My Livelihood, but Not My Backyard!
I am beginning to see more and more instances of NIMBYism (NIMBY = Not in My Backyard). It's an observation I made before, but once again, what I am seeing is not limited to nuclear power. Far from it. Some of the recent objections, in fact, make it clear that the concerns aren't even necessarily about safety and clean air.
The most recent instances that have popped up in my news sources are particularly interesting, as one involves Japan, where much of the population now opposes nuclear power, and another comes from Texas and has a very interesting twist.
Someone brought to my attention an article in a Japanese newspaper saying that the local population in an area targeted for the installation of a solar power plant is objecting on the grounds that this is a resort area and the plant will "wreck the scenery." The article discusses how the local government is trying to derail the plan, and also mentions other places in Japan where the local population is objecting to planned solar installations. This, despite the fact that much of the Japanese population is against the restart of the nuclear power plants and believes that renewable energy sources can be built to replace the lost power.
This concern by the local population mirrors a similar situation in California a couple of months ago, where the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power plans to put 1 million photovoltaic panels on land they own a few miles from the infamous World War II Manzanar Japanese-American internment camp. Japanese-American organizations and National Park Service officials have expressed concern that the installation will compromise the isolated nature of the site, which is part of the understanding of the experience of the internees that they are trying to convey.
The most interesting news item, however, was the one from Texas, where the residents of a very upscale neighborhood of multimillion dollar ranches are suing to block the construction of a water tower, to be used in part for hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") near their neighborhood. The tower, the lawsuit claims, "will create a constant and unbearable nuisance to those that live next to it" due to noise and traffic hazards. What makes the suit newsworthy is the fact that one party to the suit is Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corporation and a "zealous advocate of the US shale boom" and the use of fracking!
While some of the details of the positions of the various protagonists are unclear to me (he already lives near some oil and gas wells and he claims not to object to the use of the tower for fracking operations), the fact that he is a party to the lawsuit is certainly sending a mixed message.
And these are not the only stories that have come to light of local residents objecting to new installations in their areas, even if they are in favor of the technologies and want to see them installed--somewhere else. I still recall the fight a few years ago over the plans for a offshore wind farm opposite the Kennedy compound in Cape Cod.
I fully realize the importance of keeping some unspoiled land, the value of preserving important parts of our historical heritage (both positive and negative), and I even understand the expectation that people who buy expensive properties have that they have a "right" to preserve what they bought. I also understand the rights of the poor not to have all the negative parts of our infrastructure dumped on them, and of those in heavily populated areas not to have infrastructure further encroach on their limited space.
But despite all of this, everyone wants electricity on demand, 24/7 and in whatever quantities they want, and they want it at a reasonable price. So I find myself very frustrated.
Japan is a small, mountainous country with a high population density and a long history, so siting almost anything is bound to impact views, interfere with recreational activities, or be near populated or historical areas. The places that have the most land available for solar or other space-intensive activities are just the places that we would like to see preserved, whether for their beauty or for their history or for the wildlife they harbor.
I sometimes wonder if all these NIMBY objections will ultimately point to an advantage of nuclear power. Nuclear power plants require far less space than renewable power plants, and many of the advanced plants and smaller plants being contemplated today, in addition to being more passively safe, can be constructed partially or completely underground, thus further reducing their impact on the scenery.
Perhaps that is too much to hope for, but in the long run, it would be very good if people begin to realize that nothing is "free," and that we need to balance a lot of conflicting interests and requirements to develop appropriate solutions to meet our energy needs.