The stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could or, maybe, should mean the death of electric cars and plug-in hybrids. That’s because the anti-nuclear lobby can now easily panic the public and politicians, ending hopes for an aggressive effort to build nuclear plants in the U.S. Without nuclear-generated power, all-electric cars and plug-ins aren’t dead on arrival, but they are almost useless on arrival.
If the U.S. doesn’t start a highest-priority effort to build nuclear plants, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids will be ineffective at their core purpose: Reducing the use of carbon-based fuel.
Prior to Fukushima, rational environmentalists (including President Obama) supported nuke plants as an alternative to the natural gas and coal that account for roughly 70 percent of U.S. electricity production. Nuclear makes up another 20 or so percent. (You’re contributing to global warming when you plug in your Leaf or Volt. Granted, it’s easier to capture pollution at the coal- or gas-fired plant than at car tailpipes, but we’re still burning carbon-based fuel to make the electricity.)
The no-nukes crowd is portraying Fukushima as a catastrophic disaster. As this is written, it isn’t. Except, that is, for owner Tokyo Electric, the two plant workers who are missing and almost certainly dead, and those who live in a 20-mile arc who are being encouraged to leave their homes. Even if things worsen, Americans should feel safe with expanding nuclear power. Current U.S. nuclear plants are more-strongly built than the aging Japanese plant and lessons learned from Fukushima will be incorporated into new U.S. plants.
Regardless of facts, the no-nukes crowd will attempt to frighten the uninformed, just as they did with another nuclear plant non-disaster, the 1979 Three-Mile Island incident. For youngsters, more died in the back of Teddy Kennedy’s car than at Three-Mile Island.
How about other renewable energy sources touted by the anti-nuke crowd? There are winds farms that loudly blight the land, slaughter birds and insects and kill people during construction and maintenance. Solar is still deep in the research and development stage and would create its own environmental problems. How about tidal turbines in the ocean? Place them away from whales, dolphins, bluefin tuna, sailfish, Chilean sea bass, swordfish and other threatened species.
While I assert we should continue to dig for coal (and drill for oil and natural gas in the U.S. on- and off-shore), know that about 30 miners are killed each year in the U.S. Many older, former miners suffer from black lung disease. In other parts of the world catastrophes are far worse.
Without a huge increase in nuclear power, electric cars and plug-in hybrids will be best at moving pollution from big cities to the country. That’s where I live.