Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nuclear Paranoia:

Same Words, Different Take

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that some commentators are speaking the same language I speak. A recent op-ed criticizes the choice of former Senator Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator Bill Reilly by President Obama to head a new independent commission on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. As I read the article, I could see some of his points, but most of what he highlights in his efforts to prove how bad these individuals were struck me in just the opposite way.

Let's see:

• "Both Graham and Reilly have records that show each possesses some level of interest in confronting environmental issues." So, this is bad?

• In February 1991, Graham said, " There are no black-and white courses in a national energy policy...Every option has both assets and liabilities." Something we should all keep in mind, IMHO.

• In November 1990, Graham said that America "was too reliant on petroleum as our source of energy." Duh.

• In 2004, the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP), which Reilly co-chairs, "released a report that called for the expansion of energy technologies to keep up with requirements for 'substantially increased quantities' of energy over the next twenty years and address the challenges that 'climate change' presented teh energy stakeholders and those with the power to create and influence energy policy." Horrors!

• And back in March 1989, Reilly was involved in writing an EPA report that "said that if one wanted to help slow the warming of the atmosphere, one needed to drive a small car that was able to get 40 miles per gallon, pay a higher tax on coal and oil, plant lots of new trees, and finally, give up opposition to new nuclear power plants." Aha! That's the problem. He said the N-word.

To be fair, the author of the article, Kevin Gosztola, peppers the entire article with his criticism of Graham's and Reilly's support for nuclear power. He seems to see fear that they will use their appointments to this commission to push a pro-nuclear agenda.

But who would Mr. Gosztola want to see in these positions? Someone from the oil industry? Someone who knows nothing about energy at all? Only someone who is fixated on renewable resources?

Gosztola's concerns smack of a bit of paranoia to me. Anyone who is pro-nuclear has to be bad, even if all other indicators suggest otherwise.

I read the same quotes (as well as others pertaining specifically to oil and gas that I didn't include here) and came to just the opposite conclusion. To me, these backgrounds reflect the fact that Graham and Reilly are knowledgeable about energy matters, appropriately critical of the oil and gas industry, and rational about what kinds of measures are possible and reasonable. I think that bodes well for the work of the commission.

Further, as I understand the purpose of the Commission, their mandate will be to propose ways to prevent such disasters from happening again. Given our current need for oil and gas, it would be very hard to see them say that the only safe oil field is one that is closed. Rather, I suspect that they will suggest a mix of technological, regulatory and other measures that will lessen the likelihood that such a disaster could ever happen again.

As I noted in my previous post, they may draw on the experiences of the nuclear industry to identify these measures, but that hardly means that the nuclear industry will benefit directly.

Even if the recommendations of the commission result in reduced oil and gas production in the near term, it is not the role of this commission to propose alternative energy technologies. That will be determined in other ways. Therefore, even if one were to assume that they have reasons to promote nuclear power, this is the wrong commission for that purpose.

I should mention that Gosztola also claims these individuals have conflicts of interest. He particularly cites Graham's receiving PAC money from the nuclear industry, investing in companies with nuclear interests, and investing in Halliburton. For the reasons above, I don't see the nuclear PAC money or the nuclear investments as being an issue for his service on this commission. The Halliburton issue could be a different story, but can be resolved by his divesting his interests. It is a common problem that comes up in government appointments.

In closing, I note that Gosztola criticizes another quote of Graham's, cited in the Washington Times on March 18, 2001: "Nuclear power is not a magic bullet, but it should also not be a poison pill." Is this a wild-eyed proponent of nuclear power?

I read the same words and come to a completely different conclusion.


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