The Nuclear Option?

No shortage of important matters to opine about these days: John Kasich and his budget and anticipated spending cuts in Ohio, the move to strip teachers and other public employees of most if not all of their collective bargaining rights, the civil war in Libya, and on and on.

And we’re inching toward the start of another baseball season with no movement to repeal the designated hitter rule. Sigh.

Still, it’s hard to get my shorts in a knot over these and other stories when I see what is happening in Japan. The extent of that disaster — first and most importantly in human terms — is horrific. We had a new roof put on our condo over the winter. And I was pissing and moaning last week about having to go out and clean up some of the old shingles and other debris. Note to self: Try to keep things in perspective.

And during the debacle in Wisconsin, when the Democratic lawmakers fled the state to hide under a bed in motel rooms in Illinois, a headline on one of the websites (sorry, can’t find it now) proclaimed that Scott Walker and the Republicans had used the “nuclear option” to pass the legislation. Say what?

We’re looking at the nuclear option playing out for real right now in Japan — and as usual with these type of triggering events, it has implications for public policy and for our economy here in the USA.

Let’s see: We don’t want to drill for oil in the USA on land or off-shore. Instead, we prefer to remain tied to regions of the world that are shaky these days at best. Wait until the masses in Saudi Arabia discover Facebook and Twitter. In an era of cost-cutting, we don’t want to invest in mass transit. And now — and rightly so — we’re going to have to take a thoughtful look at nuclear power. Windmills anyone?

Here’s from an article on NPR, “Japan Triggers Shift In U.S. Nuclear Debate“:

The nuclear power industry had been experiencing something of a rebirth in the United States, following decades of doubt. That’s been put at risk by the crisis unfolding at a nuclear power plant in Japan in the wake of a devastating quake and tsunami there.

With that situation still in flux, attention should remain focused on dealing with the immediate safety issues in Japan, says Jim Owen, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, an association of electric utility companies.

“There will be plenty of time later on for a, hopefully, thoughtful dialogue,” Owen says.

But officials in Owen’s industry recognize that problems in Japan are bound to have repercussions when it comes to nuclear policy in the U.S. Already, some members of Congress have called for a “time out” when it comes to nuclear power plant approvals.

“There are some serious problems, even without the Japan crisis,” says Richard Caperton, an energy policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.

“Even though we have a very safely operated fleet of plants in the U.S., there’s always the risk that something very bad could happen,” he says.

There also is a risk in doing nothing — which appears to be exactly where the Obama administration is these days. Here’s from Politico, “Between BP and Japan, is Barack Obama snakebit on energy policy?“:

President Barack Obama’s energy agenda appears to be jinxed.

While Japan’s nuclear meltdown may be an ocean away, the industry has quickly become the latest example of a policy in peril not long after the White House embraced it.

Obama, of course, is not at fault for the disaster in Japan. But just as the president had to explain his newfound support for offshore drilling, which came just weeks before last year’s BP oil spill, his administration must again defend an energy-related industry even as images of explosions at two Japanese nuclear reactors loop on cable television.

“President Obama has shown very poor judgment on where and when to ‘agree’ with Republicans, and energy has been a prime example,” Drew Westin, an Emory University neuroscience professor who has advised Democrats on communications, wrote in a post Monday on POLITICO’s Arena forum.

“He proposed expanding offshore oil drilling two weeks before the BP disaster and did the same for nuclear power just months before the Japanese disaster,” Westin said. “God help us if an earthquake of this magnitude had occurred near a U.S. nuclear plant.”

Obama’s all-in on nuclear power has been building since he came into office. He pushed cap-and-trade legislation that federal studies showed would lead to construction of 100 reactors and backed spending on research into new plant designs.

In November, he said nuclear energy was an issue of potential compromise with Republicans; and earlier this year, he used his State of the Union address to call for nuclear to be counted alongside traditional renewables such as solar and wind as part of a national “clean” energy standard.

“None of this is risk free,” said Dana Perino, the former Bush White House press secretary who also worked in the Council on Environmental Quality. “If you want to have a BlackBerry and an iPad and heat in your home and drive in your car, and all the other things we benefit from based on the energy we extract, then you’re going to have some risk. That’s the way it is.

“Energy has to come from somewhere,” Perino said. “That’s not President Obama’s fault. There’s a disconnect that’s built up over decades.”

OK. To be fair, it’s not that the administration and members of Congress haven’t done anything. A case in point: Beginning next year incandescent light bulbs will be subject to strict efficiency standards.
I’ll let the NYT do the heavy lifting on this one in an article “Law on Light Bulb Efficiency Angers Conservatives.
American protests against the encroachment of government have been spurred by many causes — tea, of course, and guns, frequently. The latest catalyst: light bulbs.
A 2007 bill, passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress and signed into law by George W. Bush, will make the familiar incandescent bulb subject to strict efficiency standards next year.

The effect will be to make current 100-watt bulbs obsolete — and that has sent conservative lawmakers, libertarians, some environmental activists and owners of Easy-Bake Ovens into a frenzy of activity to get the law repealed or, at least, to stockpile the bulbs before they disappear from store shelves.

“I do care about my carbon footprint, not to mention my light bill,” said Dana Carpender, a cookbook author in Bloomington, Ind. “But unless something dramatic happens to bring down the cost of alternatives, I will be stashing away a pile of incandescents.”

The law does not outlaw incandescent bulbs or dictate that consumers must use the spiral-shaped compact fluorescent lights that have become increasingly popular in recent years. Rather, it sets standards for the amount of light emitted per watt of power used. Current 100-watt bulbs must become 25 percent more efficient, and makers are designing new bulbs.

To Representative Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who has sponsored a bill to reverse the new guidelines, that nevertheless means Congress is dictating what types of light Americans can use in their homes.

“From the health insurance you’re allowed to have, to the car you can drive, to the light bulbs you can buy, Washington is making too many decisions that are better left to you and your family,” Mr. Barton said when he introduced his bill in January.

Opponents of the regulations say the fluorescent bulbs are too expensive, flicker annoyingly and are health hazards because they contain mercury.

While they are not unanimous on the issue, some environmental activists counter that by saying the mercury in a single fluorescent bulb is less than what some power plants throw into the atmosphere while generating the electricity it takes to light one incandescent bulb.

Makers of appliances and light bulbs, meanwhile, support the federal standards because they do not want to have to make scores of products to meet individual state regulations.

But to many Americans, the 100-watt bulb has become a cause célèbre.

And I noticed this morning that I have to replace one of the light bulbs in my garage.

Hmm. Decisions, decisions.

Just like about what to do with the nuclear option.

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