Commentary: Feeling powerless about nuclear power

Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania
Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania MCT

At last, spring is in the air.

So is radiation.

Legal disclaimer: While a nanoparticle or two believed to have come from the nuclear crisis in Japan has been detected over the Carolinas, there is absolutely nothing to fear. In fact, you get more radiation from a bumblebee buzzing by (particularly if it's emitting a throbbing green glow).

Far worse things exist in our immediate environment, including:

That suction hose the dental hygienist puts in your mouth.

That interrogation you must undergo from the postal clerk when you want to buy a stamp.

A honeymoon in Raleigh.

People are peculiar about radiation. It's OK in theory but, like eel sushi or wailing babies, people do not wish it thrust upon them.

Never mind these are people who bathe in a particle stream from their laptop, get a touchup at the tanning booth or have a cell phone moored to the braincase.

Radiation from such sources is, by consent of the herd, a trifling thing. A natural version is all around us, and no one blinks. But radiation from cultivated uranium, one of humanity's greatest creations, makes us antsy.

We are all for atoms that power our microwave ovens, electrify our evenings with "Dancing With the Stars" and refrigerate our leftovers.

We just don't want the stuff on our lawns. Ask anybody.

Nuclear power has been good to us here. Not only have we enjoyed cheap and reliable energy, but fat, floppy bass are drawn to the plants' thermal discharges, easy pickings in winter. And what about those sunsets?

Nuclear is magically clean, free of the soot of fossil fuels. Like interior linemen, no one calls nuclear power's name unless something goes wrong.

But that's the problem: Something's been going wrong with nuclear for decades. Some of it is reflected in Japan's woes, and now microscopically in our air.

Fact is, we just can't figure out what to do with spent radioactive cores abubble with unruly atoms.

Around the globe - and across the Carolinas - these lie in cooling ponds, temporary tombs waiting for someone to come up with a permanent home. We should live so long.

Nevada is a big empty state founded on the principle that pretty much anything goes - except, now, for radiation. It embraces our sinners by the planeload but stridently rejects a single boxcar of our spent atoms. A cavern there held hopes as a nuclear dump, but Nevada seems to have fended it off.

So there's our dilemma. We're not in the same boat as the Japanese, but we're in the same ocean. Until we figure out a way to get rid of this stuff, our contract with cheap, clean and safe energy is unfulfilled.

And the scary part is, we can't pretend forever. While it's not on our lawns, it most certainly is in our backyards.