This is a very brief but thoughtful essay on the perils of our energy regime. Last summer we had the Gulf oil spill and now we have the Japanese nuclear disaster. Are we digging our selves a hole that we can't dig out of, or at least that will trap us--in terms of health and wealth--for decades? The Frankenstein myth should still hold some resonance for us. Again, I have to point to Thomas Homer-Dixon and his The Ingenuity Gap as a prophet about these issues. Of course, let me be clear: I'm not a Luddite. I really, really enjoy my electronics. Life would be much poorer with electricity. However, we'd better think of some very good answers to our energy future or we're in for more and more problems.
On the other hand, Frank Robinson at the Rational Optimist points out that nothing is risk free, that we've not had very many deaths from nuclear power, and that we need nuclear power if we're going to reduce carbon emissions. All very valid points. Here's the question that is not answered: can the nuclear industry operate under tort standards of conduct? Should nuclear power adhere to strict liability standards (I say "yes", and I think that may be the current law). If the industry can't live with that standard; if they can't provide that degree of protection; if that can't pay the level of damages that they might cause, then should we use this source of energy? How much in damages might we be talking about? I don't know, but how much did BP pay for its Gulf clean-up? Tough issues.