The Good News and the Bad News: Japan, and Obama's Push Against Coal

Everyone following the nuclear industry probably is aware that Japan is shutting down its last remaining power reactor today, in good part due to public pressure in the wake of Fukushima Daiichi. The Japanese are taking an approach that is not what I would like to see, but is understandable due to how public opinion shifts after a disaster. So, goodbye to nuclear in Japan—for now. That is of course the bad news.

The good news is, President Obama is taking coal to task for being environmentally-unsound and in so many words saying, clean things up and do it now. This article at Politico explains in decent detail what's going on:

I'm very glad to see this, for several reasons. I believe in protecting our environment and I've long maintained that when done right, nuclear affords us the best source of energy at lowest cost and least impact on the environment. Every nuclear incident—from the SL-1 accident to Windscale to Fukushima Daiichi—has been mainly due to poor oversight or direct human error. Nuclear has only become safer as the surrounding technology, not the least being control and telemetry systems, have improved. And it will only become safer yet, as we advance further with such technologies. Coal, in contrast, is an environmental problem even when operating correctly under standing laws and parameters. Moreover, we're simply running out of coal: do we just keep it up until we're out? Or do we take measures to truncate our use of this limited resource now? Do we operate the coal industry as a pet calf instead of a cash cow so that miners and others keep their jobs? This is exactly what Margaret Thatcher argued against per the miners' strikes of the 1980s in the UK, and since then, those coal pit communities have by and large moved into other industries. I don't want to see West Virginia or Kentucky married to coal forever. The cash cow will go dry.

It already has in some places: there are communities in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that have been for decades coal towns and now, there is no more coal to be mined there. The traditional "good jobs" are few and far between because the very resource those jobs were predicated on is gone. Instead of the people in these towns crying out to politicians every election to "create more jobs", someone needs to see that if you're a fisherman and no fish remain in the lake, it's either time to find a new pond or a new career. It's that simple. But Big Coal doesn't want to even get into the discourse around that, nor around whether its product is harming our environment. It just wants to cry foul (and cry poor, too) that further regulations with greater rigor will cut some jobs, close plants, et cetera. The sad truth is, these things will happen within decades, anyways. If Little Bobby's dad works in the coal mines today, Little Bobby probably cannot expect to have that job himself in twenty years. 

Aside from its benefit to the environment, the Obama plan for the EPA to produce further limits on future coal plants should also call due attention to the nature of coal as an energy source and force the public to confront and debate whether we wish to continue investing in coal, given all that is against it. I hope it will also make the public look at nuclear under a fair light and see what benefits nuclear offers.


This is, alas, my first post without a drawing. The reason being 1) I didn't have time to do a new drawing and 2) wasn't interested in drawing a coal tipple, either. 

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