Lights Out For Nukes

December 17, 2018

The nuclear industry is well-financed and heavily subsidized by the federal government. Nuclear has shed its radioactive wardrobe and proclaimed it is now clean and green. The industry, despite its history of bailouts, wants more subsidies under the guise of a green sheen. The nuclear-carbon shell game only works if you ignore the environmental cost on the “front end” of nuclear power production. From the moment uranium is mined, milled, enriched, fabricated and transported it produces large quantities of airborne pollutants. On the “back end,” tons of high-level nuclear waste remain for future generations. Nuclear fuel is not clean, green or renewable. There are no uranium orchards. There is no way to compost radioactive waste. And, there is no nuclear fairy to make the toxic garbage magically disappear. Escaping a nuclear accident is a myth, Imagine evacuating during a Penn State home game, the day before Thanksgiving or while the kids are in class. November 15th’s snow blanket gridlocked the area, trapped kids while school was in session, and transportation was a nightmare for anyone trying to get home. There is also an imminent threat of ratepayers being forced down an endless money pit to bail out aging coal and nuclear plants. Pennsylvania does not need to roll out a “cash for clunkers” program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reduction goals can be met under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan through planned power plant retirements. Pennsylvania finalized a “solar future’s plan” that can serve as a legislative and regulatory roadmap. The Public Utility Commission is in the advanced stages of developing alternative rate-making which could go a long way to supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy. The governor recently signed into law Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy legislation which allows businesses to borrow money for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and make payments through an assessment on their property tax bill. These are just some of the examples of increased opportunities to retire aging coal and nuclear plants, and grow a sustainable, clean energy economy. We have pivoted from a state that was dependent on coal and nuclear energy. Our electricity prices were 15 percent above the national average prior to deregulation. We have sliced our addiction to coal and nuclear from 92 percent to 73 percent, and our rates are now 15 percent below the national average. As coal and nuclear’s share declined, we realized cheaper prices and attained more reserve capacity with homegrown sources. We have attained energy independence. Our current reserve margin is 28 percent, and by grid operator PJM’s staff analysis, a 15.8 percent reserve margin is sufficient. This is the time to retire aging coal and nuclear plants. Reliability will not be affected. On Oct. 11, PJM CEO Andy Ott testified before Congress on the importance of fuel diversity for grid resilience. He warned against distorting markets through government bailout schemes. The Pennsylvania nuclear industry received nearly $9 billion from ratepayers so they could transition to a competitive marketplace. We should not divert billions of dollars from new technologies that produce no airborne pollutants or waste byproducts. All of these points reinforce our contention that there is no need to continue to bail out uneconomical nuclear plants. Three Mile Island Unit-1 is 44 years old. TMI-2 has not been cleaned up since the accident and remains a radioactive waste site. We should move forward and allow industries that have innovated and reduced their production and development costs to increase their market share. We should permit the forces of economics and technology to phase out old and uneconomical plants in favor of newer, clean energy technologies. We deeply appreciate the need for a comprehensive carbon reduction plan. However, until we address safety challenges, transport risks, and find a solution for radioactive waste isolation, we should spend our resources working toward clean energy solutions and meaningful worker protections. We can do this.

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