I read Poisoned Power in the early 1970s. It was written by two seasoned veterans of the nuclear power research establishment. John Gofman did extensive research on the harmful effects of radiation and became an ardent opponent of nuclear power, founding the Committee For Nuclear Responsibility in 1971. Arthur Tamplin was a biophysicist and an expert on radiation. Their book was an eye-opener for me and, to a certain extent, jump started my environmental activism. After the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, they issued an update. (Fun fact: At the time of the accident, I was working on a surveying crew on a power plant construction project – not a nuke – and I went to see the movie, The China Syndrome, the night before the accident at TMI. Driving to work in the morning, I thought at first that the news on the radio was just a promo for the movie, then I realized what had really happened.) I subsequently read The Cult of the Atom : The Secret Papers of the Atomic Energy Commission and my opposition to nuclear power was permanently sealed. I have seen next to nothing in the intervening decades to alter my view. In the intervening years, we’ve had:
- the disasters at Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011),
- seen costs for nuclear increase while those for renewables have decreased,
- and generated hundreds of thousands of tons of high-level radioactive waste that are lethal for tens of thousands of years.
There have been a couple of items in the NY Times recently that got me a bit riled. The first was about a proposed new big nuke in Wales. I will spare you my full response but, in short, I ran some numbers and found the massive expense could produce more renewable power than nuclear power, and more quickly. (See the letter here.) Big news came only days after the first article: Hitachi to Cease Work on Nuclear Power Plant in North Wales. As the article states, “The big question is whether Hitachi’s move will be a death knell for Britain’s campaign to build nuclear plants…” RIP, I say.
More recently, the Old Gray Lady had an editorial that, by and large, lauded the underlying goals and principles of the Green New Deal. The Times, however, has had a very blind spot for nuclear power for decades, and in the editorial they call for both nuclear power and for carbon capture and sequestration. These are both short, medium, and long-term losing propositions. My letter says how thoroughly and why.
Neither of these letters was published, but that’s not to say that I have had no success with the Times on this subject. They printed my laudatory response to We’re Not Ready, an excellent Bob Herbert column in 2010. In my letter, I make some of the same arguments those of us in the reality-based community have been making for years: Nukes aren’t safe, cost-effective, nor as capable of decarbonizing our economies as quickly as we need as solar, wind, hydro, and other renewables are.
I could go on and on. Let me just add one more item. I wrote China’s Nuclear Boondoggle after attending a program up at Columbia. I decried the money, expertise, and time the Chinese were wasting on nukes. I was delighted to see a recent article in the MIT Technology Review, China’s losing its taste for nuclear power. That’s bad news. I think it’s excellent news, frankly, as the Chinese who are blowing the doors off on wind and solar power deployment, not to mention hydro, are going to find themselves, at the end of the day, way ahead of the game.
When I was writing for the Foreign Policy Association, I had a few things to say, you won’t be surprised to learn, about nuclear power. You can find a couple of my old critiques here (pre-Fukushima) and here (post-Fukushima).
But I do feel safer knowing that Homer Simpson is going to handle any accidents we might encounter in the future, don’t you?