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Climate Change and Nuclear Power

By Emil Monda

This column is not about questioning whether the science is settled; it is not about spending millions on cow flatulence capturing to save the planet. This article is written by a skeptic who, for purposes of discussion, accepts the premise that climate change is happening, and that mankind has something to do with it. We know that climate change has taken on the aspects of religion, and if one is a real believer in the CO2 hypothesis, the real question is what to do.

We can encourage our congressional representatives to endorse the “Green New Deal,” because the world will end in 12 years if we don’t. This non-sensible approach would cost trillions and I don’t believe it can work. Featured prominently in it and, given the most attention, are renewables, primarily wind and solar. If we consider them as a way to drastically reduce emissions, they come up short. The wind doesn’t blow all the time, and the sun doesn’t shine all the time. The answer, when one is given, is batteries. Huge battery farms. Does anyone really believe you can build battery farms without environmental impact? How big would solar arrays have to be to provide power to say, Orange County or Los Angeles? The proponents never tell us, and you need gas or coal-fired plants to make up for the shortfall.

I have solar panels on my roof and will probably add a battery pack for backup. Without the tax subsidies, there is no economic argument for residential solar. I did the math. Even with the subsidies. It’s not clear that it makes economic sense. Having solar panels on my roof does have other non-economic benefits. It allows for virtue signaling and my ability to walk past the solar companies selling their systems at Costco and answer their shouted sales pitches for solar with a simple “Thanks, already got it.” But I digress.

Representative Harley Rouda, at a town hall meeting I attended, dismissed the only real answer out of hand. Nuclear power, he said, is too dangerous. He cited the problem of nuclear waste and other safety issues.

Below are some facts, as presented in an April 6, 2019 New York Times article written by Joshua S. Goldstein, Staffan A. Qvist, and Steven Pinker. Drs. Goldstein and Qvist are the authors of, “A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow.” Dr. Pinker is a psychology professor at Harvard.

“…in 60 years of nuclear power, only three accidents have raised public alarm: Three Mile Island in 1979, which killed no one; Fukushima in 2011, which killed no one (many deaths resulted from the tsunami and some from a panicked evacuation near the plant); and Chernobyl in 1986, the result of extraordinary Soviet bungling, which killed 31 in the accident and perhaps several thousand from cancer…”

Then there is the nuclear waste issue. All the nuclear waste from all the nuclear power plants in the U.S. could fit in a Walmart safely undergrounded in concrete casks and pools.

What happens when an ideal solution to CO2emissions meets emotionally charged fears? Emotion wins. Nuclear power, which could safely make a real impact on reducing CO2emissions, for all intent and purposes, is dead in the water.

That’s what has happened with the San Onofre nuclear plant. It is being decommissioned. Some may have noticed that customers of SCE and PG&E, many of whom are Laguna Beach residents, are paying for this bit of risk avoidance where the risk is infinitesimally small. A minor radiation leak occurred, and no one was injured. Yet you and I will continue to confirm on our real estate disclosure forms that we live near a nuclear power plant. While this is a complicated issue as it relates to San Onofre, one wonders if fixing the turbines, which only lasted one year instead 40, might have been a better solution.

There is hope. On Jan. 17, the “Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act” which had bi-partisan support was signed into law. Congressman Rouda was not sworn in when it was passed with only four Democrat “nays.” I wonder how he would have voted.

I end this column with a challenge to my friends and readers. Investigate this issue for yourself. If you agree, let our representatives in Sacramento and Washington know you really want to do something about CO2emissions, and in the foreseeable future.

Emil Monda has lived in Laguna Beach for 25 years with his wife, Michèle, and three sons. He is president of the Laguna Beach Republicans and a member of the Laguna Art Museum Board of Trustees.

 

 

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Kudos on going solar … but pro-nuclear arguments fail when you start talking about nuclear waste. The argument that it is a small volume of waste is just silly.

    In the early 1980’s William Buckley argued that all of the nuclear waste in America could fit under a kitchen table. So what? If a single pound of pure plutonium was evenly distributed it would be enough to give every human on planet earth cancer.

