Bring It On

Why Houston should want a nuclear power plant

"I really think that radiation is a poor toxin," Chesser said. "But as Aristotle said, the dose makes the toxin, and the dose is what's important here. Radiation will kill you with a certain amount of dose; hot water will kill you with a certain amount of heat, but hot water is nice if you need a good bath. It depends upon the degree."

Chesser's animal findings should apply equally well to humans, with one major exception, he said. Weasels and voles outside controlled laboratory conditions don't live long enough to shed much light on radiation's contribution to cancer risk. Initial estimates predicted that Chernobyl radiation would cause 70,000 cancer-related deaths worldwide. Yet that figure was probably almost as alarmist as the mutation fears debunked by Chesser. A comprehensive World Health Organization study completed last year scaled back the cancer-related-death estimate to 4,000.

Four thousand deaths, though awful, deserve perspective: The number pales against the 5,200 Chinese coal miners who in 2004 perished in accidents, the 15,000 Americans estimated by the Harvard School of Public Health to die prematurely each year from coal-plant-induced air pollution, and certainly the millions, if not billions, of deaths worldwide that could result from flooding, ecological collapse and resource wars prompted by carbon-dioxide-driven climate change. "Energy is dangerous stuff," Chesser says. But experience shows our ruling politicians will probably never vote for the energy conservation measures that could help us use less of it. Nuclear power is the only alternative with a chance.

The South Texas Nuclear Plant produces electricity without causing global warming...
Josh Harkinson
The South Texas Nuclear Plant produces electricity without causing global warming...

After all, the Houston area is a place where a ship exploded and razed Texas City, oil refineries spawned suspicious cancer clusters, and a recently approved liquefied natural gas terminal could erupt in a giant fireball, and yet hardly anyone complained. What's good for business is good for Houston, the thinking goes. The same equation applies to nuclear power. Potentially flashing radiation over a small nuclear plant town such as Bay City will save us some money on electricity. Nothing new. Except that our gamble would just as certainly help save thousands of lives, the climate and maybe the world.

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