Saturday, May 02, 2009

On the question of being a nuke-free zone

Memory is a tricky thing. In 2003, three resolutions were introduced to the Ester Community Association at the spring meeting. They were published in the Republic and a poll conducted during the Fourth of July Picnic, where they were overwhelmingly approved by poll participants. However, the actual vote on them did not take place until the fall meeting, at which point two of the three were withdrawn and the one remaining, on making Ester a PATRIOT Act-free zone, was passed.

So when Mike Musick spoke at the GVEA meeting recently (fourth video in the member comments), saying that Reeves' plan to install a modular nuclear power generator might require a bit of discussion with the community association because Ester had declared itself a nuclear-free zone, he was only partly correct. Although the formal resolution was introduced and a public poll conducted, the resolution itself was not passed.

Mark Simpson referred to these resolutions as "hare-brained" in his August 2003 piece in the Republic, "Assemblies and Agendas," but now we are faced with the actual possibility of nuclear power in our neighborhood. Mark's main issue was with what he saw as the politicization of the ECA:
You see, it’s not the anti-PATRIOT Act stance I’m disgusted with—it’s the hijacking of an honorable, useful, apolitical association of people to fulfill the aims of some short-sighted political activists. It puts the ECA on a level with the Berkeley City Council, forever passing wacky pronouncements, rather than the Peace Corps, actively engaged in bettering lives. The ECA could host a forum, a debate, or a “teach-in,” or rent its hall to others to do so, but it best serves its members by remaining above the fray.
I saw the no-nukes resolution then not as a political issue, but as a health and safety issue, and I still do. And now is when having our community on record about it in the form of a resolution would have been a good thing.

The few people I've spoken with out here or conversed with via Facebook about the nuclear power plant aren't taking it seriously. They seem to see it as a quack idea with no real merit. However, two other commentators at the GVEA meeting besides Musick spoke about it, and they seemed to be taking it quite seriously. (The first spoke in favor of it, the second pointed out the hazards of it.) I think it's a mistake not to treat this as a genuine possibility. From what I've read, the Hyperion power plant would be an order of magnitude of improvement over the large-scale types that are causing such problems around Fort Greely [PDF] (not to mention the big headline-grabbers like Chernobyl).

Even if Reeves decides the price tag is too steep, the fact remains: small-scale nuclear power is fast becoming the Next Big Thing, despite the ever-present and apparently intrinsic drawback to this kind of power: mind-bogglingly long-lasting deadliness. It is becoming cheaper, more accessible, and more tempting to communities across the world as a power resource, and Reeves won't be the last Alaskan to think about it as a reasonable option.

Note: Bill Stringer wrote a letter to the editor in yesterday's News-Miner about the waste heat problem a small generator might cause. In the comments, it is quite clear that there are many people who see nuclear power as a feasible option for Alaska. A few useful links in the comments include:
New Commercial Reactor Designs, a list from the Energy Information Administration of the US government;

"Galena Electric Power—A Situational Analysis," the draft final report prepared for the Department of Energy by ISER and dated Dec. 15, 2004;

and a list of civilian nuclear accidents from Wikipedia.

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