The Wasatch Behind: Honoring Veterans Day
"Good grief," I righteously intoned as I put down the latest issue of the Goblin Valley Gazette. "Did you see that some members of the state legislature are proposing that we build a couple of nuclear power plants near the town of Green River?"
"Only two?" Uncle Spud asked. "Back in 1983 they wanted to build nine nuclear power plants near the town of Green River. They seem to have scaled back their ambitions."
"Why do we need more power plants?" I asked.
"A full 10 percent of the population of Mexico is living here now," Spud said. "We've got to expand our power grids to accommodate them and their families who will be here soon."
"But why nuclear plants?" I insisted. "There's a gazillion tons of coal in Emery County, and no one has built a nuclear power plant in the U.S. for more than 30 years."
"Nuclear is the only option we have left," he said. "Everything else is politically, economically, or environmentally unacceptable. The green people are fighting to stop any new coal-fired power plants. The animal rights people are horrified if we propose to dam another river to make a new hydroelectric facility; we've got to save the snail darters. And the wilderness warriors have shut down most of our oil, gas, and tar sands development, so those are not options. Nukes are all we have left."
"But what about wind and solar power?" I asked.
"They've tried to build wind farms on the north Atlantic coast where the wind blows all the time," Spud smiled, "But rich people like the Kennedy's shot it down because it would screw up their expensive view of the ocean. They want the wind generators put further inland where the poor people live and the wind doesn't blow. So far, no one wants to spend millions to build a wind farm where the wind doesn't blow. And, wind and solar power are both very unpredictable. Clouds and small fluctuations in the jet stream can screw everything up."
"What about bio-fuels," I asked, hopefully.
"Ethanol contains only 67 percent as much energy as gasoline," Spud said, "and it takes almost as much energy to make it as it gives back when we burn it. It's not efficient or economical. Besides, using food like corn to make gasoline is like killing your horse to make moccasins. It doesn't make good sense."
"But what about geo-thermal energy and hydrogen technology?" I asked.
"We've got a long ways to go in developing hydrogen power," Spud said. "And there are only a few places where geo-thermal energy is possible, and most of them are in national parks, so you can bag that idea."
"But nuclear energy has problems of its own," I reminded him. "You do remember Chernobyl and Three Mile Island?"
"Of course," he said. "But other than a few mega-disasters, nuclear power is clean and safe. It usually doesn't pollute the air or cause problems for snail darters and spotted owls. It should be an eco-warrior's best friend."
"But one of the objections the environmentalists had in 1983 was that steam from nuclear cooling towers near Green River would be visible from Canyonlands National Park," I said. "Why don't they build the plants further north in some place with enough smog that the plumes of steam won't be noticed? Why not Ogden or North Salt Lake?"
"Green River has everything we need for a nuclear power plant," Spud insisted. "A sparsely populated area with a big river for an endless supply of water, a railroad, a major highway, and lots of empty, open spaces where toxic gasses can dissipate in case of an accident. Besides, Emery County is mostly redneck Republicans. They deserve it."
"But for years we've heard state legislators screaming that we can't allow nuclear material on Utah's roads and railroads," I said. "It's just too dangerous."
"That's only if the Indians do it," Spud smiled. "We can always make an exception if the state gets to keep the money."