Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tilting Toward Nukes:

Finding Reason in Unexpected Places

I wasn't thinking about nuclear power the other day when I settled down to read the latest issue of Chesapeake Bay, a magazine associated with just about everything to do with the Chesapeake Bay.  It's true that there is a nuclear power plant site on the shores of the Chesapeake (Calvert Cliffs), so in that sense, nuclear power is a relevant issue, but most people who read this magazine are, like me, avid boaters on the Bay, and look to the magazine for the latest news on boating, fishing, crabbing, marinas, and restaurants.  Not on nuclear power.

It was somewhat of a surprise, then, when I turned to the last page of the July 2013 issue and found an article entitled "Tilting Toward Nukes" by Tom Horton, a respected author on nature and the environment.  It was even more of a surprise when I started to read the article.  It was factual, it covered most of the key issues, and it identified complexities that are glossed over in many articles appearing in general publications.  The article would not have been out of place in a publication focused on nuclear power, a publication that covered energy issues broadly, or a publication of an engineering professional Society.

The article started by acknowledging the concerns about nuclear power, especially post-Fukushima, but immediately balanced that by noting the environmental benefits of nuclear power.  It then noted the recent thinking in some quarters that renewable energy sources can be used to meet all our needs, but a paragraph later, countered that with facts provided by the Maryland Conservation Council (MCC), a group the author describes as certified "greenies."

Mr. Horton went on to outline their arguments:  nuclear power is mature and doesn't need the backup power from fossil fuels that renewables need, it is cheaper than windmills (per ton of CO2 emissions avoided), and it has a smaller footprint than renewables.  The author reported the MCC's conclusion that "nuclear power is our only real shot at making the rapid and massive carbon dioxide emissions needed to stabilize our changing climate and avoid disaster." 

Chesapeake Bay does not allow full access to its articles on line, but with a little Googling, I was able to find that the same article was published as an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun on May 22, 2013 under the title "Time for Greens to Embrace Nukes."

At this point, I decided to dig a bit deeper and find out what the MCC's official position was.  Despite the fact that they were quoted extensively in Tom Horton's article, I wondered if their website might take a more cautious approach.  It turns out that my skepticism was unjustified.  They have a webpage entitled, "An Energy Policy Focused on Habitat Protection" and subtitled "The Maryland Conservation Council's Position on Nuclear and Renewable Sources of Energy" that reinforces the views provided in the Horton op-ed.

Basically, the page indicates that the primary concern of the MCC in the energy debate is the environmental impact, and that on those grounds, nuclear energy is preferable to renewable energy.  Further, they conclude that nuclear power has a sound safety record and that the concerns about transportation and storage have been exaggerated.

They state 2 recommendations with respect to specific energy sources:  "Utilize solar power produced on existing structures, not on open land," and "Use nuclear power to the greatest extent technically feasible." [emphasis added]

While they do not give an unqualified endorsement to nuclear power (they believe that stabilizing the population and reducing per capita demand are the first priorities), they state conclusively that "nuclear power is the least destructive of all the alternative technologies." [emphasis added]

As is often the case for me, I find myself in disagreement with some of their positions.  I am personally a bit nervous about any policy that calls for trying to manipulate the size of the population.  Nevertheless, I am pleased to find an environmental group that has taken the trouble to analyze the true impacts of different energy sources and has come to the conclusion that nuclear power is the best of the alternatives.  And I am even more pleased that Chesapeake Bay magazine has chosen to publish Tom Horton's viewpoint.  I will definitely be renewing my subscription!



  1. Thank you for this terrific link. I thought about this on a recent hiking trip to North Carolina: Would we really want to make hydro plants out of all these beautiful waterfalls? In the name of "renewable energy is always good for you"?

    Thank you for sharing the message of an environmental group that deeply considers the natural environment.

  2. "I am personally a bit nervous about any policy that calls for trying to manipulate the size of the population."

    We could reduce the population of the United States substantially (as in, at least 10 million and likely 30 million) by (a) tightening our immigration system back to the laws and regulations of 1964, and (b) deporting the millions of illegal aliens. No scary population-control policy is required.