Liberally Speaking (5/20/10)

Nuclear: The life-saving alternative?

May 20, 2010

By Steve Mount

You may or may not have ever heard of Adam Carolla — he’s a radio personality who also hosted The Man Show on cable’s Comedy Central and co-hosted Loveline, a sex and relationship advice show, with Dr. Drew Pinsky. Recently, tech Web site asked Carolla his opinions on a topic I’ve written about here before: nuclear power.

Normally, I would not use someone like Carolla as entree into a column topic, but what he had to say, in just a few minutes, was spot-on (though crude — if you look for Carolla’s video at Gizmodo, be sure to watch once the kids are in bed).

The interview was posted days after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and a month after the Massey coal mine disaster in West Virginia. Regarding nuclear power, Carolla asks this pointed question: after 11 people died drilling for oil and nearly 30 died digging for coal in just the last month, exactly how many people have died producing nuclear power in the United States in the past month, or year or decade?

His answer is zero. If we were to choose a way to produce power solely on the safety of the workers behind that power, nuclear is the clear choice.

Now, Carolla was riffing, and didn’t stop to think that uranium is also mined (albeit by non-Americans). There are dangers to uranium mining, not the least of which is exposure to radioactive dust and radon gas. But these are risks that can (and should) be mitigated. Coal miners, though, are never quite sure if they will emerge from the mine when they make their way in.

Environmentally, the threat posed by offshore oil drilling is no longer just a threat — it is about as real as it can get. So real, in fact, that President Obama is having second thoughts about his plans to allow more such drilling, as is California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Coal mining is no friend of the environment either, especially when the mountaintop removal method is used. Just think about that — removal of a mountaintop so we can burn the coal that the mountain is made of.

There are dangers, to be sure, in nuclear power. The last two years of news out of Vermont Yankee show that mistakes can and will be made; this is not to mention Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. These lessons cannot be forgotten.

These are, however, extreme examples. Given what we have learned since the last nuclear power plant in the United States came on line in 1996, and what other countries have learned, we know we can build safe, effective plants that can not only produce massive amounts of power in a relatively small space, but which can also reuse their own fuel, recycling it instead of sending if off for permanent storage.

Our power needs are growing and will continue to grow. Just imagine if electricity was clean, bountiful and cheap. Just imagine quantum-leap discoveries in battery technology that would make the electric car ubiquitous. Just imagine if we no longer need fossil fuels to produce electricity or run our cars.

If we redouble our efforts to bolster our reliance on renewables, continuing to improve solar cell efficiency and continuing to build wind farms in the right places, that will help. But what will also help is for we, as a nation, to decide that nuclear power must be a part of that future, too.

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I want to take this opportunity to bid farewell, on these pages, to Mike Benevento. I have had the pleasure of writing opposite him for a year. Our point and counterpoint columns have reaffirmed to me that it not only possible to have civil discussions about matters we disagree on, it is absolutely essential.

In the end, we share a love for this country and its democracy. We both know that there are a few things that are essential to our freedoms: a free press, freedom of expression, freedom of speech and a system of government that allows for the peaceful and orderly transfer of power. Most likely, you reading this also share these values.

I look forward to debating the finer points of politics and the world with someone new. But be warned — you do have some large shoes to fill.


Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at or read his blog at