What We Know:
- Ahead of his time, Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House. In a speech on his proposed energy policy in 1977, Carter was remarkably prescient: “Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption…and to use permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power, we will feel mounting pressure to plunder the environment.” He added: “The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge that our country will face during our lifetime.”
- For the last few years, US Representative Rush Holt, a physicist from NJ, has been warning that energy derived from coal, oil, and nuclear power is unsustainable, and a growing health and safety threat. Worse than accidents, Rep. Holt cautions that Iran and others are using the technology to develop nuclear weapons. Safe, far-sighted energy policies Rep. Holt advocates include a cap on greenhouse gas emissions; a substantial investment in clean energies; tax credits for solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, fuel cell, and other sustainable energy technologies; and a Renewable Portfolio Standard to ensure 20 percent of US electricity is produced by renewable sources best suited to each locale’s climate and resources by 2027.
- Following the disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station in Japan in March, the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental and nuclear watchdog, reported on the safety of nuclear power plants in the United States in 2010. The Union reported 14 significant events or near-misses at nuclear reactors in 12 states last year! Many of the near-misses “could easily have been avoided,” the Union wrote, if reactor owners had corrected violations identified by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) months, if not years, ago. The Union holds both the NRC and reactor owners responsible for lingering safety and security issues that may be “accidents waiting to happen.”
- Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) is among 45 groups and individuals nationwide to petition the NRC “to suspend all licensing and other activities at 21 proposed nuclear reactor projects in 15 states until NRC completes a thorough post-Fukushima reactor examination comparable to that after the serious, though less severe, 1979 accident at Three Mile Island.” Petitioners have also asked NRC to supplement its investigation with another from an independent commission.
- In March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel shut down seven of her country’s oldest nuclear reactors and decided to accelerate Germany’s conversion toward clean, renewable energy sources. Italy had already begun to phase out nuclear power after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, and closed its last reactor in 1990. The Italian government’s plan to reverse that decision was rejected by more than 94 percent of Italian voters this past June. Rather than resume the use of nuclear power, Italy is expected to expand its renewable energies such as hydropower, wind, biomass, solar, and geothermal technologies.
- Presently, Switzerland is also phasing out nuclear power. According to Wikipedia, Austria was the first country to begin a phase-out in 1978, followed by Sweden in 1980, Italy in 1987, Belgium in 1999, and Germany in 2000. Austria and Spain have actually enacted laws which prohibit the construction of new nuclear power plants. As of June 2011, countries completely opposed to nuclear energy include Australia, Greece, Israel, New Zealand, and Norway.
- Some proponents of coal, oil, and nuclear energy suggest it’s impossible to meet the needs of a growing economy without compromising national security or devastating our environment. Yet Norway’s Utsira Island has been living off the grid for two years. One of the world’s first communities to achieve energy self-sufficiency, Utsira uses a combination of wind power and hydrogen fuel not only to produce renewable energy, but to store enough excess to export to the mainland.
- “We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren,” Carter urged. It’s not too late to create a safer world and a thriving economy through the development of clean energy policies. As in Italy, it may be up to voters to take the lead. As we phase out coal, oil, gas, and nuclear power, and convert to clean energies, voters must hold NRC accountable for the strict enforcement of more comprehensive regulations than those we rely on today. Last year, the President’s Cancer Panel, which includes appointees of George W. Bush, warned that our apathetic approach to regulation is already having far-reaching consequences for our health—and particularly the health of our children.
Which Republican or Democratic candidate in your area is offering the most comprehensive, far-reaching clean energy policy?