About nuclear power.

After the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, it was easy to know how to feel about nuclear power. Now I'm not so sure.

In the last decade, I became concerned about global warming. Many environmentalists are in favour of using nuclear power to meet increasing demands for electricity. In the U.S. President Obama has said that nuclear power must be part of the energy plan. China is also looking at nuclear power to meet its energy needs.

It's easy to understand the case for nuclear power. The waste from one person using nuclear power during their lifetime would fill one bottle of Coca-Cola. Just one bottle. If the same person used power generated from coal, the waste would fill box car after box car.

It is a persuasive case. But what about the waste in the bottle? How do you dispose of it? And if the odds of an accident are one in a million, why have there been accidents?

Extraordinary care must be taken in the building of a nuclear power plant. Maybe nuclear plants are too expensive. Cutting corners to bring down costs can have the most dire consequences imaginable.

While I worry about the current nuclear crisis in Japan, I can't forget the other recent energy-related disasters. The ruptured BP oil rig spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The miners trapped deep in the earth, and certainly killed in an explosion, if not first by poisonous gases.

We need to learn how to conserve energy. At what human cost, so I can use a laptop and drive a car?

New Zealand is a nuclear free nation. After nuclear testing by the French in the Pacific (Mururoa), New Zealand became the first Western-allied nation to legislate towards a nuclear-free zone. This means that U.S. nuclear-propelled warships cannot dock in New Zealand ports. We are proud of this stance. It's part of our national psyche.

Nothing in the New Zealand legislation prevents the building of nuclear plants. But New Zealand is one of the few developed countries not using nuclear power. Most New Zealanders are against it.

New Zealand generates about 30% of its power from coal and gas. The remainder is primarily from hydro-electro power. In a worst case scenario, dams could rupture. But that disaster wouldn't be like a radioactive fallout.

If there was a nuclear accident in New Zealand, which is a small, remote country, what would it do to waterways and agriculture? Tourism would be affected. New Zealand exports to world markets would be halted.

New Zealand can't continue to depend on coal and gas. Even with other sustainable options (such as wind), rising demands for electricity will force New Zealand to consider nuclear power.


The river house.

In the 1950s, my granny’s dad built a house by the Susquehanna River, south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We called it the river house. It had three bedrooms and a large enclosed porch. Under the porch, there was a work shop with a second toilet and a primitive sink. After the remnants of a hurricane, the river once rose and flooded the house.

The river house was near a small town where a famous baseball player was born. The house sat back from an isolated little road, which lay like a pale grey ribbon next to a railway line. Twice a day freight trains rattled past the house.

You couldn’t see the river house from the road. A narrow driveway had been cut through a tall hedge, which threatened to swallow your car before you were released into an open pocket beside the house. In the adjacent garden marigolds grew as big as saucers. A long path led to a picnic shelter surrounded by mature oak trees, and eventually to the Susquehanna River.

The river was two miles wide, and there was an island in the middle of the river. But the cooling towers from the nuclear plant at Three Mile Island still towered over you like sentinels.

Three Mile Island was a name whose syllables ran together like the branches of the river. It often seemed like just one word, like Susquehanna. “Three-Mile-Island.”

Of course, everyone knows about the accident at Three Mile Island. There was a partial meltdown of the reactor core in one of the plant's two units. It happened three years before my first visit to the river house.

When I was at the river house, nobody seemed concerned about another accident, or whether it was safe to be there. Maybe they were worried, and I just didn't know. I was only twelve years old.

I liked to daydream on a bench by the river. Sometimes I could hear whistles from the plant at Three Mile Island. People made eerie announcements over a public address system. There were clouds of white steam that rose from the active towers. I wondered if the steam was filled with radioactive particles.

The towers followed me everywhere. I could see them from the hills above the river valley. At night, the lights on the towers made them seem other-worldly, like spaceships in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".

It didn’t occur to me that someone might try—try!—to crash into the towers with a airplane, or to block the cooling-water intake pipes in the river. Those thoughts came much later, after the river house was sold, and my granny’s dad passed away.


Are you "real" online?

Thank you for your e-mails after my post on my separation. I had never closed comments before. Maybe it was a mistake. But at the time, I just felt, rightly or wrongly, that I couldn’t bear to have someone “Like” my post (or not “Like” it). And I thought Adam might read it. (And he did. But I will save that story for another post.)

There are two ways in which people think about their online personas. Some people believe their online selves are separate from their “real” selves. They may be anonymous online or use a pseudonym. If you do this, you can be hidden. In some circumstances this can be good. You can tell people as much or as little about yourself as you want.

The online dimension is fictitious, like a dream world. These people often believe that once you turn off your computer, you leave your online persona behind. They set up boundaries between online and “real” life. They confide extremely personal things online, things they would not tell people in “real” life. But they won’t give their phone number to people they meet online.

Other people try to combine their online and offline personas. Last year some bloggers talked a lot about being "authentic" online. I try to be the same person online that I am in "real" life. Maybe you do too. Especially on Facebook, where our online and offline worlds have collided.

But it is nearly impossible to be the same self online as your “real" offline self. Even if you try to be “authentic” online, you still will be different from yourself offline. For example, you may reveal more about yourself online than offline. But there won't be verbal cues to go along with what you have revealed. And why have you repressed these things in "real" life?

Talking to someone on Skype, on the phone, or face-to-face gives you more information about a person’s identity. This doesn’t make one source of information more true than another. Each form of communication reveals some things about a person’s identity, and it hides others. The self that is revealed in one area is not deeper or more authentic than a self revealed in another. This is because there is no one location where you can find the true or real self.

For more about the psychology of being online, please see this excellent article that I found on Twitter via Andrea.