The need for energy was demonstrated this week in two separate stories a world apart.
First, the Japanese restarted a nuclear power plant, ending a two-month shutdown, while the country, strongly reliant on power generated from its reactors, went through safety inspections on over 50 facilities.
The checks were promoted by the disaster over a year ago at the Fukushima Daiichi plant which caused contamination in northern Japan from a nuclear power plant destroyed by a tsunami. This is the same wave that is responsible for the debris starting to wash up on the Oregon coast.
There were protests over the reactor coming back on line from Japanese who fear for their safety. But there was also no choice for the government as it needed the energy to keep industry going and to meet consumer needs.
At the same time, The Oregonian ran a three-part series on plans for Montana and Wyoming coal from the Powder River Basin to be shipped through Oregon and Washington to Asia.
The stories described the impact in the mining regions where ranchers are concerned about disruption of their water aquifers and grazing lands, along with a way of life. The offset, of course, is thousands of jobs and multi-millions of tax dollars flowing into state coffers from royalties on the coal.
Our region faces the prospect of long coal trains coming through the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and Pendleton on their way to a proposed barge-loading facility at the Port of Morrow and on down the Columbia River. The routes for the trains are still undetermined, but the Union Pacific line is one logical alternative.
Currently, the coal trains fueling the Boardman coal plant come through Spokane not on the UP line through Pendleton.
Either way, we would gain important jobs at the port which, ironically, would help offset the closing of the Boardman coal facility.
The two stories connect because one of the main alternatives to nuclear power in Japan is coal imported from the United States or Australia.
Solar, wind, ocean waves, conservation, geothermal and other new sources of energy are being built, experimented with and encouraged by tax breaks and grants from state and federal programs.
But, for the near future, our energy will mostly come from coal, natural gas, hydro dams and nuclear reactors.
Our modern societies are driven by electric energy. This means choices must be made in how we generate the power.
Oregon has decided to close the Boardman plant and shut off nuclear reactors with no plans to replace them. So, coal and nuclear are off the table.
Our state leaders have opted for wind, solar, natural gas and the big hydro plants on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Japan does not have that choice in the short term. If not nuclear, then coal and natural gas are going to provide that energy.
The debate in the western United States will be whether we will allow massive strip mines, coal trains and port facilities required to supply huge qualities of coal to Asia, including Japan and China.
Jobs and tax revenue on one side with environmental concerns about pollution from coal burning across the ocean on the other.
No easy choices are possible in the short term. But, just like the Japanese, we will need the energy.