Yesterday, Vermont Governor Peter Shumulin appeared on Democracy Now to talk about the effect of Hurricane Irene on his Green Mountain State. Twice in the interview, he used the words irrational, but throughout the interview he and his interviewer were remarkably illogical.
Though many parts of his state were being washed away by raging floods that threatened buildings and bridges that were “hundreds of years old”, his interviewer, Amy Goodman, seemed most concerned about the potential impact of the storm on a 39-year-old nuclear power plant that was safely and reliably producing its rated power output from a carefully selected location with a reasonable set back from its Connecticut River cooling water supply. Though he expressed great concern about how the swollen creeks through historic downtowns were damaging 150-year-old facilities that had been standing since the Civil War, Governor Shumlin declared that the nuclear plant, was fine and not a source of current concern, but also stated that it should shut down next year because it is “an old, aging, leaking plant, run by a company that can’t seem to tell the truth.”
Vermont Yankee was built at about the same time that the US started sending advisors to Vietnam; it is substantially younger than many of the other structures in Vermont that remain in use – when they are not being flooded out by raging creeks that were once the source of the state’s motive power.
Just a few seconds later in the interview, Amy Goodman introduced another hot button topic.
You have a climate cabinet—you’re unusual in this way, Governor Shumlin—in Vermont, dealing with the issue of climate change. Can you talk about something that the networks, as they covered what wasn’t happening in New York and then came very late to what is happening in Vermont, have not talked about through this massive coverage, and that is those two words, “climate change” or “global warming”?
With a background video reel of raging river currents, signs being blown down, and sheets of siding flying in the wind, Governor Shumlin responded by talking about how he and his supporters are working to move his state away from fossil fuel by building wind and solar powered systems. It really makes one wonder if he recognizes just how vulnerable those large, weather-exposed collection systems would be in the case of a storm like Irene. How can anyone look at pictures of the effects of a hurricane and honestly express a desire to build something that looks like this?
With Vermont Yankee running, the state of Vermont produces emission-free nuclear electricity that is equal to 85% of its total consumption. (Only about 30% of the output of Vermont Yankee is actually consumed inside the borders of Vermont, but all of its power is produced inside the borders of Vermont.) If Vermont Yankee is forced to close 20 years before the end of its federally approved, technically evaluated license to operate, the state’s economy would almost instantaneously shift from the least carbon intensive to somewhere near the middle of the pack among US states in per capital carbon emissions.
I an unapologetic liberal who really likes human beings and believes strongly in the worth of public (government) enterprises that provide health, safety, vital services and education. However, I am often frustrated by the irrational attitudes and illogical statements made by others who share some of my humanistic philosophies. On the other hand, many of the people who share my rational evaluation of technology and mathematically based risk assessments look down their noses at my focus on the effects of decisions on people.
Perhaps the problem is that far too many people have chosen far too narrow an education where one either delves deeply into the humanities like art, music, literature, law, or politics OR deeply into math, engineering, technology, business or sciences. The chosen focus, often begun quite early in life, results in people who speak completely different languages that make it difficult to bridge political and economic divides.
I am waxing a little philosophical this morning because I am trying to articulate a response to the topics exposed by the interview that does not start a conversation based on partisan politics. Whenever I mention my liberal focus on producing a wealthier society that can afford to invest in good public education, public health, and public utilities that enable family wage jobs to be created, I can count on commentary from partisans who accuse me of being a softheaded socialist.
Whenever I mention my concern that dumping vast quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere is altering its chemical and physical properties and putting the generally benevolent nature of the earth’s climate at risk, I can count on commentary from skeptics who express an almost religious belief that man cannot have that kind of negative effect on god’s creation. Some participants in the discussion generally recognize that there is a certain amount of harm associated with fossil fuel waste products but they believe that any effort to reduce the probabilistic risk that we might be doing something irreversible puts the fragile economy at risk. They believe that all of the solutions are more expensive or less reliable than the status quo or they believe that it is all a plot by banksters who want to establish a new way to make money by trading phantom carbon credits.
What surprises and hurts me the most is when people who generally agree that a civil, livable society should be organized to provide a helping hand up to the least fortunate and that it should seek to minimize harm to the environment irrationally reject nuclear energy. That is the most powerful technological tool I know for addressing both of those goals. An aggressive program to expand nuclear energy technology as a replacement for fossil fuel combustion offers an opportunity to produce a cleaner, more reliable, more egalitarian, and more affordable energy system that will provide a foundation for a vast expansion of beneficial wealth for a growing number of people.
I just wish there was a better way to spread that idea than simply writing about it on a blog that only attracts 18,000 – 22,000 viewers per month. Perhaps you can help. If you think this conversation is something worth having, make some comments, share the link and speak to people that you know.
I am pretty sure that my frustration is not a lonely one. There are numerous nuclear-trained or nuclear-aware people who share my recognition that the technology we know can enable the world that we want for our friends, neighbors, children and grandchildren.