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Up-rate

05/15/06 12:00AM By Allen Gilbert
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(HOST) Energy has been on many people's minds lately. Commentator Allen Gilbert wonders if we're making wise choices.

(GILBERT) The new owner of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, Entergy, has convinced regulators that an "up-rate" to the plant is a good idea. With an up-rate, more electrical power can be produced. And the region needs more power. So the thirty-year-old nuclear power plant has been allowed to punch the accelerator, so to speak, aiming to produce a hundred and twenty percent of its original rated capacity.

True, Entergy has had a team of engineers riding shotgun as they put the pedal to the metal. But to me this feels a little too much like red-lining my 1986 Toyota Camry so I can hit ninety miles per hour.

And it's not just the "up-rate" that's making me nervous. The fact that we still haven't solved the problem of nuclear waste also makes me uncomfortable.

We keep producing more and more of it, and we keep storing more and more of it. Nuclear waste remains dangerous for generations. It's not just my generation, or my kids' generation, or my kids' kids' generation that's going to have to deal with this. It's multiple generations far into the future.

Seems to me there's an arrogance in our demand for energy that eventually will do us great harm. We opt for cheap energy while avoiding tough choices. We're offered renewable hydroelectric energy from dams on the Connecticut River, but we don't want to make the investment to buy the dams. We're asked if we want renewable wind energy from wind turbines, but we say we don't want our mountain ridgelines marred. We're offered smaller cars, or hybrids, that go much further between fill-ups, but we stubbornly hang on to our SUVs and to our high-performance sedans.

A co-worker receently lent me a tape of a PBS show on "global dimming." I had never heard of the "dimming" phenomenon, but it suggests that global warming might actually be much worse than believed. Exhaust from cars, planes, and power plants contains particulates that dim the sun's rays. This may result in short-term cooling -- off-setting some of the extra heat from global warming, but masking the true degradation of the planet.

I hate to think that only a crisis will force us to change the way we make energy decisions. Rather, I'd like to believe that we can still be inspired by thoughtful leaders who urge us to take on tough challenges and succeed. We need bold action -- if not for our own sake, than for our children's sake. Radioactive waste, dirty air, and global warming are not a proud legacy to leave future generations.

In auto years, my 1986 Toyota is an antique. The car's steering and brakes are fine, but I certainly wouldn't want to bet on it in a drag race. And I wonder about the wisdom of betting on an outdated technology in the race to meet our future energy needs.

Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher, and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. He has a longtime interest in public policy issues.
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