Energy Independence

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant on the lakeshore just south of South Haven is drawing national scrutiny now that it's been shut down for the eighth time in two years.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says the aging facility is a poster child for our nation's lack of a comprehensive long-term energy policy.


I don't know about you, but I don't take much comfort in the fact that the 80-or-so gallons of radioactive waste that leaked into Lake Michigan two weeks ago was, as the Palisades people described it, "highly diluted."

After all, that plant has been shut down a lot over the yearsnot just recently. And the people at Palisades have had tons of practice at projecting peaceful, easy feelings in the face of one unsettling problem after another.

But what can we really expect from a plant that was built more than 40 years ago at a cost of $180-million dollarsand now holds the dubious distinction of being one of the NRC's four worst nuclear plants in the United States.

It has entered the patch, patch, patch phase of its life span and the NRC is now making rumblings about giving it just four more years before pulling the plug. And whatever happens, its not to be taken lightly.

The Palisades reactor provides 18 to 30 percent of the electricity used in West Michigan. Some 600 people work there.

The lives of thousands of people hang in the balance.

But the truth is, the United States remains uncertain of where its headed in this 13th year of the 21st century.

We've long backed away from building nuclear power plants. They're deemed too dangerous after what happened in Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, and Fukushima.

Not to mention, they're enormously expensive--$5 to $10 billion each nowand return on investment is slow, and therefore kind of unpopular. But they produce no greenhouse gasses.

France, for the record, has about 60 nuclear plantsgets 80 percent of its energy from themthe highest in the world; and 85 percent of the reactors are owned by the government.

According to surveys, the French love their reactors.

On the other hand, in the U.K., a number of reactors were so unprofitable they could not even be sold, so they were actually given away to companies who wound up needing government bailouts to stay afloat.

In Germany, reactors are slotted, for now, anyway, to be decommissioned completely in the next nine years.

And in China, meantime, they're building them like crazy.

But we in the United States have no policy, no direction, no national sense where we're headed.

It's true and exciting that with new ways of finding abundant oil and natural gas reserves, we are quickly reducing our dependence on the middle east.

But both enterprises are ecologically problematic. From the very real fear of spills to the still-unknown hazards of fracking.

It's also true that we're learning more and more about the renewable powers of sun, wind and waves.

But we have no policy.

Maybe that's the way it ought to be: where things are determined by a free market; where entrepreneurs chart our energy futures. Where what's profitable will work.

But I have long wondered why we can't muster our best and brightestto assemble, agonize, analyze, argue and chart a new energy direction for this country: One with focus; one that appreciates our environment as a legacy for our children; one that makes efficient and affordable use of what we have.

I hear politicians talk ad nauseum about achieving the American dream in this the greatest country the world has ever known.

There are a number of components to making any dream come trueand among them, not the least of themis reliable, affordable energy.

And without the kind of road map into the future that a comprehensive energy policy would provide, it's reasonable to fear that we will wind up with energy that, while profitable to some, will be for the rest of us neither reliable nor affordable.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.