Making tough energy decisions

On April 2, Greenpeace appeared on campus to rouse support for the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.Last week, a shelf of ice the size of Jamaica broke free from the Antarctic mainland — I’m sure Greenpeace is well aware.While I’m no expert, it seems that chunks of ice the size of former British colonies are a more pressing threat than nuclear power.Of course, the ex-citizens of Chernobyl would probably disagree.And they may very well be right. I’m not completely sure which represents a larger threat.But whether we — or Greenpeace — like it or not, at some point, we’re going to have to prioritize one of these issues.Greenpeace appeared on campus with solar panels, showing off their alternative to nuclear and fossil fuel power.There’s nothing wrong with creating a buzz for energy alternatives — options that hopefully represent our future.But in the now, solar and wind power are politically and economically impractical.According to The Rutland Herald, should Vermont Yankee close, Vermont’s energy prices could increase anywhere from 19 to 39 percent.In this economy, those energy prices just won’t fly — not in Vermont and certainly not in the rest of the country — and they could scar alternative energy’s reputation for the future.Barring a sudden   technological breakthrough in clean energy, we’re going to need a short-term alternative for mitigating climate change.Temporarily at least, nuclear power could be our savior.Nuclear power, despite the unsavory images of Chernobyl, is relatively safe.It’s a major power provider for Europe. France gets 78 percent of its power from nuclear plants, and hasn’t had an issue.Vermont Yankee’s “leak” was caught and never left the plant.Certainly nuclear power can present problems.It must be carefully monitored and the waste produces Yucca Mountain-sized issues.The risks are real and scary.But we need to do some serious cost-benefit and risk analysis before do away with our only major source of carbon-free energy.Global warming is also real and scary.How do we balance nuclear power with cheap-and-dirty fossil fuels and politically and economically unfeasible alternative energy?I’m not sure, and I wish we didn’t have to.But we do. And until we have preferable alternatives, my vote is with nuclear power.