A colleague sent me an email the other day prefaced with this remark: “Enviros will never get it.”
He sent me an article from Bloomberg News on Nov. 5 reporting that California’s Air Resources Board’s website posted data showing that emissions from natural-gas-fired power plants rose 35 percent to 41.6 million tons last year in California. Chief among the reasons for the rise was the shutting down of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in January 2012.
THIS PLANT HAD long been a target of anti-nuclear activists masquerading as environmentalists. There was nothing wrong with the reactor, but the new steam generators were undergoing some vibration problems at full power, and the utility, state regulators and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could not agree on how to economically return the unit to full power. Tiring of the uproar, the bad press and the frustration of dealing with indecisive regulation, the utility did what any good business entity would do – it took advantage of
record-low natural gas prices and replaced the emission-free nuclear power with power producing tens of metric tons of air pollution.
Californians, and to a lesser extent all of us, are left to deal with the consequences of this “victory” for the bogus environmentalists. We cannot blame utilities for behaving as rational economic beings when it comes to their choices for providing the electricity we all demand. If regulation and lack of energy policy make it financially risky to invest in nuclear power, utilities are left with only one real alternative – fossil fuels. If hydropower is available, it can help. Wind and solar cannot be relied upon without equivalent capacity available from fossil or nuclear.
CONSIDER THESE consequences: No less than the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 7 million people die each year because of the burning of fossil fuels. This is the immediate impact on human health, and ignores the probable longer-term impacts on climate change and acidification of our oceans.
If we use data from peer-reviewed scientific studies by James Hansen, who first sounded the alarm as a NASA climatologist concerning the potential for climate change, we can quantify the effect on human health of the San Onofre shutdown. Hansen’s data showed about 30 deaths per million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Since California had about 41.6 million tons of emissions in 2012, more than 1,200 people probably died because of air pollution there. About 300 deaths would therefore be attributed to shutting down San Onofre. These rates apply to 2012 and to every year in the future where the current status quo is maintained.
It is frustrating to know that most anti-nuclear sentiment stems from fear of radiation exposure. It’s frustrating because this country’s nuclear power safety record is spotless with respect to harming the public, despite persistent,
erroneous claims to the contrary.
It’s frustrating because fear of radiation is unwarranted except for very high doses, yet we let unwarranted fear deny us the
benefits of clean, affordable energy.
It’s frustrating because no matter how many unbiased, well-designed studies debunk the myth of the dangers of low-level radiation, many people prefer to cling to the fallacy that low levels of radiation are dangerous.
THIS LEADS TO our country relying on energy sources known to pollute, sicken and kill rather than a source that never has had a fatality after 55 years of providing what is now about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. All credible scientific studies of low levels of radiation are at worst inconclusive regarding negative effects on human health, and at best show a beneficial effect.
It is time we came out of the nuclear dark ages into the bright light of clean, safe energy for our people and our planet.
(The writer is executive director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness in Aiken, S.C.)