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The need for a coherent energy policy

By Scott Tibbs, October 2, 2000. Published at Enter Stage Right.

With President Clinton's release of thirty million barrels of oil from the strategic oil reserve, energy policy has become mired in the politics of a presidential election, and a large weakness has been revealed in the Democratic Party platform.

Clinton released thirty million barrels of oil; an incredibly insignificant amount given the amount of oil we use here in America. We use 19 million barrels every single day, so Clinton's release of the reserves will only last one and a half days. In addition, with domestic oil refineries running at 94% capacity, there is little chance of getting this drop in the bucket to where it needs to go. Since the release will have no impact, why is Clinton doing it? The answer is simple: to help Al Gore's chances of being elected President. Gore and the rest of the administration have said that the situation is different now than it was when Gore opposed releasing the reserves early this year. What exactly is different, Mr. Gore? Is it that you are falling behind George W. Bush in the polls and you need to do something to help your chances of being elected?

When pressed about the issue, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson admitted that one of the important reasons for this action was to show the American people that we are concerned about the price of oil and that we are taking steps. In other words, it's yet another example of how this administration putting symbolism over substance, as it ahs repeatedly done since taking office in 1993.

Clinton has also put national security at risk with his decision to release the reserves. The purpose of the strategic reserves is so we cannot be held hostage every time a Middle Eastern power becomes angry with us and decides to cut off our oil supplies. Our military needs to have fuel in the event of a national security crisis, and to use this resource for shameless political posturing should anger every American.

What Clinton does not have is a coherent energy policy. We should reduce our dependency on foreign oil by taking steps to develop domestic energy resources. That means tapping our own oil reserves via offshore drilling and drilling in Alaska, and doing so in a way that does not damage our environment. Our technology is the best in the world, and providing tax incentives for tapping our own reserves in an environmentally friendly manner should be implemented to reduce our need for foreign oil.

But most importantly, we need to get over our irrational fear of nuclear power and begin to build nuclear power plants so our national energy needs can be met in a safe, clean and efficient manner. Unlike coal and oil, nuclear energy does not dump tons of pollutants into our air and water. Nuclear power is much more efficient than oil and coal, and the amount of nuclear fuel available to us will provide energy for many years beyond what we would have if we relied on fossil fuel only.

Using nuclear power for our electrical needs would also allow us to save our fossil fuels for our automobiles and other means of transportation, conserving this resource for longer than we would otherwise.

The risk of accidents is small, given the security features in modern Western nuclear reactors. While many people point to Chernobyl when opposing nuclear power, it is important to note that the poorly designed Soviet plant had virtually no containment system for such an accident. Chernobyl is not in any way comparable to reactors that would be built with far superior Western technology in the 21st century.

Even the most notable accident in the West, the meltdown at Three Mile Island, was not nearly as dangerous as the propaganda would indicate. In fact, the radiation our bodies absorb naturally from the atmosphere is much greater than the radiation we would absorb in the event of an incident the scale of the Three Mile Island incident. According to the Australian Financial Review, "The citizens of the Three Mile Island area would have received more radiation by taking a flight from New York to Miami or standing for a few minutes amid the granite of Grand Central Station." To put it simply, the safety features in the nuclear reactor worked to protect the people in the area. If given the choice of living close to a nuclear power plant where the risk of mishap is small or living next to a plant that is contaminating my air and water, I would much rather live next to the nuclear plant.

Too many environmentalists and Leftist politicians prey on the fear of nuclear weapons to oppose this energy source. But it is important to note that a nuclear bomb is an uncontrolled nuclear reaction, while the reactions within a nuclear reactor are tightly controlled. A nuclear reactor cannot explode in the way a nuclear bomb can.

The only legitimate safety issue with nuclear power is where to put the radioactive waste once it has been used up. But this waste is sealed in extremely durable concrete containers miles underground, where the radiation safely dissipates over an extended period of time. We have much more space in the western states for storage of this material than we need.

It is time for the political Left to separate the emotionalism of opposition to nuclear weapons with logic in embracing a safe, efficient, and clean energy source. Hopefully, our next President will recognize the need for more nuclear power, but that will not happen if Al Gore wins.