The Republican American of Waterbury (Conn.), Dec. 23, 2013
For the committed environmentalist, time is a minor inconvenience. Devoted "greens" have no problem taking a 10- or 15-year trend they find disagreeable -- say, global warming -- and drawing all sorts of dire conclusions from it. Even a fleeting event like a hurricane or powerful tornado is grist for an apocalyptic pronouncement or two.
Rational people on the other side of the green divide are more careful. They know, for example, that the American nuclear-power industry hasn't killed anyone in 60 years, but they're hesitant to conclude this stands as unassailable proof nuclear power is safe. They also fret about the lack of a safe, secure, central repository of radioactive waste, and the hazards of storing this dangerous material in dozens of sites around the country. The nation's best hope for safe storage, at Yucca Mountain, Nev., was never completed.
Worldwide, nuclear reactors have taken remarkably few lives over these six decades. The worst accident -- Chernobyl, scene of the predictable failure of a reactor design no longer in use anywhere -- directly killed 56 people; the number of people who died prematurely as a result of radiation exposure is a matter of conjecture. The Fukushima disaster in Japan, caused by a tsunami in 2011, has yet to cause a confirmed radiation-related death. By contrast, a single accident -- a coal-dust and gas explosion in China in 1942 -- killed more than 1,500. In 1907, the worst year for such accidents in the United States, 3,242 miners were killed.
Yet the combined emotional impact of Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 were enough to send the nuclear-power industry into a long stall. The last time a new reactor came on line in the United States was in 1996. And after Fukushima, German leaders decided to shut down their country's nuclear industry, wean the country off coal and rely on renewable sources. The result of this policy has been devastating in terms of energy costs and business growth.
As environmentalists are aware but seldom dare to mention, nuclear-power plants produce virtually no carbon dioxide. While the new wave of natural-gas plants are cleaner than the coal-fired plants they're supplanting, burning gas produces about half as much CO2 as burning coal. "Renewables" like wind and solar are too unreliable to sustain a modern industrial state like the United States or Germany, and they pose their own environmental problems, including devastation of desert habitats and the mass slaughter of birds by wind turbines.
According to the U.S Department of Energy, carbon-free sources produced 31 percent of America's energy in 2012. That percentage will climb to just 32 by 2040 because "renewable" sources won't be able to make up for the loss of energy caused by the shuttering of aging nuclear facilities.
"A renaissance in nuclear technology could offer the country a source of reliable, carbon-free electricity with safer designs than those of decades ago, all of which would be particularly helpful if renewables never burst out of their niche end of the market," wrote Stephen Stromberg on Dec. 18 for The Washington Post's blog.
Connecticut, with two nuclear plants combining for a record of 65 years of safe, reliable operation, should take pride in its contribution to the cause of clean energy.