Is There Any Safe Energy?
Japan stands on the brink of nuclear catastrophe a year after the West Virginia mine explosion and the gulf oil spill. But what are the alternatives?
The world holds its breath as Japan's damaged nuclear reactors continue to spew radiation. In the worst case, a cloud of radioactive material could be blown inland, endangering millions. The crisis has forced a reexamination of American nuclear policy. Until recently, Republicans and Democrats showed rare common cause in supporting supposedly safe nuclear power. Now nuclear lobbyists are scrambling to defend the industry. U.S. scientists are battling bureaucrats, saying that American plants desperately require repairs. Nuclear power, long favored, may be on the outs.
It's been almost a year since the oil industry had its last major disaster. The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig claimed 11 lives, robbed a region of its economic engine, and left thousands with mental and physical problems due to stress and pollution. Five million barrels of oil gushed into the ocean over 86 straight days. Tourism plummeted along the Gulf of Mexico. Still, Americans seem to have put this trauma behind them: six in 10 say they favor more offshore drilling, and in March, the federal government approved a second deepwater-drilling permit in the gulf.
Just before last year's oil spill, the coal industry witnessed a devastating catastrophe when 29 miners were killed at a coal mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. Critics of the coal industry decry the pollution, while television news crews reliably swarm the mine disasters that seem to happen like clockwork. Last fall 700 plaintiffs sued Massey for allowing toxic metals to find their way into local drinking water. (Massey denies the charge.) Another coal giant just coughed up $4 million to settle claims that it polluted the water in West Virginia and other states. …