Nuclear Power – Well Past Its Prime

Recently Julie Sherwood wrote an article for the Daily Messenger, a Rochester paper, about Ginna, a reactor located near Lake Ontario. In many ways her story echos the Indian Point story.  (http://tinyurl.com/juliesherwood)The lead paragraph concludes, “but if the nuclear plant were to close, Rochester Gas and Electric’s more than 300,000 electricity customers wouldn’t notice.”

Sound familiar?  It should.  The transmission upgrades, and mix of generators she talks about are just about the same as we have in our Indian Point region. Close Indian Point and no one except Entergy stockholders would even notice. We have an electricity surplus from the many generators now on line that has been documented over and over again. The NYS Department of State, Bureau of Ocean Management  has posted their analysis at  http://bit.ly/1Kf8iOY  of what the surplus is and why Indian Point is no longer necessary.  They also point out that emissions from existing gas plants have already been figured into the Clean Energy Plan. Given current electricity market conditions, there is no reason to think that new plants would find it profitable to come on line because the market would not support it. Plus, demand has not risen as predicted, mainly due to conservation, efficiency, demand response and, rooftop solar.  The business community has finally come to understand just how much money can be saved on operating costs by installing solar panels.

Finally, the conceits and deceits that have propped up the nuclear power industry for so many years are beginning to crumble. And since the reactors can no longer make it in the marketplace they are crying for more subsidies – tax payer dollars that will be added to your electricity bill so that company shareholders can continue to make a profit.  Enter Governor Cuomo and the infamous Tier 3 of the Clean Energy Plan that pretends nuclear power is renewable, carbon free and necessary.  It is none of those things.

Ask Google about the carbon footprint of electricity and an electronic voice will tell you that the carbon intensity of electricity depends on the fuel used.  Coal, oil and gas are listed as the most intense, while hydro, nuclear, wind and solar are all lumped together at 50 grams of carbon per kilowatt hour. Take a look at some of the articles that follow and you will see graphs that go into more detail than most of us would ever want to know.  While the figures may vary somewhat, it is very clear that there is no such thing as a source of electricity that does not emit carbon or other greenhouse gases. There is no free lunch when it comes to making electricity, or anything else for that matter. The renewable claim the industry, Governor Cuomo and the Public Service Commission make for nuclear power is just as phony.  Commercial nuclear power uses uranium as a fuel.  Uranium 238 is a mineral that is mined just like coal and like coal, whatever is in the ground is all that we have.  That hardly qualifies as renewable.

You still hear the old canard that renewables will be ready “someday.”  They are just not ready now because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.  That doesn’t work anymore either.While wind and solar are variable, they are highly predictable and we have a lot of them now. Siting wind turbines requires very precise data analyzed over a long period of time if investors are going to make money selling the electricity. The cost benefit analysis for solar is equally precise.  The New York

Independent System Operator, which runs our grid, treats wind as another source of electricity and integrates it into our grid without a problem because it is so cheap and they know when to count on it. California is integrating more and more renewables into their grid and may go as far as Utah to import them.  Portugal just ran for four days on wind and Sweden generated 110% of the electricity they needed as they let the turbines spin during hurricane force wind.  What they couldn’t use, they sold.  Those are just a few examples of the renewable revolution that is happening in electricity markets around the globe. It’s the mix that matters, coupled with the versatility you get from many small sources of electricity that can open on demand and close down just as quickly. An important plus is that you get a more secure grid with this system, one that is less vulnerable to blackouts when a large generator like Indian Point goes down unexpectedly, as happened a lot in 2016.  This type of grid is also less vulnerable to hacking or sabotage because small micro grids operate independently and are not controlled from a single centralized location.

Big capital intensive plants are stuck in the on mode. It takes them a long time to shut down when they are not needed and an equally long time to start up again when they are needed. They are not nimble enough to compete in the new and constantly evolving electricity marketplace. That’s why reactors across the country are closing and why Ginna and the other three reactors upstate would close without billions from a nuclear tax. Instead of bailing out corporations, how about using tax dollars to help workers retool and their communities to find other sources of taxable income? These plants are old, out of date and the cost of maintaining them can only be expected to rise. Faced with rising expenses, how much of a subsidy will shareholders demand in the future in order to guarantee their profits?

It is a familiar problem to anyone who has an old car. How do you decide when to stop putting money in it and start looking for a new one?  When it comes to reactors that generate highly radioactive waste that is deadly for 240,000 years – the time is now.

By Marilyn Elie – Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition