Monday, August 15, 2016

The false nuclear energy option

The public should be concerned about aging nuclear power plants that are ‘struggling’ financially and operating with safety issues. If our energy future must have nuclear power, that does not mean that we should keep aging, unsafe power plants going. These are two different issues.  
Ginna owner taking over additional Upstate nuclear plant Exelon, which owns the Ginna nuclear power plant, has agreed to buy the FitzPatrick plant in Oswego for $110 million. That means that Exelon will own all three of Upstate New York's nuclear power generators. And all three are struggling.  In recent years, each of the plants has been flagged by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for non-critical mechanical or safety violations. Each has also been losing money, though the dual-reactor Nine Mile Point in Oswego has reportedly fared better than Ginna and FitzPatrick. (August 10, 2016) Rochester City Newspaper 

Proponents of the use of nuclear power to address Climate Change should distinguish aging nuclear power plants separate from next generation nuclear (which can reuse spent nuclear materials) and small nuclear power operations (which can be built for less money, pose less risk, and provide backup for renewable energy like wind and solar).

Four prominent scientists--James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley--feel so strongly about the need for nuclear power to address Climate Change they wrote an essay on this in The Guardian last year.

Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change Nuclear power, particularly next-generation nuclear power with a closed fuel cycle (where spent fuel is reprocessed), is uniquely scalable, and environmentally advantageous. Over the past 50 years, nuclear power stations – by offsetting fossil fuel combustion – have avoided the emission of an estimated 60bn tonnes of carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy can power whole civilisations, and produce waste streams that are trivial compared to the waste produced by fossil fuel combustion. There are technical means to dispose of this small amount of waste safely. However, nuclear does pose unique safety and proliferation concerns that must be addressed with strong and binding international standards and safeguards. Most importantly for climate, nuclear produces no CO2 during power generation. (December 3, 2015 The Guardian)

But their plea does not address the problem of aging nuclear power plants.  Not to make the distinction between next generation nuclear power and old struggling power plants is to present a false energy option to the public.

The New York state Public Service Commission has recently adopted the Clean Energy Standard “that will boost renewable energy use while rescuing upstate nuclear power plants with a multi-billion-dollar subsidy.” (August 1, 2016 NY OKs energy plan with nuclear bailout, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

It would be helpful to the public and our ability to plan for the future if our media investigated how safe aging nuclear power plants are when these local nuclear power plants are struggling financially and continually having safety issues -- and keep that issue separate from next generation nuclear power. 

I suspect more folks would get behind the idea of including nuclear power in our energy choices if these old, aging nuclear power plants were closed down. Although these (local) old plants have provided power without any major incidents, and the folks keeping them going have been an important part of our community, the public needs to have a better picture of the safety concerns involved in keeping these nuclear plants operational. The statewide public comment meetings leading up to the decision on the Clean Energy Standard often included rooms full of local nuclear power employees pleading for their jobs. This was probably a great strategy for those employees keeping their jobs, but there were no discussions about the risks involved in keeping aging, struggling nuclear power plants running.

With nuclear energy there’s no room for error.

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