

Mark,

Maybe we should, as Stevie suggested, start increasing nuclear power capacity in small towns that would welcome the economic benefit, and wouldn't be concerned about having it in their backyard? Makes sense to me, I guess.

Sounds reasonable to me, too. I assume it is the environmental groups which are preventing the creation of any new reactors? or drilling for oil? I've heard that they are in the minority, but perhaps I am mistaken?

That approach falls apart, it seems, when we come to Iran. Iran is a democracy, or as much of a democracy as it cares to be. And yet, it has no interest in peace, but overtly works toward the abolition of Israel and the Islamization of the world.

That is the dilemma. The Palestinian election similarly revealed that their majority supports the efforts of Hamas; granted, at least Hamas seems generally honest and overt in their goals and means, and probably less corrupt than the previous regime. Let us pray that their honesty does not change.

While propaganda is not politically correct, it seems that, at some point, we must directly confront the harmful aspects of their culture and ideology; that seems to be the most significant battle we are losing. Sadly, that battle seems to be broadly delegated to the Media, which ostensibly has other goals at the moment.

Schlesinger's "containment plus deterrence" idea resonates with me... I just don't see any possible ways to effectively contain Iran, or to deter them from the objectives their religious fervor points them to.

I agree. I think "containment plus deterrence" is predicated upon a shared belief that nuclear weapons must not be used, which might not exist in this new scenario.

It seems that every time Iran acts out, instability is perceived and the price of oil goes up.

Kevin

gary said...

Use of nuclear energy in the US domestic environment does not have logical linkage with international weapons issues. People like Moore attempt to continue these linkages in order to promote their fear mongering and generate livelihood. There have been studies about the 3-mile Island event but both the plant and surrounding effective public doses were all within normal limits for both worker and public exposures. So, health effects are logically immeasurable.
To see where we need to go on the energy front, look up the Report to Congress on the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI) and the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. For over 30 years as a nuclear scientist, I have had the vision of applying the immense potential of base load nuclear energy to reduce fossil fuel usage, purify water (now limited and precious), move purified water (to arid places to grow food and renewable energy sources), and crack water to hydrogen for spot and transportation usage. The AFCI shows the pathway.
The political rhetoric on nuclear fuel reprocessing (Moore, proliferation) has put the US into a tenuous position of needing rapid catch-up to avoid energy/economic meltdown. The nuclear genie is out of the bottle; it only takes a stroke of the pen for or against weapons. We need to use instead of ignore. Re-processing allows utilization of the 95% available fuel in spent nuclear fuel and makes the Yucca Mtn. storage feasible for-ever (no need for #2, #3, #4...). Re-processing allows transmutation of long-lived waste to short-lived and suitable for re-use of Yucca resources forever.

Mark Congdon said...

sitesupport,

Thanks for your input!

For those interested, here's a link to the Advanced Fuel Cell Initiative that sitesupport referred to.

Mark