Climate Change and Nuclear Power
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.