Reconsidering Nuclear Power, Again

03/24/2011 10:44 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

I have to admit that I was an anti-nuclear power activist back in the late '70s and early '80s. I protested in front of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire, and worked for the Campaign For Safe Energy that in 1980 lobbied for anti-nuclear power resolutions in both the Republican and Democratic party platforms that year.

Protests, plus the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island and the more serious event in Chernobyl, contributed to the demise of the U.S. nuclear power program. But recently, a lot of politicians have called for us to build more nuclear plants.

But People Say It's Now Safe

Despite my anti-nuke activist roots, I started to reconsider my feelings about nuclear power a few years ago. I kept reading about safety improvements, including much better containment systems and better ways to store nuclear waste. And I heard convincing evidence from scientists and politicians from both major parties in support of nuclear as an alternative to our dwindling and ever more expensive fossil fuels. President Barack Obama, for example, is seeking federal loan guarantees for new nuclear plants in the United States.

I'm not naive enough to believe that putting solar panels on our roofs and windmills in our countryside will produce enough electricity to power every home and business, not to mention all the new plug-in cars that are hitting our roads. And I'm certainly aware of the risks -- environmental and otherwise -- of our traditional coal and petroleum-based generating facilities. But what happened in Japan has caused me to once again reject nuclear as the answer to our energy problems.

I understand that every good thing has risks. Planes sometimes crash and buildings sometimes catch on fire. But the potential consequences of a nuclear disaster, however unlikely, are just too far reaching for the risks to be considered acceptable. If we can reach some real consensus on a nuclear technology that is safe, my mind is open. But until then, it's time to focus on other alternatives.

What We Can Do

I don't claim to have the entire solution, but there are things we can do as individuals, businesses and governments to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, which have dangers of their own. For one thing, we can increase research and development in solar, wind, tidal and other renewable sources, which not only will help solve the problem, but also help our national and local economy. Silicon Valley and other bastions of technology would have a lot to gain if the money that we might otherwise put into nuclear plants went to alternate forms of energy production and development of more energy-efficient appliances, vehicles and devices.

We can also cut back as much as possible. I recently bought a Prius, which cut my gasoline usage, and I try to use my bicycle whenever possible. Neither solves the problem. We also need vastly improved affordable public transportation.

There are lots of things we can do in our homes. A couple of years ago I bought a Kill-A-Watt Electricity Usage Monitor and used it to measure the consumption of my devices. As a result, I unplugged or turned off a number of devices that had been running 24/7 -- including my Apple TV, a DVD player and other components -- that I wasn't using often.

I was shocked to find that my personal video recorder was consuming 40 watts, 24 hours a day. I also try to unplug those little power bricks and other devices that draw power when they're not being used, and to make sure my computer goes into sleep mode when after a minutes of inactivity.

But I'm far from a shining example. There is still a lot more I should and can do.