Ken Johnson
Grand Junction Free Press Opinion Columnist

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February 21, 2013
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JOHNSON: Nuclear energy is and was the answer

Are we crazy? Do we continue to let the arrogant and ignorant run this country for their own benefit or do we start to ask pointed questions? I mean, for goodness sake, is gun control more important than finding a national policy, not bits and pieces, to attacking climate change? Do we even try to understand what the 3 degrees the oceans have warmed over the past decades means?

Is there some way we can have a national discussion in civil, focused terms about this "doomsday" subject? By "civil" I mean one where accurate data is shared and discussed, without the "fill in your dirty words here" being the only answer.

Years ago I was a beginning reporter, tasked in our resources-rich Western Slope with covering all the news I could find about energy and other resources. Things like coal, drilling for oil and gas, the Gilsonite refinery at Fruita, oil shale, and that game-changer for us, America and the world - uranium. And nuclear power.

I studied and wrote about a deep oil test drilled near Meeker by Union Oil Company to nearly 20,000 feet. No oil. But a record for depth.

And I also studied, listened and wrote about the Atomic Energy Commission, chaired by the brilliant Glenn Seabor. He was right, by the way, about nuclear energy giving us a chance to become a whole new society.

Sadly, we've spent the past 40 years relying on slogans instead of science. The US government stopped research on the new generations of nuclear reactors in the mid-1990s. Just when breeder reactor science was making a breakthrough.

We're now just certain that nuclear radiation will sneak up on us and give us cancer, or kill us.

I'm suggesting we start getting smart about all the issues, including the stupid ones.

Let's start with an internet site, Brave New Climate, run by Dr. Barry Brook in Australia; it contains a plethora of facts and a compelling article by guest contributor Geoff Russell, a mathematician and computer programmer: (By the way, Australia BANS nuclear energy.)

"For the past 20 years, there has been a competitive cacophony about the urgency of climate change by governments and environmentalists around the world ... but very little action. The emission reductions supposedly generated by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol have in fact been measurably less than the increase in imports of emission-intensive products by countries in the first world from countries in the third world. Many countries have simply outsourced their emissions.

"This comprehensive failure has accelerated the urgency of substantive action.

"During virtually all of these two decades, the French have been generating electricity using nuclear reactors at a CO2 emission rate of about 80 grams per kilowatt hour, compared to the global average of over 500. Australia has a worst-in-class level of about 850 grams CO2 per kilowatt hour. The French completely transformed and grew their electricity-generation infrastructure over a two decade period in the 1970s and 80s. The spur was oil prices rather than climate change, but the lesson remains.

"A fast affordable move to low carbon electricity is possible. The French did it. The Swiss did it. The Swedes did it. It isn't the total solution to our climate problems, but it would be a bloody good start.

"To admit the French are right about anything is clearly something everybody in general ... would like to avoid, but we really need to get over this, to give them credit and move on.

"Had we followed the French and gone nuclear in a big way, as they did in Switzerland and Sweden, the world would be very different.

"Had we all gone nuclear and decarbonised our electricity, we'd still have work to do, but the urgency would be considerably reduced and some of the key technologies would be cheaper and better.

"The anti-nuclear movement has cost us all a couple of decades ... and counting."

Read Russell's column in its entirety at

Ken is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.

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