In my neck of the woods in New Jersey, there is an activist who writes in a local newspaper. He considers himself a peace activist although most of his efforts are directed towards shutting down existing nuclear plants in the Garden State. New Jersey is one of six states in this country that get more than half its energy needs from nuclear power. This person’s solution is to replace the nuclear plants with solar plants or wind-powered plants. He refers to these efforts as “renewable” or “green energy,” claims that these technologies are safer than nuclear power, would represent an investment in our future “green economy,” and address the problem of global warming. In short, this man exhibits the brainwashing of the nation by the environmentalists today who prey on the fears of the people regarding nuclear energy. One can go on for days and days explaining the fact that solar or wind power will- even on a large scale- do very little to meet our expanding energy needs on a reliable basis, are not cost-effective, and present environmental concerns of their own. Every proposed wind farm is met with concerns over the migratory paths of birds. Every proposed solar farm is met with the concerns of some rare species of turtle living somewhere.
There is a solution to our energy needs that will reliably produce enough of our needs, have a negligible environmental impact, address national security concerns, and, for the sake of argument assume that global warming is (1) real, and (2) man-made, address this allegedly pressing concern. One caveat though. I am by no means a proponent of this theory that man-made greenhouse gases cause global warming. I am of the position that the earth goes through cycles that are beyond the scope of humans to control. I vividly remember magazine articles not too long ago warning me of the impending ice age. I have read the evidence for global warming and find IT to be man-made. I like clean air and water as much as the next person and support efforts to improve the quality of both through environmental laws, but also like paying a relatively low electric bill and cheap gas, etc. In short, I support cost-effectiveness analysis in regards to environmental laws. I also support the increased use of nuclear power to meet our energy needs on a reliable, safe, cost-effective basis.
This is important as energy legislation winds its way through Congress. Obama’s hypothetical green economy investment is a waste of taxpayer money. More can be achieved with less government investment through the use of nuclear power. Case in point: between 2000 and 2007, the use of solar power increased 250% yet it represents a miniscule 2% of all evergy produced in the country. Today, nuclear energy produces 22% of our energy needs. My math may be off, but we would have to increase solar power over 2500% to match that of nuclear power.
What have been our responses to energy policy? They have been nothing more than “feel good” acts in the name of “doing something.” We have outlawed light bulbs, decreased speed limits, restricted consumer choice in automobiles, tinkered with daylight savings time, weatherized homes, enriched agricultural concerns with costly ethanol subsidies, and lectured oil companies on their profits. Still, our reliance on fossil fuels remains the same, if not worse. For oil imports, we still rely on tyrannical regimes that tie our hands when it comes to foreign policy. Instead, we plead with these regimes to increase production to keep the price of our gasoline low. Our President talks about the need for clean coal, yet we are no closer to that reality than we were decades ago.
First, the national security concerns regarding nuclear power. The United States ranks #8 in known uranium deposits in the world. Two of our most reliable and closest allies- Canada and Australia- rank first and second. Wouldn’t it make so much more sense to deal with these countries and mine uranium domestically than tp cow-tow to the likes of Muslim regimes in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, politically unstable Nigeria, and Mexico? In fact, 13 of the top 18 uranium producers in the world are reliable American allies. Also, given current mining techniques, it is cheaper to mine uranium at about $40 per kilogram mined. And you do not need vast sums of kilograms to do the job.
An associated national security concern and one I often hear by environmentalists to scare people is that nuclear energy plants can be targets of terrorists. Most nuclear power plants are built to withstand a terrorist strike 15 times as violent as the one that took down the Twin Towers in New York City. Of the 104 domestic plants and 446 worldwide, since there has been nuclear energy, there have been exactly ZERO terrorist strikes on nuclear power plants. And in a related issue, you cannot make nuclear bomb material from uranium in nuclear plants. It is a totally different set of physics. And assuming terrorists do steal uranium from a plant to make a “dirty bomb,” they would probably expose themselves to lethal levels of radiation.
