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Energy Security principles

Jackie Mirandola-Mullen | Sunday, February 1, 2009

Austria and Germany hate nuclear energy. They hate it. What radiation did not reach them during the Chernobyl incident was supplemented by the radiation of bad PR that swept through eastern Western Europe. Austria’s two existing power plants have never been put to use due to the overwhelming sentiment against their installment into the grid in a 1978 referendum, almost a full decade before Chernobyl. The opposition is deeply rooted.And yet, thanks to the Russian giant natural gas supplier Gazprom, in the last few weeks nuclear power has been one of the main topics of discussion in every Austrian newspaper, blog, television news, university common space, coffee shop, etc.The aftermath of the early January scare from Gazprom’s holding hostage large amounts of natural gas flow not only to the Ukraine, but also to Europe is still resonating strongly. For two weeks, 90 percent of Gazprom’s natural gas normally flowing to Austria was cut off, and many other European countries received none from the supplier.Such a drastic cutoff reawakened, yet again, Austrians and other Europeans to their frailty in energy sustainability matters. The economy and lifestyles of this western, wealthy, unquestionably industrialized country with a standard of living that ranks in the top 15 in the world is completely reliant on a country with whose politics it disagrees. Sound familiar?The cutoff, much like the high oil prices of last summer here in America, brought up again the increasingly important topic of energy security. How can a “powerful” nation be brought to its knees by one closed pipeline? By the rising prices of one single commodity? That is not security, under any circumstances.But with the much-needed concept of “Energy Security” comes other dangers. Secure, but at what price? Most Austrians hold the opposition of nuclear energy as one of their core beliefs. Removing myself momentarily from the argument for or against nuclear power, the Austrians themselves believe that it would spell certain dangers for their nation if they were to allow such plants to proceed. Their country holds it as derogatory to the environment, present and future, to proceed with nuclear energy.When does Energy Security hamper environmental protection? Often the two are interlinked, can play off each other and promote one another simultaneously. Renewable energy development not only helps our energy security, but also has the potential to improve air quality, provide long-term health benefits, lessen carbon dioxide emissions and minimize invasive and environmentally detrimental mining techniques.However, Energy Security often becomes a force that hampers environmental goals. Austrians who do not choose to build nuclear power plants have they the option. Desperate needs for Energy Security force them into comprising their values. Plans for dams and hydro-power plants are popping up all over Europe in places once valued for their relatively untouched ecosystems.We in America are all too familiar with such compromises. In the name of Energy Security, it’s okay to move mountains, displace elk, irretrievably ruin oceanic ecosystems or deplete already strained soil. Granted, the last administration often tried to switch heaven for hell in the name of security, insisting it was a good idea, but the bipartisan rush to wean off of foreign oil and gas runs the risk of depleting the lasting health of our country and people, a resource that is nonrenewable.We must approach the concept of Energy Security while keeping in mind what we may be sacrificing for it. Drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf would result in a cumulative 1.6 percent greater domestic crude oil production by the year 2030, hardly enough to justify the permanent damage to the ocean ecosystem that would ensue – not to mention the billions to fund the drilling. And yet, as far as legislation suggestions go, it has been at the top of the solution list as of late.In a time when we are pressed for money, struggling for solutions to energy problems and slowly disengaging ourselves from foreign entanglements, it is important to remember the long-term effects of our actions. Unlike our politics, we cannot instantaneously – or often, ever – reverse the damage we inflict upon the environment. Energy Security can mean a cooperative relationship between environmental and energy problems, but hastily striving towards security cuts corners that our earth can’t afford not to acknowledge. Slowly shifting our dependence and supplementing development of renewables with positive diplomatic relations is the only way to attain lasting Energy Security, whether in Austria, America or even the oil powers themselves.

Jackie Mirandola Mullen is a junior History and German major who is currently studying abroad in Innsbruck, Austria. She tried to save energy by hibernating her computer while writing this article, but it didn’t work so well. She can be reached at jmirando@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necesarily those of The Observer.