A response to David Roberts
Regarding your April 5,
column on preserving nuclear power stations: I admire
your dedication, which I share, to reducing the causes of
climate change. But it's important to keep in mind that
there are other environmental threats we must deal with at
the same time.
Nuclear power is dangerous,
expensive, and the source of threats to the environment from
causes other than meltdowns and explosions that have
rendered areas of Europe, Japan, and the US uninhabitable
for thousands of years to come. It is also a profit center
(often with public subsidy) for giant corporations that
should instead be investing in clean alternatives.
There have been "only"
seven or so catastrophic nuclear power events resulting in
the destruction of the power plant and harm to workers
and/or nearby residents. (See a discussion of each at
http://nuclearfreenw.org/catastrophes.htm .) The power
plants being bailed out or asking for bailouts are near the
end of their design lives, when deep-down corrosion and
metal fatigue are widespread, though often unnoticed. And
while some of them, at least, were designed with every
conceivable danger in mind, history shows that it is the
inconceivable dangers that will kill you. (Read
We Almost Lost Detroit
for vivid descriptions.)
New Jersey has now
quantified what it takes to keep obsolete, uncompetitive
nuclear power plants running: $300 million a year for about
four plants. Evidently you have not stopped to imagine how
much truly clean, safe, sustainable energy that money could
provide – or you would have said so. Similarly, economists
calculate that the WPPSS-2 nuclear plant at Hanford (now
operating under the fit-for-print name Columbia Generating
Station) is costing the Pacific Northwest $85 million
annually to run. That is the difference between its cost of
production and the market value of its product. That's a lot
of solar panels and wind generators foregone. Shutting down
the WPPSS plant now would free up that much money and get us
on the long road to decommissioning, which only gets more
expensive as time goes on.
You might say there's not
that much sun or wind in New Jersey, and though you would
probably be wrong, there are plenty of other places that
energy can profitably be harvested with the same money.
Other dangers: what about
the nuclear waste? Still, no one knows what to do with it. A
national waste repository, which no one has figures out
where or how to build, would, if built, lead to the nation's
roads and tracks being traversed by dangerous waste in
containers not at all designed for worst-case accidents.
Keeping the waste on site makes it an attractive target for
everything from terrorists to tsunamis.
The nuclear power subsidies
granted to utilities by some states and requested in more
are not primarily for the purpose of protecting the climate.
They are heavily lobbied for by the giant utilities that
operate nuclear plants as well as massive fossil fuel
generators. What they are after is squeezing the last
profits out of obsolete technologies that are nearing the
end of their lifetimes.
Follow-up: On May 11,
2018, Roberts, who does not respond to reader feedback,
an even more short-sighted article about nuclear
At least he
gave a nod to Amory Lovins, who states the case more
eloquently than I do, but then Roberts turns around and
dismisses him curtly. How about taking him seriously? The
task, as Roberts hints at, is to find a way to replace
nuclear power with clean energy. It's pretty clear that this
is the wisest way to go, and in other discussions he seems
to be in favor of clean energy. So why not try to figure it
out here, and advocate for it?