Skip to main content

A Nuclear Tussle in Minnesota

337706694_7c9a799cc3The Duluth News tries a pro-con pair of op-eds on nuclear energy that would have benefitted considerably from a more direct match-up. John LaForge of Nukewatch takes the con and Rolf Westgard, a professional member of the Geological Society of America and of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, takes the pro.

Both writers make points well worth arguing, but since they don’t engage each other, it’s impossible without further research to determine the relative validity of the arguments or how other data points would mitigate the extreme negativity on one side or the extreme positivity on the other. That leads to preaching to the converted and isn’t as useful as the News no doubt hoped for.

Here’s how LaForge kicks off:

Lofty claims about the benefits of nuclear power have been coming from the Nuclear Energy Institute’s lobbyists and others. Yet news journals, financial journals and energy journals all make clear that boiling water with uranium is the costliest and dirtiest energy choice.

Readers of this site or anyone interested in nuclear energy won’t have much trouble with this one. But LaForge knows how to debate: he references outside sources – implying but not saying that every independent source agrees with him – and raising points he really doesn’t intend to go further with – he argues for costliness but not really dirtiness. He tries a bit:

Nuclear is so dirty Germany legislated a national phase-out of its 17 reactors by 2025. That 1998 decision was based partly on government studies that found high rates of childhood leukemia in areas near German reactors. In July 2007 the European Journal of Cancer Care published a similar report by Dr. Peter Baker of the Medical University of South Carolina that found elevated leukemia incidence in children near U.S. reactors.

But this is overwhelmed by many, many studies (and not sponsored by the nuclear energy industry) that do not find such increased incidence – someone directly debating LaForge would bring those up. You can find more on radiation studies here, but you may be sure that this would be a glaring issue for nuclear energy if true and hard to overlook – meaning it doesn’t pass the smell test very well.

On the other side, Westgard puts out reasonable facts that make the case for nuclear energy well. If we had any criticism, it would be that he needed – in this forum – to take on plausible arguments rather than simply make the case.

Meanwhile, we have 103 [actually, 104] nuclear power reactors in the U.S., and they provide cost-competitive electricity to millions. Fifty-five [actually, 59] of them have been granted 20-year operating extensions by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Many more extensions are expected, including for Minnesota’s Prairie Island facility. Once amortized, nuclear plants produce power for 2 cents per kilowatt hour, including fuel.

This is true and worth noting, but also a trifle abstract while LaForge is raising leukemia fears. On the other hand, Westgard’s calm recitation goes a far way to regularizing nuclear energy as another energy source though one particularly responsive to current energy needs.

Why aren’t we in the U.S. building more nuclear plants? Nuclear energy is environmentally superior. It doesn’t emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide or particulates like soot, mercury and sulfur, which make acid rain. There are 435 nuclear electric power reactors operating safely in 30 countries. Our nuclear Navy operates safely. Thirty more nuclear plants are under construction in the world with many others in the planning stages.

Don’t misunderstand – we really appreciate the Duluth News’ goal here, and both LaForge and Westgard give their arguments their full measure. And we don’t think it would take very long for an interested reader to find out who’s closer to having a good fact set. But we always hope for more from newspaper – and especially on the web, the News could easily have had the two gentlemen mix it up more directly.

So – a somewhat missed opportunity.

The Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. Instead of two sections of bridge inclining out of the way of passing ships, as most bridges do, the entire lower deck rises to the top portion. It takes about three minutes to raise the lower deck.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Knowing What You’ve Got Before It’s Gone in Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Nuclear energy is by far the largest source of carbon prevention in the United States, but this is a rough time to be in the business of selling electricity due to cheap natural gas and a flood of subsidized renewable energy. Some nuclear plants have closed prematurely, and others likely will follow.
In recent weeks, Exelon and the Omaha Public Power District said that they might close the Clinton, Quad Cities and Fort Calhoun nuclear reactors. As Joni Mitchell’s famous song says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
More than 100 energy and policy experts will gather in a U.S. Senate meeting room on May 19 to talk about how to improve the viability of existing nuclear plants. The event will be webcast, and a link will be available here.
Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no specia…

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…