Wisdom or Fatal Folly

03/15/2011 10:47 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As the health impact of smoking became better known to Americans, the practice eventually diminished. The cigarette industry decided to look beyond US borders. Huge amounts of money are spent convincing teenagers in the so-called "developing" world that this cancer-causing product defines their entry into adulthood.

Fast food, fast profits, and other modern gifts to the world ultimately will not health or security make. There should be no flag waving for the "Whopper" or the bacon-wrapped fried chicken known as the "Double Down". However the folly and arrogance of nuclear energy is in a league of its own.

Not one new nuclear energy plant has opened in the US since the 1979 disaster at Three Mile Island. Yet despite the environmental and security risks posed by nuclear energy facilities, the US continues to support their development elsewhere. For example, in derogation of a core bargain of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that, with the exception of the US, China, Russia, UK, and France, only countries renouncing the development of nuclear weapons should gain the so called benefits of nuclear energy, the US government advances the economic interests of the nuclear industry by supporting nuclear energy deals with India, a country which has developed a robust nuclear arsenal and refuses to join the NPT. Not only is this folly, but it is an arrogant folly.

Nuclear energy plants, like nuclear weapons systems, do not forgive mistakes of judgment, of mechanical error, or simple human negligence. Still, in the face of dire warnings to the dangers of nuclear power, humans continue to build nuclear energy plants and nuclear weapon systems, convinced that no mistakes will be made. How easily we forget a truism when greed and the quest for power intoxicate our reason: systems are only as foolproof as the humans that create them.

The crisis in Japan is just the most recent tragedy to befall the nuclear age. There is perhaps no other country with more sophisticated nuclear facilities, with more safety checks and backup systems in place. Yet mistakes were made. Hearts all over the world reach out in sympathy for the suffering of the people of Japan. The extent of the catastrophe in Japan is not yet known, nor will it be known for quite some time, as radioactive isotopes could linger in the air, water and soil long after the reactors finally cool. However, the cost is already too dear.

Reality demonstrates that it is supreme arrogance to think that we will not make mistakes of judgment, that machines will not err or that human negligence can be avoided. In fact, only God does not make mistakes. Acting as if we were God is nothing short of blasphemy.

The tragedy in Japan is a strong and deplorable wake-up call to stop this arrogant nuclear folly. Should the warnings of nuclear weapons opponents be as crassly ignored as those from nuclear power opponents, the consequences could be unthinkable. There have already been far too many computer and human errors nearly triggering nuclear exchanges for any informed person to rest easy. President Obama has wisely advocated that the US should lead in global efforts to abolish nuclear weapons.

We are not perfect and all that we create reflects our imperfections. We thus must not make imperfect devices that can destroy so much precious life. That is wisdom that we can be proud to export.