GUEST COMMENTARY
Goodtimes’ Nuclear Power Stance ‘Based on Hypotheticals, Not Experience’
by Jeremy M. Hellman, Ouray
Mar 24, 2012 | 1296 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Art Goodtimes’ commentary railing against nuclear electric generation in the March 21 issue is so one-sided that it demands a response. His leadoff discussion about the Chernobyl Plant in the Ukraine is not at all relevant to nuclear power in this country. Unlike the Chernobyl Plant, every plant here has a thick and airtight containment structure made of heavily reinforced concrete to contain any leakage. They are strong too, able to withstand the crash of an airliner, and the direct impact of a Category 5 hurricane without internal damage.

His complaints about the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Liability Act, which has been in effect since 1957, are based on hypotheticals, not experience. The industry self-insures the first $12.6 billion of liability. Yes – that’s billion dollars, with a B. Total payouts since the Act was made law, over fifty years, have totaled about $150 million. For an industry of this size, that indicates an excellent safety record. The Act has also been upheld by the United States Supreme Court, so it is legal.

What really concerns me though, is Mr. Goodtimes’ claim “Imagine if we put just the cost of those three cleanups into solar or wind? We’d have alternative energy for the whole Western Slope….”

Renewable energy is wonderful to think about, but let’s be sure to think about it with the same degree of thoroughness that we do for other forms of electric generation. We have sufficient data on these generation sources to enable us to see how they work in the real world. For example, California has a large number of wind farms. But…if you look online at the report by the California Independent System Operator for Summer 2011, they show that due to wind variation, the “Qualified” capacity of wind generation sources is only about one quarter of the installed capacity. During a heat wave, the California Energy Commission found that only six percent of the rated capacity was available. Nuclear plants (and coal and natural gas plants) provide 100% of their installed capacity during hot and cold weather.

Practically, this means that the utility will have to purchase and install many times as many windmills to supply the required demand, driving up the cost significantly. Considering the documented difficulty of installing solar generation or a power line in our beautiful area, what sort of reception would a proposal to install anywhere around here a large number of windmills, each with diameter larger than the wingspan of a Boeing 747, receive? Mr. Goodtimes; can we count on your support?

Solar power is a simpler case. The sun doesn’t shine at night or on cloudy days, so extra capacity has to be built to enable storage of the energy. This again requires more than doubling the number and cost of solar cells and ground area required for reliable generation.

Please don’t get me wrong. Renewable energy can and does contribute to our energy needs. Let’s just not shut down the generation, which dependably turns on the lights every time we flip the switch. Today, nuclear energy lights up on average one out of every five bulbs in use in the United States. Day and night. Calm or cloudy.

I have worked in the nuclear industry as an engineer and manager for almost forty years (full disclosure) and am proud of the contribution I’ve made to securing our nation’s energy supply. In fact, I worked on the two new “Japanese” reactors Mr. Goodtimes mentions that are being built near Atlanta. The parent company building these reactors may be Japanese (Toshiba) but the American company doing the design and construction is Westinghouse Electric Co. You Can Be Sure!

For an independent and recognized expert’s view on the entire energy picture, I suggest you read Daniel Yergin’s recent book The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. It provides a much more realistic and fairer picture of our energy options than does Mr. Goodtimes.
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