In Response: Nuclear is most efficient, environmentally friendliest energy option
The commentaries in the Aug. 18 News Tribune about "failing" wind and nuclear revealed how little the writers know about long-lived, 90 percent-efficient nuclear power, our only super-safe source of greenhouse gas-free electricity. (The columns were headlined, "Pro: 'Failing' wind, nuclear energy producers are America's aces in the hole in competitive energy world," and, "Con: Don't bail out failing wind, nuclear energy producers; spending millions will send consumer bills soaring.")
That said, both writers were correct in criticizing deadly, short-lived, 30 percent-efficient, windmills that primarily rely on carbon burners to provide the 70 percent of their rated power that they fail to create. Those windmills were receiving subsidies of $56 per megawatt hour when nuclear power was receiving just $3 per megawatt hour.
The writer of the "Con" column, Todd Snitchler, works for the American Petroleum Institute and prefers to make electricity by burning natural gas. So it wasn't surprising he didn't mention the many downsides of natural gas: The United Nations agency that evaluates the ways we create electricity has reported that nuclear power is 3,000 times safer than natural gas — and that includes Chernobyl, a Russian plant built on the cheap primarily to produce weapons-grade plutonium, not electricity.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency pre-President Donald Trump, our leaky natural-gas distribution system is causing explosions that damage property and/or take lives every other day. Fracking also pollutes our aquifers. And because natural gas is mostly methane (which is initially 80 percent more damaging to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide), this fugitive methane is offsetting any gains made by cutting back on coal. Pollution from fossil-fueled power plants causes 30,000 premature deaths every year in the United States alone, as Scientific American reported in September 2011. Nuclear power causes none.
In North Dakota, oil companies are flaring natural gas because it is too costly to pipe it to market. But in Texas and elsewhere, fracking is expanding the search for more natural gas to back up fragile wind and solar farms that are easily damaged by increasingly potent climate-change storms. This is insane.
I wonder how Snitchler can justify polluting our aquifers and burning carbon instead of expanding carbon dioxide-free nuclear power. Though he calls himself an "expert on environmental regulation," his support of natural gas would please former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the "stable genius" in the White House.
In Australia, the carbon industries are honest, openly running ads that feature coal miners who predict that nuclear power will kill the coal industry. And it will, too, and with current nuclear plants, not even with the superior new designs that cannot melt down and can consume most of our stored nuclear "waste" as fuel.
The writer of the "Pro" column, Wayne Madsen, a progressive commentator, mentioned the opposition to nuclear power. Most of that opposition is generated by the carbon industries that put profit before the planet, by clueless greens who have never done the science, and by profitable organizations like the Sierra Club that refuse to view any presentations that expose the downsides of wind and solar and the many advantages of emission-free nuclear power.
That opposition can be tragically effective: The Oil Heat Institute, the "greens," and the carbon industry spent millions on anti-nuclear ads to cause the closing of Long Island's $4.5 billion Shoreham nuclear power plant in 1989, a new facility that was ready to generate power. Due to Shoreham's closing, thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants were added to our atmosphere by carbon-burning power plants, accelerating climate change.
Some people claim nuclear power is too expensive, but they are wrong. Nuclear power's return on investment is more than double the return from coal and gas despite complex operating restrictions and a production tax credit system that puts nuclear power at a disadvantage. In addition, although nuclear power creates no greenhouse gases and emits no toxic particulates, carbon burners are allowed to pollute the air and store huge volumes of coal ash in catchment basins that occasionally rupture, releasing tons of toxic arsenic, cadmium, and mercury into our aquifers.
The public and our legislators must understand that nuclear power is by far the safest, most efficient, most environment-friendly way to produce electricity. Not even hydropower comes close.
George Erickson of Eveleth is a member of the National Center for Science Education and the Thorium Energy Alliance. His latest book is "Unintended Consequences: the Lie That Killed Millions and Accelerated Climate Change." It can be downloaded free at unintended-consequences.org or at tundracub.com. Erickson can be reached, including for presentations on nuclear power and alternative-energy issues, by calling (218) 744-2003 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.