When the Three Mile Island accident occurred in 1979, the mis-communications that followed fed into America’s fear of nuclear energy. A fear that had been largely predicated on media accounts of the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – not the same.
What happened during TMIwas a series of miscommunications, there was a cooling system malfunction that caused a partial melt-down of the reactor core and The China Syndrome, a movie about a nuclear disaster became a blockbuster. What also happened was nuclear power development here in the United States came to a virtual standstill. I’m not saying that nuclear power is the only alternative to a petroleum based society – but we just stopped.
We had just endured the OPEC oil embargo, gas lines, skyrocketing costs – and we just stopped developing alternatives. My 7th grade science fair project was a scale model of a “passive solar energy home.” Using “innovative” building materials, positioning and photovoltaic cells from Radio Shack, I was able to build a serviceable, 1:100 scale house that I subjected to all sorts of “weather.” I tracked the results of the house performance and presented my findings at the Detroit Science Fair at Cobo Hall in 1975. The world was abuzz in 1975 about new energy alternatives, solar, wind, natural gas, geothermal, hydro-electric – and believe it or not, so was Detroit!
Then, it stopped.
I don’t know why 35 years later we are watching the destruction of the Gulf shores passively. I don’t know why we are not screaming at the utility companies, auto companies, house builders, everyone to stop the madness.
Is this oil’s Three Mile Island?
My fear is no. We will turn a blind eye. This is not in my back yard – as we start our cars, turn up the air conditioning and watch the flood waters rise again(!) across the Midwest.
This time no one is packing their car and trying to escape the “nuclear cloud” down the turnpike. We are turning our backs and hoping it’s not too bad for our grandchildren.
We need to turn our backs on our old ways of energizing our lives – oil, deadly coal – we need to really develop technologies that use sustainable energies. New technologies to make the dreams of 35 years ago a reality.
My science fair win lit a fire of curiousity. Hopefully, the Gulf Oil Spill will give us a renewed and true commitment to energy independence and sustainability. Our future really does depend on it.