We want our cars, we want our roads, we want to drive. Some of us ride when we can, or go by bus but we still need roads, as do the trucks which carry around the stuff we (one way or another) need. I won’t go into details.
Last year I enjoyed presentations from four professionals who presented quite different perspectives on the energy challenges we face in our immediate future, but the single aspect they all dramatically agreed on was electrification of our vehicles. They did not mention, as it is patently obvious, that charging and running our vehicles will need electricity whose generation must be emissions-free, or at least overall mitigates some of the emissions that combusting the petrol would have produced.
This still leaves a constant requirement for roads. Roads are like tap water… no, even better, like electricity, because sometimes the power goes out, just like roadworks slow or block particular streets. (Yeah, occasionally an old water main bursts but the main inconvenience is that it floods the road; the loss of water pressure might delay your laundry, but bottled water is ubiquitous.) We drive, and work, and indirectly (taxes) or directly (tolls) pay for the roads to be there. When the need is there, to a greater or lesser degree, to build more roads, we take it for granted that they’ll be built in a reasonable timeframe and a less-than-scandalous budget, with modern materials and attention to the sort of occupational health and safety requirements that I and all my generation can certainly remember being the norm (correct me if I’m wrong there, but when was the last time you saw a worker without hardhat and visy vest?) Similarly, once the roads are built, we can all drive on them, tacitly accepting the associated risks (if you didn’t accept them, you wouldn’t have comprehensive insurance). On the other hand, despite disapproval and corrective efforts a proportion of motorists will act to increase the risks, and road design and maintenance is never perfect.
Undeniably, roads allow our society and economy to function from day to day at a fundamental level. We take all this for granted and accept the risks while doing what we can as individuals and as governments to minimize them. And, most importantly for this blog post, ending the business-as-usual use of roads is not a thing anyone either expects or considers.
So what about the quantified risks and hazards of nuclear power? Well, yet another experienced nuclear professional lays it all out over at the American Nuclear Society. Why read it? Well, to keep up the metaphors, when you need your wiring inspected, you call in an electrician. (Sure, electricity is far more familiar than nuclear reactions, but even if you know enough to tell an anode from a cathode, or explain electron holes, many don’t.) It’s law, and it’s common sense. Electricity is an invisible force that the electrician is trained to understand and advise upon, but for the layman it can be hard to predict and deadly. Importantly, no-one’s planning on it going away! Even survivalist types who I know and respect have plans for off-grid, in situ electrical capacity.
Institutional environmentalists most certainly plan on nuclear energy going away. Except it’s not actually a plan. They just hate nuclear, and hate listening to the professionals who actually know about it, and when they have their way, we get to see Germany’s Energiewende begin to fail less than three years after the reactionary removal of nuclear from the mix, and California’s carbon dioxide emissions shoot up dramatically. This isn’t what should be happening, and because it is, the methods must change. The alternative approach must be soberly considered. Get those road workers to build a bridge over the perception gap which has only ever been widened by institutional environmentalists. Learn to manage the outrage. Get behind, or at least get out of the way of, the only full-scale deployable CO2-mitigating technology which might be just enough in time.