There are currently 104 commercial nuclear power reactors operating in the US at 65 separate locations.

That puts One in Three citizens with 50 miles of a nuclear power plant. Which means, you should probably take the time to find out A) whether that means you and then B) what it means to you.

Given what the world is witnessing with the still unfolding disaster at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, it would be prudent for all of us to understand just a little bit more about the risks and rewards of the energy source that provides about 20% of our power in the US. Whether or not you live in proximity to a plant seems like as good a place to start as any. MSNBC has a fantastic roll over map which should help you answer question number one pretty easily.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. What are you going to do about it?

I personally live in The Zone. Vermont Yankee, a virtual replica of Fukushima, is my neighbor to the north. One of the more vulnerable designs and aging rapidly to boot, this is a potentially risky situation. I already know I won’t be moving anytime soon. So where does that leave me?

Step One: Education. I start by going through the information I’ve encountered previously, searching for sources and individuals that can tell me more about Yankee or just point me in the right direction. This takes little more than a few rounds on Google. My goals were to learn about this plant in particular, general history of the industry (a la Wikipedia or the like), and the work already in progress among activists about Yankee itself.

At this point, I draw (at least) one conclusion which is that I personally would be much happier if the world did not generate power from nuclear reactions. To me, the risks far outweigh the benefits, not to mention the many other less dangerous ways of generating power available. So I decide that I would feel more secure knowing the Vermont Yankee had a plan to shut down at some point. After all, none of these plants can operate indefinitely, especially not when they insist on adding output from time to time effectively wearing out the mechanics faster.  It’s really only a matter of whether they shut themselves down or melt down.

Step Two: Action. Even trickier than the education phase for me personally. I never relish coming between an industry and their profits. Safely behind my computer, yelling into the abyss of the internet is one thing, linking arms to barricade a power plant is quite another! Besides which, my personal belief in the Net Positive philosophy leads me to believe that resistance is more effective when it’s not made of the same stuff as that against which it struggles.

So no grand gestures or angry mobs for me. At least not for now.

I resolve to find a way to be part of the solution. Increasing awareness among my neighbors, supporting the awareness raising efforts of others, calling for the plant to adopt a safe plan for decommissioning, and avoiding complacency by continually seeking new ways to contribute. My hope is that all of this will one day lead to:

Step Three: Resolution. Which might look something like this: An educated and aware citizenry marshaling their demands into a strength-in-numbers campaign to safely bring the age of nuclear power to an end through a three-fold approach. Demanding a moratorium on new permits and construction, Creating a workable and fair protocol for decommissioning the plants already in existence and Advocating at the Community and State level for the adoption of renewable power incentives which will both work to displace the lost power generation and create jobs to absorb the displaced workforce.

Maybe that’s an overly optimistic, pie-in-the-sky scenario, but we’ve revolutionized the way we do things before and I’m pretty sure we’ll do it again at some point. In fact I was witness to one such revolution two nights ago at my local town meeting. A special meeting was called to vote on a “Green Town” initiative put forth by our state. Towns agreeing to certain levels of energy efficiency in new constructions would be awarded a lump sum of cash (funded by corporate carbon payments and not tax dollars) to be used for updating efficiency throughout public town property. It’s a fledgling win-win policy being tested in a handful of states.

I was filled with pride listening to the honest and thoughtful discourse among my neighbors. There were so many bright and informed people around me empathetically assuaging the concerns of the folks who feared the initiative would cost them financially. In the end we got a majority and passed the measure! We’re a rural, small town full of quintessential Americans, hard-working people with very little free time to spend on “luxuries” like being an environmentalist. Yet, like several of our neighboring towns, clear heads prevailed, democracy worked, and we got one step closer to a healthy and just world.