Though I grew up in South Florida and have lived almost all of my life south of the Mason Dixon line (yes, Maryland is south of that line), I have always felt a bit of a linkage with New Englanders. Part of that is the fact that I was the product of a mixed marriage, Mom grew up in Quincy, MA, just outside of Boston, while Dad grew up on a tiny farm in southern Georgia near a town that disappeared from the map decades ago.
One of the things that I like about New England is their no bull attitude and the fact that they remain one of the bastions of participatory democracy. When you live and work in a small state, it is possible to hold real town hall style meetings on state wide issues and give everyone a say in the decision process.
Of course, there are many people in the nuclear world that think of New England as a challenging place for our technology – it is the cultural home of the Clamshell Alliance and many other well organized anti-nuclear groups.
I read a couple of articles this weekend about some serious energy questions in New England. According an article published on Sunday, July 29 in the Burlington (VT) Free Press titled Vermonters to add voices to energy debate, Vermont is going through an unusual and potentially useful process of gathering citizens to discuss energy choices.
They know that the current license for Vermont Yankee is going to expire in 2012, along with the current contract for supplying electricity from the plant. Both can be extended, but decisions cannot be made by default. They also know that their current contract with Hydro-Quebec that supplies another large portion of their electricity is due to expire in 2014, and there are a number of indications that the contract will need significant revisions, especially when it comes to cost.
As is possible in a small state with a small population, the decision process is going to be participatory and pretty open. The article does indicate that there is some cause for concern since there is a prohibition against advocates being invited. I hope that does not mean that there will be a lack of factual information about all energy choices or that people who can actually do math and understand a bit about engineering, transportation, climate control, and manufacturing will be excluded.
I also read an interesting, blog-style report this morning about a candidate questioning session in New Hampshire, a place that takes its role in presidential politics very seriously. You can find the report by Richard Fabrizio, managing editor of Seacoast Media Group’s N.H. weeklies, at SeacoastOnline on the page titled ‘Agnostic’ isn’t a presidential option: Hillary Clinton disappoints on nuclear energy stance (I love the subtitle for that commentary.)
The SeacoastOnline site accepts comments, so I put in my 8 cents worth (the comment is about 4 times longer than is considered acceptable for a letter to the editor, but there did not appear to be any artificial limits.) I thought you might appreciate seeing what I wrote over there.
I think you have identified one of the key issues in the Presidential campaign. Though I generally avoid single issue politics, acceptance or rejection of nuclear power in today’s world seems to be a strong symptom of other factors for a president.
Accepting its very real contributions to the prevention of greenhouse gas emissions indicates a candidate who has advisors that do research and provide good information. It would also be nice if the candidates happened to mention that nuclear plants continue to help prevent other kind of air polluting emission like NOx, SOx, mercury, fly ash, etc.
Rejecting the phrase “nuclear power is expensive” and accepting the documented fact that operating reactors currently provide electricity for about 27% less than coal and for less than 1/4 of the cost of electricity from natural gas (2006 numbers) shows me a questioning attitude and an understanding of that repetition is not reality. (I did not provide a link because it is a very long URL, but you can find the graph on the web site for the Nuclear Energy Institute on the page titled US electricity production costs 1995-2006)
Of course I understand that nuclear power plants CAN cost more than coal fired power stations, but PART of the reason for that is simply the fact that they face so many hurdles that delay the construction and add huge costs.
A president could show tremendous LEADERSHIP if she/he took a hard look at what could be done if there was real focus on an efficient, reliable, predictably approval process that protected the interests of public safety and public need for reasonably priced electricity.
I am in complete agreement with putting some real costs onto the coal, oil and gas companies. Their ability to dispose of their deadly waste products into our common atmosphere FOR FREE has got to stop. They never have to answer the question – what do you do with your deadly waste? The answer for them is simply to build a taller smokestack or filter out the visible portions and dump the filters in uncontrolled land fills.
In reality, a true comparison of “the waste issue” between fossil fuel and nuclear power would show a real leader that nuclear power has a huge advantage.
No one has ever been hurt or killed by exposure to the used nuclear fuel that is “piling” up around the US. If you put it all in one place, you would only fill up a football stadium sized piece of land to a height of about 25-30 feet. It would be a very moderately sized pile.
Each of the original fuel rods in that “pile” would look pretty much like it did when it first entered the reactor. I put the word “pile” in quotes – it would be carefully stacked, stored in protective containers licensed and considered safe for at least 100 years. There would be a careful inventory and lots of security if I know the nuclear industry people as well as I think I do.
Used nuclear fuel rods are long tubes of corrosion resistant zirconium alloy filled with solid pellets of uranium dioxide, a very high temperature ceramic material that does not corrode – it is already oxidized. The tubes are bundled together into fuel elements and always have received tender care by some of the most well trained producers in the entire country.
If the president had true leadership and vision, she/he would ask if there was a way to recycle this material to recover some value and reduce the amount considered to be waste. The answer that would come would surprise most Americans – the material still contains 95-97% of its original potential energy plus some other very valuable and rare fission by-products that can be extracted. With recycling, we would need a very small storage facility for the little portion that cannot be recycled – and we already have one at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project.
You see, not all of us are merely consumers – some Americans continue to go about their business of producing the electricity that their fellow citizens demand and wonder where their leaders heads are. Others spend their careers thinking and researching ways to solve problems and to take advantage of all of the Earth’s bounty to provide prosperous lives for everyone.