Nukes No Panacea for Global Warming

By Cynthia A. Arcate 3 December, 2013

Increasingly some leaders in the environmental community are extolling the benefits of nuclear power to address the challenge of reducing green house gases and the effects on climate change. Just last week at the WADE conference (World Alliance for Decentralized Energy), the head of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a national climate organization, lamented the closing of Vermont Yankee.

This line of thinking is particularly bizarre – and that’s coming from someone like me who started her career challenging the prudence of the utility industry’s investment in nuclear energy and then defended such investments.

No one opposed and slowed down the construction and operation of nuclear power in New England more aggressively than the environmental community. Delay was their operative strategy which hindered the operation of Seabrook, costing consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in financing costs and drove the shutdown of several plants, e.g. Yankee Rowe, Maine Yankee and Connecticut Yankee. Yet now, some in the same community that drove these plants out of business “lament” the closing of the last standing Yankee?

As someone who spent another part of her career on the Board of Directors of the Yankee plants, I find it particularly shocking that any environmentalist could honestly say that the environmental concerns about spent nuclear fuel is less of a concern than climate change. Indeed the speaker I heard last week went so far as to say there were no environmental concerns with Vermont Yankee.  This speaker was at least my age so how could she not recall Three Mile Island, which turned out to be nothing compared to Chernobyl and now Fukishima.

For over 30 years, we have been trying to figure out the best way to dispose of (store) spent nuclear fuel. This fuel has a half-life of 1,000 years. It is dangerous and incredibly harmful if it is not managed carefully. It could easily be a target of terrorists or crazy heads of state. We have spent billions of dollars chasing the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage solution only to have it fail; as it should. Trucking this stuff across the country to put it all in one place where it can become a condensed safety hazard or target never made any sense. Today, onsite dry cask storage, which started as a “temporary” fix, seems to be the best solution at least in the near term.

Obviously not all environmentalists support nuclear power as part of the solution to climate change. They, like me, believe the solution on the electric side lies with renewable resources and efficiency, and with greater transportation efficiencies, as well as reduced use and release of other gases which have greater climate impacts than carbon dioxide.  But, they need to rein in the folks that sound the alarm espousing the nuclear solution. They lack credibility on the cause and undermine the efforts of those who seek a rational approach.

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