The second major issue is safety. Environmentalists like to portray major events like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island as the norm. They aren’t!!! Chernobyl was admittedly both an environmental and human tragedy, but that particular plant had safeguards nowhere approaching the those of American plants. Additionally, much of the damage was attributable to human error as well as structural design. With Three Mile Island, the partial meltdown of the core was contained because of the design and human response to the crisis. Radiation was released as a result, but exposure to humans within a 10 mile radius of the plant were exposed to 0.6% of the radiation they would have received in a year anyway- not enough to create any known human problems. In fact, less than 1% of human exposure to radiation in a year is attributable to nuclear plants. You receive more radiation in a year from consumer products like microwaves and televisions than you do from nuclear power plants, yet no one hears of environmentalists railing against these products. Furthermore, a nuclear plant in Japan survived a earthquake of magnitude 6.9 on the Richter scale proving improvements in plant design. In Vermont, a cooling tower collapsed at the Yankee II plant, yet NO radiation was released. The other example used is that of the crack in a pipe at the Besse-Davis plant in Ohio. Engineers concluded that this crack presented no problems and would not even remotely present a problem even if unfixed for another 15 years. Simply put, the design of nuclear plants are exceptional in terms of safety. Even when accidents should rarely occur, they are self-contained causing minimal environmental damage, if any.
Some have argued that the transport of nuclear material presents a problem in and of itself. They argue that radiation can be released during transport, that it is vulnerable to terrorist strike or theft, or accidents. Yet consider the reality. Over 20 million radioactive packages are transported every year with 3 million of them in the United States alone. In the United States, there are over 20,000 ground shipments over 18 million land miles. There have been absolutely NO incidents or accidents.
An associated problem is what to do with nuclear waste. With the depository in Nevada at Yucca Mountain killed, most waste is stored on-site. The nuclear energy industry claims that they can store about another 25 year’s worth of waste this way. As a solution, look no further than France, which gets 78% of their electricity needs from nuclear energy. There, they have recycling plants that recover useable uranium to be recycled into rods. The remainder is placed in drums designed to withstand corrosion for 1,500 years and dumped in the ocean. Most of the dangerous levels are radiation are released in the first year of decay and release levels can be deadly for up to ten years. But note that the drums are designed to withstand corrosion and release of radioactivity for 150 times that life span. Hence, the solutions, absent regional depositories, are in front of our eyes and noses and would probably create more well-paying jobs than all the money dedicated to ethanol, solar and wind power combined.
Finally, there is the cost-effectiveness concerns of nuclear power. No nuclear power plant has been built since 1973 in the United States. Richard Nixon was President!!!!!! In that span, eight plants have been shutdown, yet power production from the remaining plants has increased 33%. Of the remaining plants, they operate at 80% capacity. Nowhere is the problem more evident than in the last power plant built- the Browns Ferry plant in 1973. Once built, it generally takes an unacceptable 25 years for the plant to come on-line. That would mean that Browns Ferry should have been producing electricity in 1998. Yet 12 years later, because of legal roadblocks placed by the environmental movement, the plant sits idle. Since 1990, only three plants- in Virginia, Mississippi and Illinois- have been proposed to the level of feasibility studies. That is, no shovels have been placed in the ground.
The solution to the cost-effectiveness of building nuclear plants is a non-existent Catch 22. The concerns are based on erroneous assumptions of the safety of nuclear power. The regulations were written decades ago assuming there was no advance in technology or construction design. For the environmental movement to use the cost of building, maintaining, and running a nuclear plant as reasons against nuclear power is ridiculous. It is they who create the roadblocks and insist on costly studies and lawsuits that prevent construction or drive construction costs higher. The energy industry has repeatedly noted that the price tag for construction can be decreased almost in half- and most economists agree- if plants were built on a mass basis. And most importantly, every experts agree that nuclear power plants produce exactly ZERO greenhouse gases that allegedly cause global warming.
In short, opposition to nuclear power represents the environmental movement at their childish worse. They want their cake, they want to eat that cake, and they want the rest of us to eat that regurgitated cake. They are the worst of utopians, hoping to return our economy back years while we all sit around and sing choruses of “Kumbaya.” They are insidious in that they use fear based upon outright falsities to restrict the use of nuclear power. The answer to a large part of our energy needs sits right in front of us, yet we fear that which we should have no fear of. If Congress was truly interested in decreasing greenhouse gases while making this country safer using cheaper methods, they would get off their collective asses, throw a collective middle finger at the environmental scare mongers and remove the costly and time-consuming, out of date regulations that prevent the increased use of nuclear power. It is a win-win-win solution that is so obvious, but which our esteemed leaders act paralyzed. Democrats like to say that Republicans use the “politics of fear.” Actually, it is the Republicans who can learn a lesson from the environmentalists when it comes to “the politics of fear.”