'Power to the People'

The ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan has caused considerable concern among Wall Street types, many of whom had already voted with their wallets against the financial feasibility of nuclear power by refusing to invest in new plants. PricewaterhouseCoopers, for instance, issued a report in late March that said, "Whatever their exact outcome, the Fukushima events are likely to shift the energy policy balance toward renewables."

Governments around the world acted quickly in the wake of the disaster. Germany and Switzerland have taken steps to mothball older reactors, and many countries are putting a hold on approving new or relicensing currently operating plants. China's National Energy Administration promised to beef up safety standards at its nuclear facilities, and is considering doubling its target capacity of solar photovoltaics to meet future energy needs.

A seemingly out-of-control nuclear crisis, like the gallows, tends to focus the mind. But a turn toward renewables started long before the Japan crisis tragically reminded the world of the dangers of nuclear power. According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, investment in clean energy in the G20 nations rose 33 percent last year to $198 billion, not even counting R&D money.

For some observers, though, the energy quandary presents a Sophie's Choice: On the one hand, with nuclear power we run the risk of the kind of widespread radiation hazard, and the dread that comes with it, that we've seen in Japan -- with the potential of even more catastrophic, Chernobyl-level disasters. But the other option, according to this line of thinking, is even worse: an unlivable planet, due to global warming caused by fossil fuel use.

Fortunately, those aren't our only choices -- despite nuclear industry claims.

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