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Nuclear Energy Goes Green

Policymakers and environmentalists are reconsidering the nuclear option. Plus Big Thinker Lawrence Lessig.

Ever since the Chernobyl disaster and the Three Mile Island scare, the idea of nuclear power in America has been marred by visions of radioactive meltdowns. But now that more and more people accept that the imminent threat of climate change is fueled by coal-burning power plants, scientists and policymakers are reconsidering the nuclear option. Inspired by skyrocketing energy prices and generous federal subsidies, utility companies want to build more than two dozen reactors over the next decade. At last, the environmental movement, after fighting new plants for decades, has warmed up to the idea.

Lawrence Lessig

Every government faces hard policy questions-storing nuclear waste, controlling teen drug addiction, improving education. What is striking about our government is how often the easy questions become impossibly hard. Think of how long it took (and has it happened yet?) for the government to acknowledge that global warming is real; or the FDA pushing sugar as an essential part of a daily diet; or Congress extending the term of existing copyrights, benefiting the tiny proportion of near-century-old work that continues to have a commercial life.What unites these cases is money: vast amounts on the wrong side, queering the ability of government to get even the easy cases right. A corruption of government, not from quid pro quo bribes, but from an economy of influence, too often hides what policymakers should see. Our system of campaign finance can't help but exaggerate the influence of some, regardless of any public sense in the views they privately push.This corruption, of course, is nothing new. What is new is recognition that it's critical to solve the corruption. A government that can't get global warming right can't be trusted. But not trusting the entity that is spending close to 40 percent of our GDP each year is not really practical.This year will see the birth of a movement to restore this trust. Not tied to any particular party, and not focused on any single election, this movement will begin a long campaign to leverage the power that digital technology has reallocated, to refocus the influence that makes the government run. No doubt an impossibly difficult movement, with almost no hope of succeeding, but precisely the sort of movement that new centuries need, and that we need right now.Lawrence Lessig is a professor at Stanford Law School.

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