Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

America’s nuclear energy future

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 17, 2011 13:36 UTC

In his inaugural address on January 21, 2009, President Barack Obama promised that “we’ll restore science to its rightful place.” Mark that down as a broken promise, as far as a key element of America’s nuclear energy future is concerned.

Obama’s remark on science was a swipe at his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose administration was frequently criticized, often with good reason, for allowing ideology to trump science on subjects as varied as stem cell research, the morning-after birth control pill and the environment.

In contrast, Obama’s most prominent move to shelve a major scientific project — The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository — has been driven not by ideology but by a toxic combination of Nimbyism (from “not in my backyard”), electoral politics and high-handed leadership of America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That combination led to the closure of a project that, over its long gestation period, involved more than 2,500 scientists and has so far cost $15 billion.

Power-generation and nuclear waste are not usually subjects of great public interest but they made headlines and sparked renewed debate in the wake of last March’s nuclear accident in Japan, where spent fuel rods (nuclear waste) posed a greater radiation threat than the core of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Those rods were stored in pools of constantly circulating water — the system used at most U.S. nuclear plants — and dangerously overheated when an earthquake interrupted power supply to the pools.

Over the past few weeks, the steadily increasing waste from more than 100 nuclear reactors and the repository once meant to hold most of it deep underground, have been the subject of a string of reports and congressional hearings. They shed light not only on the need for a decision on what best to do with the waste but also on the fact that science on this issue has not been restored to the “rightful place” Obama promised in his eloquent inaugural speech.

U.S. nation-building in the wrong place?

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 10, 2011 16:47 UTC

America’s costly efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq came under intense scrutiny this month in critical reports and a gloomy Senate hearing that prompted a memorable assertion. “If there is any nation in the world that really needs nation-building right now, it is the United States.”

That came from a Democratic Senator, Jim Webb, who continued: “When we are putting hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure in another country, it should only be done if we can articulate a vital national interest because we quite frankly need to be doing a lot more of that here.”

Webb spoke at the confirmation hearing of the veteran diplomat President Barack Obama nominated to be his next ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who faced questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that left no doubt over the growing impatience of U.S. lawmakers with a military and financial commitment that is producing limited progress.

The war on drugs and a milestone critique

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 3, 2011 14:08 UTC

The war on drugs is a waste of time, money and lives. It cannot be won. The world’s drug warriors are out of ideas.

Fresh thinking is of the essence. Governments should consider legalizing drugs to take profits out of the criminal trade.

Filling prisons with drug users does nothing to curb the billion-dollar illicit business, one of the world’s richest. Drug use is a public health problem, not a crime. Arresting small-time dealers does little but create a market opportunity for other small fry. Destroy drug crops in one region and cultivation moves to another. Cut a supply route in one place and another one opens up.

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