Ken Johnson
Grand Junction Free Press Opinion Columnist

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March 21, 2013
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JOHNSON: An eye toward our energy future

We're buried in information, so it's hard to keep track of what's going to affect our lives in the future. Here are some samples.

Guns. Well, the politicians did it and the governor signed it. Colorado is now in the "really-tough-on-gun-owners" column of clueless states. It's going to be interesting to see if there is any affect on gun deaths in the state. Don't bet the farm that the new law will stop some witless whack job from finding his choice of weapon. If you want to buy a gun you're going to be penalized.

Solar. I do support it. On the home front, my photovoltaic solar panels have generated 2,000 KwH (Kilowatt Hours) of electricity more than I've used over the past six months. I'm delighted to kick them back to the grid; plus to have put not a single carbon particle into the atmosphere by my electric use.

The idea that electricity from nuclear reactors could be safe, and in America's future, stirred a strong comment. One Free Press letter to the editor bluntly said my research was bad when I wrote about the safety record from our reactors.

Then came a deluge of "facts" proving I'm a brainless dolt. He may be right about that assumption, but his facts are pretty far adrift of actual. Of course, he wants only clean/green wind and solar for our future.

Too bad that won't work. Science, math and economics all agree they can be part, but not all, of our electric future.

Ah, the humor of it. My data happens to be accurate; the writing was sloppy. You see, I was focusing ONLY on the United States. I apologize for the confusion, possibly caused when I included a paragraph on the zero radiation deaths and, per the World Health Organization, not enough cancer risk to measure in the Japanese meltdown. (The "some research says you're wrong" tossed at me is junk science. Two years after Fukushima is still zero deaths. There HAVE been 89 deaths in other nations' nuclear electric plants, with the biggest problem Chernobyl. Three Russian nuclear subs had deaths also.

We now agree on those details. But compared with say, Chicago's mean streets, 89 deaths worldwide from huge, varied and really complicated technology in 61 years is close to zero risk. For comparison you may recall that last year, Chicago street shootings killed over 500.

So our writer and I are not in the same book, let alone on the same page, with the rest of his details.

Let me try to clarify the U.S. story on electricity from nuclear generators and why it's important. Carbon loading in the atmosphere, leading to climate change, is a serious problem and gets more serious daily. We Americans have a huge and growing appetite for electricity. Aged coal- or oil-fired power plants are a huge contributor to the carbon problem.

For the next 40 years, as we move toward truly "green" electricity, we need just about every power source we can find, including wind and solar. We just don't need to kid ourselves that those two can fill all our needs if we just throw enough money at them.

Maybe our president has figured that out, since he just announced that nuclear will be part of our future energy mix.

Point: U.S. nuclear reactors have been quietly pumping out cheap electricity for everyone since Shippingport, 25 miles west of Pittsburgh, went on line in 1958. That's 54 years.

Zero deaths, zero cancers. Do we REALLY believe that we're all going to die from radiation from our nuclear electric plants?

For perspective, 19% of U.S. electricity comes from the 104 nuclear plants operating today. Solar, despite years of subsidies, produces 1%. Wind (with even bigger subsidies) generates 3%. The rest is from "dirty," mostly old, fossil fuel plants.

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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