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  Wednesday January 28th, 2015    

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Nuclear horizons (12/21/2008)
By Janet Lewis Burns
“Enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every forty minutes to meet 100% of the world’s energy needs for a year.” –Al Gore

When we read something like that we have to question, “How can a person know that for a fact?” and “How can that information be utilized to benefit mankind?” Another pipe dream? Reports vary so in content, contradicting and refuting one another, that a person doesn’t know who to believe.

The Federal Food & Drug Administration, a 102-year-old agency, is in crisis! The greatest concern is that the risks of a new drug may not be revealed for years, until millions have used it. Only a small fraction of adverse reactions get passed on to physicians. Many FDA staffers say they’ve felt pressure to speed up their decisions and to soft-pedal product dangers or suffer consequences. Surveys may be purposely slanted to favor one company or another.

Companies can wait three years to post summaries of clinical trials written for the general public. A JAMA study in 2006 revealed that in 22% of FDA’s advisory board meetings, more than 50% of the members had direct financial interests in the companies whose medical products they evaluated. (Congress cut that number to 25% over the next five years.) That’s progress? Sadder still, dozens of career scientists have left the agency, which has lost public trust from 60% in 2001 to 36% in 2006. (One wonders, how accurate are those tallies?)

Congress has passed a $250 million allocation for the “Weatherization Assistance Program,” to provide funds to make homes more energy-efficient. Will yet another year slip between taxpayer dollars and accomplishments in research that could actually make a dramatic difference?

Coal combustion releases millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but say the words “nuclear power” and everyone breaks out in a cold sweat! Journalist Jason Mark has written of the urgency of the global warming factor. There are those who maintain, “There is no other technology that can do what nuclear does: produce large amounts of electricity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with no carbon emissions.”

An argument against using nuclear energy, besides the years it would take to harness it, is that “the country still lacks a safe way to handle the radioactive waste formed during the fission process.” Consider cost. Mark writes, “Most estimates put nuclear-generated electricity at around 8 – 11 cents per kilowatt-hour. By comparison, wind prices currently average 5 cents per kWh.”

Environmental activist Bill McKibben expresses another opposable view on the subject, saying, “The only reason we’re pursuing nuclear power is that there are people who stand to make a great deal of money from it, especially if they can get the government to subsidize all the potential downsides for them.” Aha! Again, disagreements hinder any positive progress. More precious time and expense is squandered on personal gain.

There are, however, many heroes in the fight to save the planet! There’s the “mushroom man,” Paul Stamets, who has brought attention to the crucial underground network of fungi that literally transfer nutrients from a species with plenty to others in need to survive. Stamets believes that the network can revive entire ecosystems, since it can clean up toxins, restore soil, and combat pests.

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens has plans to build a wind farm by late 2014. Pickens’ megawatt farm will be able to power 1.3 million homes.

Working from home is proving to be advantageous for the employer and the employee. The worker is more productive and the employer can get by with less office space.

From baby steps to giant strides, each contribution and sacrifice for the environment’s well-being and healing can have a positive effect on future generations. Will 2009 be the year that earth dwellers clean house and scale down?

What was created to be the destroyer, nuclear power may emerge as a lifesaver. How small the world becomes in mankind’s mutual struggle to survive.

Janet Burns has lived in Lewiston all her life. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.  


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