Monday, April 19, 2010

Nuclear Power & Rancho Seco

Every time I read another article extolling the positive impact nuclear power would have on our environment, I am further saddened by the short-sightedness that led Sacramento to shut down Rancho Seco.

It was a rushed response to catastrophe and a lack of vision that infected a lot of people, but now it appears the tide has turned, as this story from the Wall Street Journal reveals.

An excerpt.

“By the end of the 1980s, the nuclear-power industry appeared to be heading for a meltdown.

“The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 confirmed many people's fears about the danger of nuclear power and led to expensive safety upgrades for planned and existing plants. A recession slashed demand for electricity, inflation made new nuclear plants more expensive and falling energy prices made nuclear power less competitive with other power sources.

“Then, in 1986, the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine killed at least 56 people directly and spread radiation throughout much of Europe. Responding to "no nukes" sentiment, many states blocked new plant construction, and some European countries called for shutting down existing plants.

“Twenty years later, though, nuclear power may have found its reason for being: global warming. Several leading environmentalists have come out in favor of nuclear power because it is a low-carbon, plentiful source of electricity that could replace dirty coal, especially in rapidly growing countries such as China and India.

"Coal is the major villain when it comes to greenhouse gases," says Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and a former nuclear-power opponent who is now an avid supporter. "Countries are discovering that wind and solar are good to do, and they make a dent. But when it comes to base-load, always-on power, we have nothing that really replaces coal except nuclear."

“Meanwhile, public support for nuclear power is growing. A March Gallup survey found 62% of those asked favor nuclear power, the highest level since Gallup began polling on the subject in 1994. In a handful of unscientific surveys on environmental Web sites, a small majority say they are willing to give nuclear power another look as a way to fight climate change. Others, including those who don't believe global warming is a real problem, favor nuclear power as a way to give the U.S. more energy security.”

"Governments, too, are being swayed to back nuclear power as a way to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. In Sweden, officials recently introduced legislation to allow construction of new nuclear-power plants; the country, which gets more than 40% of its electricity from nuclear, banned new plant construction in the early 1980s and planned to phase out existing plants."