As Halloween approaches, I inevitably start thinking about scary things. Things that are scary to other people--and things that are scary to me.
I am well aware that nuclear power is scary to a lot of people. They think of the bomb. They think of the movie, "The China Syndrome." They think of Chernobyl. Or, they think about all the hype they've heard over the years about accidents, and radiation, and frogs with two heads.
I don't find nuclear power scary. I chalk that up to my education, experience, and a good dose of common sense. However, I have my own fears, fears that I think are justified:
I am scared when I think of about the possibility of global warming and some of the problems it can cause the world. I understand that the effects won't be uniform, and that some may even benefit, but I have heard enough about the potential changes to severe weather phenomena, water availability, crop production, and the spread of some diseases to worry about a future in which global warming is unchecked. I have been to the Maldives and seen a whole country that could be submerged.
I am scared when I see everyone pointing the finger at everyone else, as that will quickly lead us to inaction. True, the developed world is responsible for most of the past CO2 emissions, so they bear some greater responsibility. However, 97% of the future increase in CO2 emissions is expected to be from developing countries, so they have a significant responsibility as well. Their commitments might be different from those of the developing world, but should be no less binding.
I am scared when I think about the fact that fear and ignorance may cause our nation and the world to make foolish or shortsighted decisions, and that these decisions will force unwanted and unnecessary hardships upon us and upon future generations. I am scared of a future where bad decisions made today will cost us the comforts and conveniences we enjoy today.
I am scared when I see blind faith that some technology has all the answers, even when the evidence is already mounting that no single technology has all the answers. I am scared when people insist that there is "an answer," when my technical training makes it very clear to me that there is no simple or easy answer. When people say the answer is wind, even though wind doesn't blow all the time, or the answer is solar, even though the best places for solar plants is far from people, or the answer is biomass, even when that requires cutting down forests.
I am scared when I see unreasoning objections to other technologies. I am scared that some people cannot conceive of accepting nuclear power under any circumstances. When they cannot face their fears and learn the facts. When they cannot understand what is being done today and what can be done in the future to assure nuclear power plant safety and security. When they cannot accept the fact that nuclear power can help assure adequate energy for the world at a minimal environmental cost.
(And just for the record, I understand that some of the shortcomings of wind and solar and biomass can also be addressed by advanced technologies or other innovative methods. My fear is that this is not widely recognized, and that we are turning to these technologies as some sort of of panacea. My fear is that we aren't being realistic about what they can and cannot achieve. My fear is that society thinks it can discard a proven technology for an unproven one.) So, on October 31, when the little ghosts and goblins and witches and werewolves ring my doorbell, I will be worrying about the dialogue that is going on today about global warming and about energy alternatives, and wondering about what kind of future we are building for them.
Dr. Gail H. Marcus is an independent consultant on nuclear power technology and policy. She previously worked as Deputy Director-General of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) in Paris; Principal Deputy Director of the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology; in various positions at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); and as Assistant Chief of the Science Policy Research Division at the Congressional Research Service (1980-1985). Dr. Marcus spent a year in Japan as Visiting Professor in the Research Laboratory for Nuclear Reactors, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and five months at Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry. Dr. Marcus has served as President of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) and as Chair of the Engineering Section of AAAS. She also served on the National Research Council Committee on the Future Needs of Nuclear Engineering Education. She is a Fellow of the ANS and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Dr. Marcus has an S.B. and S.M. in Physics, and an Sc.D. in Nuclear Engineering from MIT. She is the first woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear engineering in the United States.