The former Republican in me says it is OK to cut a tree, because our need for electricity is so great. Oh, how I miss Dick Hill, longtime University of Maine mechanical engineering professor, at a time like this.

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Steam billows from a nuclear power plant next to utility lines in Doel, Belgium, in October. Virginia Mayo/Associated Press, File

His mind would have done the math, and when the ever-growing demand for a dependable electric grid was factored into the equation of need versus ability to produce the power, he would have been left with one conclusion: We will have no choice in the future other than nuclear power, which is considered by Steven Pinker and other scientists to be the safest alternative to what we now have.

The recent “yes” vote to stop the Central Maine Power corridor from cutting more trees to enlarge it enough to make room for an additional transmission line leads one to believe that more electricity ratepayers and voters also see nuclear power as playing a larger role in our future.

As we add the difficulty of being allowed to build transmission lines to not putting dams on our rivers or no longer using fossil fuels in the generation of electricity, our remaining choices are few.

For those who cling to the idea that a satisfactory solution to our electric needs can be solved with various renewable means of generating all the power needed by our advanced society, Hill, who taught at UMaine for 46 years, would have gotten out his sharp pencil, done the math and sadly shaken his head “no.”

If we take a realistic look at our current demand for dependable electric power, and project what will be needed in the future; compared to the best that renewable sources can be expected to provide on a planet undergoing climate changes that will have a profound effect on many of the renewable methods being developed, the conclusion leads back to nuclear power.

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For those of us who have worked in the nuclear compartments of submarines when they were hot, it is apparent that small and safe nuclear reactors can be built close to where the demand is greatest, thus eliminating lengthy, wide transmission lines, dams and fossil fuels.

All are fully aware of the growing need for more and more electricity, and even the shortest outage now creates frustration and outrage. The 1998 ice storm, which affected 4 million people at its peak, caused an estimate of over $3 billion in damage and resulted in the loss of power for as long as 23 days, could turn out to be a mild preview of what could again hit us even harder with the extreme weather conditions that are becoming more common because of climate change.

Apparently those voters against enlarging the CMP corridor for a variety of reasons are also sending a clear message as to what the future holds, and we best get on with it as soon as possible. Choices are never easy, but when we come to the fork in the road we must take it, as there is no backing up. Yes, we have met the enemy – and he is us.

We made the choice long ago for electricity, and it is ever more obvious that the supply must be dependable. Therefore, the common-sense science of men like Dick Hill will catch up with and overtake us.


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