December 4, 2013

Maine Voices: Nuclear power the only real alternative to plants that emit carbon dioxide

Solar and wind can never generate close to what we get from coal, natural gas and other combustibles.

By John Parker of Falmouth

FALMOUTH — The opening sentence of a recent Press Herald column that read “There was a time when it took locating a nuclear plant ... (in) a community’s backyard to make the public angry” prompts me to urge readers to reconsider their position on nuclear power (“Off Campus: Henry Fonda character shows how to lead amid angry paralysis,” Nov. 18).

about the author

John Parker is a resident of Falmouth.

Yes, we did have a breakdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, but because of built-in safety devices, that incident resulted in no injuries or adverse health effects.

Much more significant, in 1986 there was a disastrous failure at Chernobyl in Ukraine. That event is described as “the result of a flawed design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel.”

And finally, we have the second major nuclear disaster, in 2011, several miles north of Tokyo, which was the result of a Pacific tsunami and an ill-advised location for a nuclear plant. Thus, in the best interests of our environment, we are now trying to develop solar and wind energy. Currently the breakdown of our power sources is (1) coal – 37 percent; (2) natural gas – 30 percent; (3) nuclear – 19 percent; (4) hydro – 7 percent; (5) other combustibles – 3 percent, and (5) all others – 4 percent.

Almost everyone is concerned about our environment and global warming. That’s what makes solar and wind energy so popular. But the reality is that they can never generate a significant percentage of what we produce with coal, natural gas and other combustibles. And, unfortunately, hydraulic dams are now deemed to not be worth their impact on the environment and ecology.

Thus, we continue the utilization of combustible sources, 70 percent, which fill our atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Some debate its effect on global warming, but the reality is that we’re experiencing it. Witness that Glacier National Park has lost 80 percent of its glaciers, and water levels are rising.

What is even more significant is that carbon dioxide levels are now at the highest levels ever known and, as they are being absorbed in the oceans, the lower levels of the ocean food chain are severely threatened.

So what’s the solution? Absent hydraulic, solar and wind power as viable solutions, nuclear power is the only currently known viable alternative. Yes, the general public is afraid of nuclear plants. But instead of harboring emotional prejudices, I urge the public to think rationally.

One hundred nuclear reactors are currently producing power in the United States, most more than 30 years old and some more than 50. In all those years, Three Mile Island, an early design, has been the only hiccup in the U.S.

And think of our Navy. For some 50 years, our submarines and aircraft carriers have been powered by nuclear plants. The latest carrier will have two plants aboard and submarine sailors serve without harm 24/7 for months at a time only a few feet from a nuclear reactor.

Many are concerned about the disposal of nuclear waste. Our “problem” there is self-generated. President Obama, with a stroke of his pen, closed down the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, although nuclear waste stored in Yucca Mountain could never harm a single Nevada resident. And getting it there is also no problem. Nuclear waste (rods) can be shipped by rail in containers that can withstand any derailment with no threat.

As well, look at the French, who have been much smarter about nuclear power than we have been. They generate well over 50 percent of their power with nuclear plants and have never had a significant problem. Moreover, they recycle their waste, with the net result that they reduce their volume of waste by 90 percent.

The result of our president’s move is that hundreds of rods are stored at the various plants, both active and inactive, at a cost of millions of dollars each year at each location. The only reason I can imagine for Obama’s move was politics.

And I believe it’s politics that’s keeping us from reactivating nuclear construction as our energy source of choice. (There are actually a few plants currently under construction.) Surely many members of Congress recognize the wisdom of nuclear power. But so many people are so fanatical about the issue that they dare not suggest it.

So, if you are one of the fanatics, I urge you to reconsider the issue in a rational manner. We should all promote the only source of power that has no environmental impact and will have enough capacity to start closing down carbon-burning plants. We have many years of total success, our technology and know-how have come a long way since the construction of Three Mile Island, and the blatant errors in Ukraine and Japan can easily be avoided.

— Special to the Press Herald

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