Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tilting Toward Nukes:

Finding Reason in Unexpected Places

I wasn't thinking about nuclear power the other day when I settled down to read the latest issue of Chesapeake Bay, a magazine associated with just about everything to do with the Chesapeake Bay.  It's true that there is a nuclear power plant site on the shores of the Chesapeake (Calvert Cliffs), so in that sense, nuclear power is a relevant issue, but most people who read this magazine are, like me, avid boaters on the Bay, and look to the magazine for the latest news on boating, fishing, crabbing, marinas, and restaurants.  Not on nuclear power.

It was somewhat of a surprise, then, when I turned to the last page of the July 2013 issue and found an article entitled "Tilting Toward Nukes" by Tom Horton, a respected author on nature and the environment.  It was even more of a surprise when I started to read the article.  It was factual, it covered most of the key issues, and it identified complexities that are glossed over in many articles appearing in general publications.  The article would not have been out of place in a publication focused on nuclear power, a publication that covered energy issues broadly, or a publication of an engineering professional Society.

The article started by acknowledging the concerns about nuclear power, especially post-Fukushima, but immediately balanced that by noting the environmental benefits of nuclear power.  It then noted the recent thinking in some quarters that renewable energy sources can be used to meet all our needs, but a paragraph later, countered that with facts provided by the Maryland Conservation Council (MCC), a group the author describes as certified "greenies."

Mr. Horton went on to outline their arguments:  nuclear power is mature and doesn't need the backup power from fossil fuels that renewables need, it is cheaper than windmills (per ton of CO2 emissions avoided), and it has a smaller footprint than renewables.  The author reported the MCC's conclusion that "nuclear power is our only real shot at making the rapid and massive carbon dioxide emissions needed to stabilize our changing climate and avoid disaster." 

Chesapeake Bay does not allow full access to its articles on line, but with a little Googling, I was able to find that the same article was published as an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun on May 22, 2013 under the title "Time for Greens to Embrace Nukes."

At this point, I decided to dig a bit deeper and find out what the MCC's official position was.  Despite the fact that they were quoted extensively in Tom Horton's article, I wondered if their website might take a more cautious approach.  It turns out that my skepticism was unjustified.  They have a webpage entitled, "An Energy Policy Focused on Habitat Protection" and subtitled "The Maryland Conservation Council's Position on Nuclear and Renewable Sources of Energy" that reinforces the views provided in the Horton op-ed.

Basically, the page indicates that the primary concern of the MCC in the energy debate is the environmental impact, and that on those grounds, nuclear energy is preferable to renewable energy.  Further, they conclude that nuclear power has a sound safety record and that the concerns about transportation and storage have been exaggerated.

They state 2 recommendations with respect to specific energy sources:  "Utilize solar power produced on existing structures, not on open land," and "Use nuclear power to the greatest extent technically feasible." [emphasis added]

While they do not give an unqualified endorsement to nuclear power (they believe that stabilizing the population and reducing per capita demand are the first priorities), they state conclusively that "nuclear power is the least destructive of all the alternative technologies." [emphasis added]

As is often the case for me, I find myself in disagreement with some of their positions.  I am personally a bit nervous about any policy that calls for trying to manipulate the size of the population.  Nevertheless, I am pleased to find an environmental group that has taken the trouble to analyze the true impacts of different energy sources and has come to the conclusion that nuclear power is the best of the alternatives.  And I am even more pleased that Chesapeake Bay magazine has chosen to publish Tom Horton's viewpoint.  I will definitely be renewing my subscription!


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ernie Moniz:

There's More to Him than His Hair!

I am going to use this post to reflect on some lighter news.

First though, a serious introduction.  Ernie Moniz was sworn in as Secretary of Energy on May 21.  I had the pleasure of working at the Department of Energy during part of the time that he was Under Secretary there, and always found my meetings with him to be interesting and valuable.  I was therefore looking forward to following the press coverage on his first days in the top position in the agency.

What I did not expect was that there would be such a to-do about his "hair-do"!  Twitter was abuzz--full of comparisons between his hairdo and that of other celebrities, past and present. 

I must say that I viewed the whole discussion with mixed emotions.  It has long irritated me how much the press comments on the physique, clothes, and yes, hair, of prominent women.  Usually, the same press is silent on the same matters for men who make the news.  Women have been criticized if they dress too sexily, but they are criticized just as much if they look frumpy.  We heard endlessly about Hillary Clinton's hairband when Bill Clinton was first elected President, and her pantsuits in more recent years.  We now keep hearing about how much Michelle Obama's arms are bared.  I could fill a dozen posts with witty barbs about how Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan dresses.  Likewise, we see tons of pictures about the hats worn by the British royalty.  (OK, those really are amusing.) 

For the most part, the press is much lighter on men.  Oh, in recent years, when they pilloried Kagan for her style, they did comment that the male Supremes were no fashion plates either, but that was a mild aside to make it look like they were being fair.  One neutral sentence to balance multiple comments about how she'd be happy in a flour sack, and that she looks like someone who buys the first dress she picks off the rack at Macy's.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might be the exception.  The press does indeed focus on his physique--but look at how extreme he had to be to get them to do that!

So, what does it mean when we see so much attention being paid to Ernie Moniz's hair?  Is this another step toward more equal treatment of men and women?  What is the reaction going to be when someone with green and purple hair moves into a position of power?  It may be coming, folks!

Fortunately, Ernie seems to have a sense of humor about the matter.

To end on a more serious note, the country faces many serious issues in the energy sector, and in this era of budget woes, there will be added difficulty in making progress to assure that we have safe, secure and economic energy supplies in the future.  Dr. Moniz comes with a wealth of experience and is in a position to make important decisions that will affect our energy supplies for years to come.  He needs to hear from all parts of the community about the issues that concern us.  We need to be focused on what is inside his head, not on it!