This is a subtle article. Maybe Peter Applebome should be our next President? I like that he sees two sides to a debate. I like that he is honest about tradeoffs and the importance of making costly decisions without declaring that a "free lunch" lurks. Andrew Cuomo must be a righteous dude. Starting in the Winter quarter, Michael Dukakis is my next door neighbor at the UCLA Public Policy department. I must remeber to ask the Gov. about Dr. Cuomo's acumen.
December 9, 2007
The Power Grid Game: Choose a Catastrophe
By PETER APPLEBOME
The megawattage was higher than normal, but the politics sounded familiar when Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, with Democratic politicians and antinuclear activists in tow, dropped a rhetorical bomb on the Indian Point nuclear power plant on Monday.
Not only should the Nuclear Regulatory Commission deny an application to renew its license, Mr. Cuomo said, but “Indian Point should be closed, and it should be closed now.” For those who missed the urgency, he added, “Indian Point is, in my opinion, a catastrophe waiting to happen.”
Well, an ambitious Democratic politician in these parts can never go wrong railing against Indian Point — the more apocalyptic the language, the better. But even in the kingdom where the word “no” forever reigns supreme, closing Indian Point raises its share of vexing questions.
For starters: Is New York prepared to increase carbon emissions and perhaps flunk its goals under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to close Indian Point? In whose neighborhoods in Westchester or Rockland Counties is it prepared to build the power plants that would replace it? Is the possibility of more expensive and less reliable electricity an acceptable trade-off for not having to worry about Indian Point? If Indian Point poses an unacceptable risk, shouldn’t the dozens of nuclear plants in metropolitan areas around the country and the world close as well? And we’re comfortable with those carbon trade-offs too?
In the end, they come down to this: Do the forever-green, antinuke politics of the 1970s hold up in the global warming era of 2007? Think before you answer.
NUCLEAR power isn’t the most lovable of alternatives, and if you live in Westchester County, as I do, the specter of Indian Point is one of the constants of local discourse, like college admissions hysteria, real estate anxiety and Bill and Hillary sightings.
Indian Point’s critics say its safety record over the years has been too flawed, the population around it too large, the evacuation plans too inadequate to keep it open. You think, if they can’t get the sirens to operate, maybe there are bigger worries.
(Of course, it was New York State that sold this alleged catastrophe in the making to its current owners just six years ago, but we’ll let that pass.)
There’s plenty of hyperbole on both sides, and Entergy Nuclear, the plant’s owner, seems able to spend money like a drunken sailor to get its message out. Nuclear power’s most effective spokesman may be Patrick Moore, a founder and former member of the environmental group Greenpeace, who has been hired by the nuclear industry to promote the technology.
He says the resurgence of nuclear energy around the world — even in ultragreen countries like Finland — reflects the simple fact that nuclear power has more potential to replace and reduce carbon emissions than anything else, and that, leaving out the Model T technology of Chernobyl, its worldwide safety record remains almost impeccable.
“What drives me nuts,” he said, “ is that the environmental movement itself has become the primary obstacle to reducing fossil fuel emissions. Energy and climate are two sides of the same coin, and they’ve got it completely backward. Either you quit worrying about climate change and go on burning fossil fuels or you accept nuclear energy and get off fossil fuels. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place of their own making.”
Of course, if you factor in conservation and alternative energy, there should be other options. And maybe the biggest obstacle to nuclear power has been cost, not pesky enviros. But for now, all the painless green alternatives like massive conservation, smart building, solar power, wind power, ocean waves and the rest that are supposed to allow us to do without nuclear power are still minor parts of the equation.
Unless Mr. Cuomo succeeds in closing Indian Point tomorrow, we might hope for two things as its relicensing process plods on.
One, says Alex Matthiessen, president of Riverkeeper in Westchester, is a far more thorough hearing than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seems to have in mind — one that looks at issues like evacuation plans, vulnerability to terrorist attacks, potential leaks from spent fuel pools and other issues. A 20-year renewal for a nuclear plant in the most populous part of the country shouldn’t be a rubber stamp.
The second is some kind of urgency about all the painless alternatives that are supposed to let us do without Indian Point and plants like it. As it is, we don’t want windmills off Long Island, and we don’t want the proposed Broadwater floating natural gas plant in Long Island Sound. We almost certainly don’t want a tunnel under the Sound. We don’t want Indian Point, and we sure as heck wouldn’t want a substantial plant to replace it. We want our bloated S.U.V.s and Hummers and the energy-hogging McMansions that the banks haven’t taken back. yet.
Maybe Santa is out there 365 days a year, and maybe we can turn all of Wyoming into a windmill farm that will solve everyone’s problems. Or maybe getting to a sane energy future is a lot more complicated than scaring people to death about Indian Point.