    There’s more than 1000 pounds at the San Onofre State Beach Nuclear Waste Dump, located 1.5 miles from a fault line as deep as the San Andreas in a tsunami inundation zone that’s conveniently accessible to terrorists on beach that will be underwater in 50 years. Nuclear is not a solution, it is a failed and costly technology that can and must be replaced through improvements in energy efficiency, battery storage, and renewables. We can choose a green, verdant and prosperous energy future, or we can stick with primitive filthy outdated technologies like coal, oil, and nuclear fission.

  2. The former Prime Minister of Japan Naoto Kan spoke to the public at the San Diego County Administrative Center on June 4, 2013 in a panel discussion titled “Fukushima: Ongoing Lessons for California.” In his unemotional and fact based presentation Mr. Kan mentioned that he was hours away from issuing an evacuation order that included metropolitan Tokyo, a region of 50+ million people 160 miles out from the nuclear power plant as it was experiencing multiple meltdowns and an escalating crisis with spent nuclear fuel. He said a permanent evacuation of Tokyo would have threatened the existence of the second largest economy in the world at the time of the accident. He and several other former Prime Ministers of Japan have since taken a strong stance against nuclear power as a result of the Fukushima Disaster.
    Addressing global climate change with an energy technology that in a single accident can cause the forced evacuation of the largest city in the world, appears on many levels to be the opposite of common sense. I say that as a Harvard trained urban planner familiar with coastal development and natural disasters. My wife and I organized, invited, and hosted Mr. Kan’s visit to California to speak to the public directly as SCE was preparing to restart a damaged nuclear reactor unit upwind of metropolitan Southern California. Fortunately the common sense of So. Cal Edison’s key decision makers prevailed and the company decided to shutdown the power plant instead permanently on June 7, 2013. In a hugely disappointing move to the public, SCE has since decided to strand San Onofre’s 3.6 million pounds of high level nuclear waste near sea level in thin-walled canisters prone to corrosion cracking. The immense impacts of nuclear power plant accidents and the absence of a viable isolation plan for the deadly waste that must be kept out of the biosphere for millennia reveals the absence of common sense at the core of this industry.

  3. “Then there is the nuclear waste issue. All the nuclear waste from all the nuclear power plants in the U.S. could fit in a Walmart safely undergrounded in concrete casks and pools.”
    Perhaps the author of this dynamic drivel can book an appointment with the good Dr. Pinker and discuss the parameters and nature of a shared reality before posting the next episode of “Conjectures on Nuclear”.
    What does a town publication gain in presenting such dangerous misinformation to the public?
    More than a waste of printer’s ink and newsprint (or the power necessary to publishing electronically) it is actually dangerous to allow such a load of pure doggerel to be exposed to a public of whom some might take note of to their danger and detriment.
    One quick reference check at ANY knowledgeable website will indicate the dangerous misinformation proposed.
    The opinion that was presented is a statement of opinion based in conjecture devoid of facts.
    The opinion should have been published on the joke page were it not addressed to so serious an issue as nuclear power and waste.

  4. Emil Monda is very misinformed about the decision to shutdown the San Onofre plant. As it turns out, nuclear power continues to be outrageously expensive, even if you ignore the unsolved waste problem. San Onofre had become a very expensive source of power. In 2012, the year right after the emergency shutdown, prices for power should have been soaring. Instead, in June, the average spot price per MWhr was $34. Meanwhile, the cost for power from San Onofre was $57 per MWhr. There were only 16 times in the whole year when the spot price equaled or exceeded the cost at San Onofre. And SCE has to put their power on the market and sell it at market rates. So this plant hand become an incredible loser, as is every other nuclear plant. The fact is that Solar and wind are each small generators, and it takes very little time to produce and sell them. This means they are very well suited to “free market optimization” which works very, very well, with small quickly developed products where many competitors are involved in the market. This is in contrast to nuclear plants, which cost more than $20 billion these days, take a long time to build, and there are few competitors in the market, if you can call it that. The result is that solar is becoming cheaper than all other energy sources, and is getting cheaper all the time. So it really matter not what Monda might say. Nuclear power does not pencil out, and we are lucky that the nuclear plant closed, to eliminate a very dangerous white elephant from our midst.

  5. You sir are so off base. So confused about CO2 impacts vs the immense liability and cost of nuclear. I trust few people will be mislead by your writings yet I had to take the time and let you know I do know approve or your option and urge you to do more research on whats really at stake here.

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