Over the past few months, coincident with the release of Robert Stone's Pandora's Promise, we've seen a lot of favorable news coverage concerning how many environmentalists have begun to reconsider their position on nuclear energy. One of the places where we've seen this coverage has been in the New York Times, which recently ran a story by Eduardo Porter urging the nation to get moving on building new nuclear power plant in order to help constrain CO2 emissions.
This apparently got under the skin of the paper's food critic, Mark Bittman, who took a radical departure from his normal area of expertise in order to question folks like Stone, James Hansen and Stewart Brand who no longer see any contradiction between being pro-environment and pro-nuclear energy:
Before we all become pro-nuclear greens, however, you’ve got to ask three questions: Is nuclear power safe and clean? Is it economical? And are there better alternatives?In the comments, NEI's own Steve Kerekes left the following rejoinder:
No, no and yes. So let’s not swap the pending environmental disaster of climate change for another that may be equally risky.
Something smells rotten in Mr. Bittman's kitchen, specifically this half-baked diatribe. Nuclear energy facilities have long since proven their value to society. In the United States, for two decades now, they've provided 20 percent of our electricity supply (even as overall demand has risen) from only 10 percent of the nation's installed electric-generating capacity. That alone demonstrates their efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness.Thanks to Steve for stepping into the fray.
The author misleadingly compares the Solyndra loan guarantee (startup technology for a company with virtually no assets) to a loan guarantee (not yet finalized, by the way) for a reactor project being undertaken by an electric utility that has operated for decades and has billions of dollars of assets. He mischaracterizes the Price-Anderson Act liability framework that has functioned effectively (and generated revenues TO the federal government) since the 1950s.
He wrongly suggests that used nuclear fuel is not secured safely and securely. And he seeks to pin America's energy future on technologies that, while they have a role to play in our energy mix, have not proven their reliabiity over time in no small part because they are intermittent by their nature. During the recent East Coast heat wave, nuclear energy facilities operated at 96 percent of their availability the full week. Mr. Bittman's preferred technologies came nowhere close to that.