Peter Applebome has been writing about the controversy surrounding the Indian Point Nuclear Plant relicensing effort for several years. In the Saturday, February 14, 2009 , issue of the New York Times, in the Our Towns section, you can find his most recent piece titled Indian Point And a License To Disagree. After reading that article, I decided it was time to return to an old Atomic Insights tradition of writing to a journalist with a copy to Atomic Insights readers. Here is a copy of my note to Mr. Applebome:
Dear Mr. Applebome:
I read your Our Towns column titled Indian Point And a License To Disagree. Though I have been following the Indian Point relicensing issue off and on for a couple of years, I had not come across your column and thought that your perspective was a bit different than most I have read. Taking advantage of the technology of the day, I found and read some of your previous work on the issue.
Though your columns include the usual journalistic nod to balance, it seems that you personally lean towards significant concern about the continued operation of Indian Point. My guess is that you wish that it was somehow possible to either shut the plant down or to overcome the laws of thermodynamics that require all steam power plants to have a heat sink in order to operate.
Based on what I know about nuclear power from about a dozen years in direct operation and training on Navy power plants and from fifteen more years of research and attempts to develop new nuclear fission power systems, I cannot understand the concern. The two reactors at Indian Point provide reliable, affordable, emission free power with less environmental impact than any alternative.
Allowing the plant to continue using, but not consuming, billions of gallons of Hudson River water, with the only effect being temporarily raising its temperature a few degrees seems a very small price to pay. Since the Hudson is used as the cooling source for many other thermal power plants and industrial facilities along the river, it is quite unfair that plant opponents single it out and demand the construction of cooling towers – devices that are not free from environmental challenges of their own.
Cooling towers require vast quantities of energy intensive materials like concrete and steel, they actually consume rather than just borrow fresh water, and they need constant maintenance that sometimes includes the use of corrosion inhibitors and anti-fouling chemicals that can harm water dwelling plant life if they are released. They do nothing to improve the plant’s ability to produce power; they are all cost with no benefit.
As I see your depiction of the controversy, you are missing an underlying factor that is a key to helping people understand what is going on. You talk about the economic motives of jobs and profits when discussing those who favor the plant and about safety and environmental concerns of the people fighting the plant.
What you do not do is spend much time reflecting on the impressive economic rewards obtainable by the people who wish to restrict the supply of energy by forcing the plant to shut down. If 2200 MW of electrical production was removed from the grid supplying one of the most populous and energy dependent regions in the country, the ONLY viable alternative would be to burn about a half a billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to replace that power supply.
At today’s rather low natural gas prices, that would provide an additional $2.5-3 million dollars per day in sales for the natural gas industry. That industry is, to a very large extent, composed of multinational oil companies. The factor that should really frighten New Yorkers is that there is no way that the price of natural gas would remain at its current level with that amount of increased demand. The price would have to go up to rebalance supply and demand by forcing some consumers out of the market or into uncomfortable choices between heat and food.
I am positive that the executives and financial backers of the competitive power sources understand the economic math and that they quietly work to support the vocal “environmental” and political activists. I am pretty sure that at least some of the activists realize that they are working hard on an activity that is most directly in the best interest of the oil and gas companies.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast
Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
I probably made that one too long to really capture attention, but I will let you know if I get a response. For me, the Indian Point saga is an important one. There are few products or inventions that have been more important in the development of modern civilization than electricity.
It is absurd for people who claim to be in favor of a more prosperous and developed world that provides opportunities for all people to fight to close a well-maintained nuclear power plant. The predictable result of that action is to take power away from the majority of the people and to concentrate it into the hands of competitive energy suppliers.
I would be interested in your thoughts and concerns.
Additional links to Peter Applebome columns related to Indian Point
- Greenhouse Gases Versus Nuclear Power Risk in Suburban NYC: Pick Your Poison
- The Power Grid Game: Choose a Catastrophe
- Sounding the Alarm, or at Least Trying To – Note: This one is on another blog, and it includes an extensive comment that seems to be from the inside of the controversy. Well worth reading.