'Who Can We Blame?' Is Always A Game Played Best From Afar

In watching and reading the coverage of the deal with North Korea, I've been struck by the degree of caution with atomic technology everyone agrees is appropriate where someone like Kim is concerned. This crazy cannot be trusted and we don't have the resources to verify proper handling and disposal of fissile material as a mere outside monitor. There seems to be no question whatever that preventing the entire country of North Korea (or others) from making use of one of humanity's most advanced sources of energy is a necessary price for the increment of global security that will come from a non-nuclear North Korea. If North Koreans wish to curse someone for the degree of their poverty attributable to their lack of cheap, reliable electricity, they should curse Kim, of course. Debate here ends before it might lead to a wider accounting of how North Korea came to be the regional (and perhaps global) problem it is.

The script seems to be in reverse when it comes to the degree of care due atomic technology here at home, though. Suddenly, now that global warming is all of a sudden admittedly a scientific consensus, it is time to blame the "environmentalists" who opposed nuclear proliferation here at home in the 70s out of safety and other concerns. This is not a script limited to Chris Matthews or O'Reilly, either. See, e.g., Kerry Emanuel, Phaeton's Reins: The Human Hand in Climate Change, Boston Review (Jan./Feb. 2007).

The fact is, "environmentalists" are no more monolithic today where nuclear energy is concerned than they were then. Many of the most powerful political coalitions then were anchored by NIMBYism--as will be the new ones when actual nuclear reactors are proposed here at home. Some of the smarter objections will retell our unending saga to find a place to store all the waste. (A shameless plug for a findlaw column I did on that here.)

But I'll wager that no one who has to stand up in a face-to-face meeting and actually try to hash out our energy crises today or in the future will be eager to blame the other people in the room. That would be poor form, to say the least. For some reason, when you're in that kind of environment, blame is usually the worst strategy. Unfortunately, those environments seem increasingly rare in our national politics.