Austin Bay

"Das Leben Wahlen -- Stop Kernenergie" the sticker reads in German.

Choose Life. Stop Nuclear Energy.

The sticker is an artifact from a visit to Germany in the early 1980s.

Das Leben Wahlen is printed in German Green Party green, with a very beautiful leaf. Stop Kernenergie appears in stark black and white, with a huge X over a nuclear power plant whose etched alien detachment is ironically reminiscent of Gort the enforcer robot, the real star of the sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

Power from nuclear plants was Death with a capital D -- that was the propaganda action line. Reject nuclear energy and you are -- to pinch another label from a divisive American social issue -- Pro-Life.

Attending an anti-nuclear power march was a hip afternoon for many students in school in Germany. Trust I didn't participate. I supported building nuclear power plants.

That view wasn't a popular one among American students, either. In 1982, a fellow graduate student at Columbia (the guy's hair always smelled of cigarette smoke) told me I wanted to destroy the Earth. I remember the moment well -- tea time in Philosophy Hall, and supporting nuclear power plants is condemned as infinitely benighted and probably more dangerous than supporting the Pentagon.

Back in Texas around 1990, I got into a verbal tussle on a softball diamond because I thought the City of Austin was smart to participate in the South Texas Nuclear Project. Supporting the STNP was a tough position to take in Travis County four or five years after Russia's Chernobyl disaster, and arguing that the United States isn't Russia and our safety standards are high made no impression on an outfielder from South Austin who basically thought the United States and Soviet Union were moral equivalents.

I also pointed out that France was pursuing nuclear power, but that produced an angry, "So what?"

The structural, impersonal answer to the Deep Left Fielder's "So what?" -- some 18 years later -- is around 35 percent of the energy France consumes comes from nuclear power. You'll see higher figures (like 78 percent), but those usually reflect the percentage of French electricity generated by nukes.

Four dollars a gallon gasoline has provided a moment of clarity -- no, not for Deep Left Fielders who cling to their anti-nuclear religion, but for people able to rationally evaluate risks.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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