11/15/2005 08:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017



There's been a recent surge in the "green nukes" story -- an embrace of nuclear energy by some environmentalists as the power source with the smallest ecological footprint. Despite the danger and long-lasting waste, the argument goes, nuclear power is the most efficient energy source in terms of resource input to power output, unlike oil whose ratio is a wild waste at something like 100 units expended to every 1 extracted. (That's when you count infrastructure, drilling, refining, transportation, etc., but does not include the even larger externalized material cost of oil's geopolitics that we all bear.) Also unlike oil and coal, nuclear power doesn't contribute to global warming, so if we want to prevent destroying the whole damn place, we need to replace fossil fuels with something else but quick.

I'm kind of inclined to go with the nukes, I've been thinking. It can't be worse than the strip-mined hill-tops of Appalachia, which will be beachfront once the seas are finished rising. As for meltdowns, there's new technology, apparently much safer than the Pepsi Syndrome days. But some of those new technologies make more waste. And where are we going to put that -- the as-of-yet-unopened Yucca Mountain? And the new plants may not meltdown, but they can catch fire, a la Chernobyl. And the epidemiology on cancer clusters near nuclear energy facilities remains unclear. And, well, it all seems so complicated with so much technical detail to digest and I don't have the time to read the Bulletin like I used to. Which is why I'm very happy Judith Lewis, my colleague over at the LA Weekly, decided to spend several months researching the topic. She descended Yucca mountain, visited San Onofre, and talked to as many experts as possible to sort it all out. Highlights include: the radioactive animals of the "red forest" of Chernobyl; pebble bed reactors; and a real fired up lady named Helen Caldicott. The full piece is long (10,000+ words!) but offers a solid primer on a real controversy. If fusion is going to continue to be so goddamned elusive, we may as well at least start talking about fission again...