Nuclear power, Albert Einstein and The Village Square (printed in the Tallahassee Democrat)
There were actually some advantages to having a king.
If the kingdom had a problem, a good king could send for the most brilliant scholars in the land, commission them to scribble mathematical formulas into the wee hours, apply his royal intellect and issue an edict. Of course, there were the bad kings and the heads that rolled which, more or less, gets us to about where America starts.
As they went about the business of building a country without a king, our founding fathers had more than a little trouble dealing with each other. Democracy turns out to be a bit of a sloppy business, but the founders never had the luxury to simply not bother with the difficult conversations.
Fast-forward a couple of centuries and this democracy of theirs was in a world war, dealing with an aforementioned bad "king" and having more difficult conversations. One of them changed the world.
Having urged FDR to build the first nuclear bomb as the threat from Nazi Germany mounted, Albert Einstein later became haunted by the legacy of risks he knew nuclear power had left for us. To that end, he gave this advice: "To the village square we must carry the facts of atomic energy. From there must come America's voice."
We liked Einstein's advice so much we named our organization after it. We think it applies to all kinds of problems.
Next Tuesday we'll take his charge ridiculously literally by bringing the facts of atomic energy back to "The Village Square" in the third Dinner at the Square in our series on energy: "The Nuclear Power Debate Version 2.0: What's Old, What's New, What's Hype, What's True."
Our discussion features Dr. Thomas B. Cochran, a nuclear physicist and Senior Scientist with Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington D.C., and Jerry Paul, a nuclear engineer and attorney, the President of Capitol Energy, LLC and Senior Advisor to Clean And Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition.
In taking another look at nuclear power, we must do the hard work of understanding the facts and the uncomfortable work of having real conversations between people who disagree. We're a little rusty at both, but up to the challenge.
As Einstein and Roosevelt before us and as the founders before them, our generation has taken its place caring for the legacy of the republic. Today we simply don't have the luxury of relying as we have on petty television politics, slick slogans in multi-million dollar ad campaigns and cherry-picked facts.
The stakes couldn't really get higher.
With a preponderance of scientists warning of potentially dangerous global warming, nuclear power presents a compelling possibility on a scale large enough to meet the demand.
But nuclear carries emotional baggage - the Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, big mushroom cloud variety of baggage. We are hardly predisposed to listening dispassionately, and yet we must. In this next generation of America's nuclear debate, some of what we "know" about nuclear power isn't true anymore and some never was.
If we are guided by political ideology (left or right) without becoming informed, the chickens of our factual distortion will eventually come home to roost. And whether it's in a french-fried planet due to global warming, an economy we damaged acting in needless panic, 100,000 years of improperly disposed nuclear waste, or a solution we ignored because of groundless fear, there's a heck of a lot of roosting that could happen.
In 1936, Einstein wrote a note to be enclosed in a time capsule addressed "Dear Posterity":
"If you have not become more just, more peaceful, and generally more rational than we are (or were) --- why then, the Devil take you. Having, with all respect, given utterance to this pious wish, I am (or was) Yours, Albert Einstein"
A kind and intelligent ruler might not do a bad job deciding the role nuclear energy should play in our future, but there is no king; there will be no writ from on high. It's our turn to address posterity. We believers in democracy know it's better that way, as long as we citizens of democracy do our job.
Liz Joyner is the executive director of The Village Square and may be reached at 264-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers may visit the Web site at www.tothevillagesquare.org to learn more about The Village Square or to buy tickets for the April 29 dinner.