Nuclear Phobia Must End
Ernie Coutermarsh, the respected head of F.W. Webb’s industrial PVF business, recently forwarded to our staff some articles related to one of his pet peeves, which I happen to share. That’s the 30+ year drought in construction of nuclear power plants in the U.S., even while they’re going up in various global backwaters. One message in particular sent this mind reeling. It was a report of an agreement between Russia and Ukraine to complete construction of Ukraine’s Khmelnytskyi Nuclear Power Plant.
Ukraine, then under the domain of the former USSR, was the home of Chernobyl, which in April 1986 became the world’s worst nuclear disaster thanks to outdated technology and reckless operation. The Khmelnytskyi project was started in 1985 but halted after Chernobyl blew its top. The now independent government of Ukraine ultimately decided their need for energy trumps any lingering jitters from a quarter-century old cataclysm.
If the Ukrainians can get over Chernobyl, it’s high time we in the U.S. put to rest our Three Mile Island bogeyman. That 1979 accident was scary but it killed or seriously injured not a single person - NOBODY! Radiation leakage turned out to be trivial as well.
Of course, one could make the case that TMI indirectly caused thousands of deaths and injuries, in that it led to the suspension of nuclear power plant construction in this country. That in turn has increased the body count from coal mine collapses, gas explosions, refinery fires and other nasty accidents related to increased production and use of fossil fuels to replace nuclear power plants that were never built. The suspension also led to the spewing of countless extra tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
A little good news - some 17 companies and consortia are considering building more than 30 nuclear plants in the U.S. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is actively reviewing 13 license applications for 22 nukes.
The bad news is it’s taking them halfway till forever to overcome all the lawsuits and regulatory roadblocks put in place by anti-nuke obstructionists and their political allies. In September 2004 I used this space for a commentary titled “New Life For Nuclear Power?” in which I reported on the first consortium taking licensing steps. That was six years ago and we’re likely at least that many years away from the first nuke groundbreaking, if it ever comes about.
In the realm of environmental catastrophes, TMI and Chernobyl have been overtaken by concerns about global warming. Nuclear energy can go a long way to alleviate that problem. Yet at this rate by the time we build enough nukes to reverse the warming trend, they’ll be growing tropical fruit in Canada.
A total of 437 nuclear reactors are in operation in 30 countries around the world, with another 55 in the planning stage. Sixteen nations depend on nuclear power for more than a quarter of their electricity - in France, nukes provide 75%. In the U.S. the figure used to be 20%, though that’s now down to around 17% thanks to the building moratorium. The technology has been around more than a half-century and designs have continuously improved, incorporating numerous new safety features since the days of TMI and Chernobyl. Just guessing, but I’d be willing to bet that industrial and jobsite accidents in the solar and wind industries have harmed more people than nuclear power plants.
The most cogent arguments against nuclear power, such as waste storage and the enormous expense and lead time to construct the plants, amount to self-fulfilling prophecies by the obstructionists. We had a reasonable storage solution in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain until it was recently taken away by politicians kowtowing to the NIMBY crowd. Lead times and expense could be streamlined considerably by getting rid of some of the regulatory fluff put in place to mollify the obstructionists. Other countries around the world are able to get nukes up and running much quicker.
The case against nuclear power has become more and more juvenile, especially when you view vocal protests being led by the same people sounding alarms about climate change. They are like little kids who kick and scream when told to do something that’s good for them, like eat their vegetables.
The American people have become increasingly fed up with their antics. A Gallup poll last March found that Americans’ support for nuclear energy has climbed to a new high of 62%. So let’s sentence the brats to a time-out and get busy building them.