Tell me something I don't know...
By John D. Turner
2 Feb 2006

‘America addicted to oil’ – Headline in San Antonio Express-News, 1 Feb, 2006

Well, golly Margie, whoda thunk it?! Amazingly enough, this was all the San Antonio Express News could come up with for a headline after President Bush’s State of the Union address.

After all the “it’s all about oil” articles and editorials that have been published since our involvement in the Middle East, going back to Operation Desert Storm under George H. W. Bush, you would think they could come up with something from his speech a little more news-like than this. Perhaps “President: Iran cannot be allowed to gain nuclear weapons”. Or, President urges Congress to make tax cuts permanent”. Or, President calls on Congress to reauthorize Patriot Act”. Or even, “Replace 75% of oil imports from Middle East by 2025”.

But ‘America addicted to oil’? That’s not news. And this is supposed to be a newspaper, right? Why not “President Addresses Nation”? That’s about as attention grabbing as the ho-hum banner they ran. Of course, the big news of the day wasn’t the President’s address anyway. The big news, taking over twice as much space on the front page as the story on the State of the Union address, was the death of Coretta Scott King.

The article on the President’s speech is the front page billing, above the fold, to be sure. Three short summary paragraphs and two 2-inch bullet summary columns, with a continuation on page 8A. The continuation line, instead of reading something like “See President’s Speech/8A”, reads instead “See Democrats/8A”, highlighting the fact that, at least here in San Antonio, what’s important isn’t what the President said, it’s what the Democrats think about what the President may or may not have said. And sure enough, if you go to page 8A, the “Continued from 1A” you find there comes under the headline “Democrats cite failure of leadership”. This “continuation” article spans four six-inch columns.

Actually, the President has been leading. The Democrats simply refuse to follow.

The part of the speech dealing with energy was interesting however. In addition to the statement that “America is addicted to oil”, which the Express News honed in on like a dog treeing a cat, he also called for the United States to reduce its “addiction” to mideast oil 75% by 2025, through a combination of research and development of alternative energy sources, including ethanol and nuclear.

You don’t hear the “N” word (nuclear) uttered by American politicians much these days. Certainly not by the Democrats; most of their left-wing constituency groups would have a cow if they were to do so. And not by many Republicans either, who have learned that the publicity they get when they do is not the sort of publicity that they want.

If you are a left-wing Hollywood celeb, living on the edge, any kind of publicity is considered good, as it gets your name out there, and advertises what you are trying to sell, without you having to spend any money on it. If you are a Conservative politician however, it doesn’t work quite that way.

Nuclear power has been given such a bad name by environmentalists waiting for the accident to happen that never has, that even suggesting that building nuclear power plants might be a good thing gets you labeled a pollution-loving, environment-despoiling, people-hating, big-business loving right-wing conservative swine so fast it will make your head spin.

This doesn’t seem to faze the President, however, who seems to live by the adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. As he demonstrated last State of the Union, when he firmly grasped the “third rail” of American politics, advocating changes to that sacrosanct holy writ that the Prophet Roosevelt brought to Congress on stone tablets, Social Security.

Perhaps he understands that conservatives are and shall forever be defined that way by liberals anyway, no matter what words issue from their conservative lips.

And yet, I find it interesting what the rest of the world thinks about nuclear power. After all, don’t libs constantly carp that the United States should look more at what the rest of the world does, and follow suit? Especially Europe, that Mecca of social progress? And what better way to see what the rest of the world thinks about a subject than to examine what it actually does?

Let’s take Europe. Lithuania leads the pack with 80% of her power generated via nuclear power. But forget Lithuania, a small country with no influence on world affairs. Their support of the US in Iraq (they are one of the countries that has sent troops there) got them labeled as part of the “Coalition of the Coerced” by the liberal press.

How about France, that paragon of European virtue? The country liberals always point to as being one that we should emulate. Well, France generates 78% of her electric power with, (shock!) nuclear reactors. This is the second highest percentage in the world. France also has its own nuclear deterrent force (nuclear weapons, in conventional lingo). Of course, libs don’t worry too much about that. It’s France, of course. Now, the U.S. possessing nuclear weapons, that’s a threat to world peace!

Some other numbers: Slovakia (56%) (in general, most of the former Warsaw Pact/former Soviet countries have a high percentage of electricity generated by nuclear power, although Russia herself only generates around 18%), Belgium (55%), Sweden (50%), Germany (39%), Spain (24%), UK (24%). In the Far East, South Korea (40%), Japan (25%), and Taiwan (22%).

By comparison, the U.S. generates approximately one fifth (20% for those who don’t do math in public) of its electric power via nuclear power plants, with Canada and Mexico at 14% and 5% respectively.

Although the U.S. hasn’t built a new nuclear power plant in 30 years or so, the rest of the world hasn’t had such a moratorium. The pace of new plant production has slowed, but the plants that are built are larger, producing more electricity than the older ones. And the technology itself is constantly improving. According to Nuclear Power in the World Today,

In 2003, production was 2525 billion kWh. The increase over the last five years (234 TWh) is equal to the output from 33 large new nuclear plants. Yet between 1998 and 2003 there was a net increase of only three reactors (2% in capacity). The rest of the improvement is due to better performance from existing units.

As of January 2006, there are 440 operating commercial nuclear power reactors in 31 countries worldwide. Add to that more than 280 research reactors operating in 56 countries, and another 220 reactors on over 150 ships (mostly US and Russian).

And how many “disasters” have occurred? Well, there is Three-Mile Island (no radiation released), and Chernobyl, which was pretty bad, mainly because the Russians decided that containment domes were a waste of money. That’s it. And how many people have been killed in coal mines, oil drilling and refining accidents, etc? Quite a few, the most recent examples (in this country) in the West Virginia mine collapse.

But getting back to the point the President was making in his State of the Union message last night. The United States uses a lot of oil. In fact, we are dependent on it. And since we don’t (and can’t, for a variety of reasons) pump enough here at home to supply our needs, we need to import an ever increasing amount from overseas, primarily from the Middle East. This makes us dependent on those sources, and highly vulnerable to oil market shocks, from man-made crisis as well as from natural events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and just plain hot days in the summer and cold ones in the winter.

It’s about supply and demand. And about availability of alternatives. Our need for electricity and fuel to power engines of all types is not going to go away. It isn’t going to lessen either. There are a number of different technologies that can be thrown into the mix. The more alternatives we have, the less vulnerable we are to a major disruption in one of them. But nuclear power clearly has to be part of that mix, at least for now.

It’s part of the cure for that oil addiction the Express News seems to have found so newsworthy.