When Minnesota enacted a nuclear moratorium in 1994, it made sense in the context of the times and known risks, including understandable concern about Xcel Energy's Monticello nuclear generator located a short distance upstream from a major metropolitan area, with no place to store its radioactive waste other on the plant site.
But things have changed.
A significant advantage of nuclear generators is that their emissions do not contain greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. And that's become huge in view of today's reality that, relative to the scale of continuing destruction of climate change, the pace of addressing the problem is incredibly slow and not nearly enough to fend off a worldwide catastrophe.
The nuclear moratorium must be lifted, and soon, so Minnesota can get on with fulfilling a major part of its commitment to reduce carbon and other greenhouse emissions.
Burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas to produce electricity is a major emitter of carbon into an overheating atmosphere. Earth scientists have long agreed on the facts of climate change, and the International Panel on Climate Change recently warned that the problem of human-caused warming is much worse than earlier projected while the timeline to upheaval is shorter.
Folks, we have a very serious problem with global warming that experts now say is much more serious than once thought.
We've heard it before, and we're collectively shocked by the dire reports — at least for a while, before we go shopping. Governments are aware of warming's looming existential threat, but elected leaders are absorbed with inflation, a nasty virus, wars and rising gas prices, leaving little time to devote to a world on the edge of a very steep cliff. Today's overly cynical public makes leadership even more difficult.
But those same governments write big, publicly supported checks to cover costs of forest fires, violent weather and widespread drought caused by a changing climate. The checks doubtless will get bigger as the destruction and human tragedy continue.
In my early journalism career I covered nuclear power as it was coming to Minnesota, and later I helped guide legislation on regulatory frameworks for power generation. I understand the high cost and risks of nukes that rightfully pushed Minnesota to the nuclear moratorium.
Sure, nukes are costly and risky, but they've become less so with advancements over the past 30 years. Plus, it's fair to ask: What's more dangerous than facing a world spinning toward still larger, more frequent disasters?
Burning fossil fuels is hardly safe: Their emissions annually kill between 6,000 and 10,700 people due mostly to respiratory disease and cancers, says the Environmental Defense Fund. And it's beyond disgraceful that the industry responsible for the health mayhem remains publicly subsidized by more than $20 billion annually.
There is notable progress in developing renewable power sources like solar and wind. There are gains in energy conservation, and there's growing demand for nonpolluting electric vehicles. Lots of positives there.
But it's delusional to think the sum of the current efforts is nearly enough to forestall the worsening effects of global warming.
Nuclear power is here, and it could provide reliable, carbonless baseload power to complement less reliable (albeit efficient, safe and low-cost) renewable sources. Sure, nukes present a list of dicey considerations, but it's far better to work on advancing known solutions than to just say no to a power source that doesn't emit the really dangerous greenhouse stuff.
Late last month, a GOP-led Minnesota Senate committee voted to lift the moratorium, but don't expect DFL lawmakers to get too excited just yet. For one thing, the moratorium on nukes is etched in their party's platform.
But an unusual thing occurred at a hearing preceding the committee vote. Eric Meyer, a 34-year-old DFL activist who's on the Falcon Heights City Council, testified to lift the moratorium. Meyer is articulate, with an impressive understanding of why nuclear power is a must, and he's formed a cadre of like-minded, progressive advocates for nuclear power through a nonprofit, Atomic Generation.
The moratorium's author, Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, told MinnPost he's willing to hear out nuclear advocates like Meyer, but worries that if a particular power source is seen as a panacea it could lessen the urgency to seriously address climate change.
Maybe, but there's little sign that the public or their elected leaders are anywhere near the emergency-level response that's needed.
Ron Way lives in Minneapolis. He's at email@example.com.