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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nuclear exchange

Letter to the Providence Journal
By Will Collette

My recent letter to the Providence Journal on nuclear energy was part of a war of words over the merits of building more nuclear power plants.

My letter:

Former East Providence council member Daniel Harrington thinks that nuclear power is just the ticket for Rhode Island ("Maybe Rhode Island should go nuclear to energize economy," Jan. 22).

You would think that a guy who claims to be in the investment business would do better research before making such claims as nuclear power is "clean and plentiful" and is "hurricane-proof" and would lure high-tech companies to Rhode Island in droves.

Real world experience with nuclear power shows the opposite is true. While all major forms of energy production are heavily subsidized, nuclear power leaves fossil fuels and green-energy projects in the dust when it comes to the need for government subsidies.

The problem of what to do with tons of high-level radioactive waste - waste that stays deadly for thousands of years - has never been resolved, so nuclear-power plants store their waste on-site indefinitely. I live 20 miles directly downwind from the Millstone nuclear power plant, just west of New London. The plant intends to store nearly 4 million pounds of high-level waste on site indefinitely.

The Yankee nuclear-power plant in Haddam, Conn. (58 miles southwest of Providence), which was decommissioned in 2007, is now the permanent storage site for 1,019 spent nuclear-fuel assemblies, all of it high-level waste. The Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station in Plymouth, (40 miles east of Providence) also stores its nuclear waste (3,279 fuel assemblies) on site and there have been problems with leakage of radioactive tritium into local groundwater.

As for Harrington's "hurricane-proof" claim: During Hurricane Sandy, three nuclear- power plants had to shut down and, at two of them, there were failures of the community warning system. A recent report cites regulators' concerns that storm surge from severe storms can breech inadequate barriers and knock out back-up generators that power the cooling pumps during a weather emergency. The Fort Calhoun nuclear-power plant, in Nebraska, was flooded by river floods in 2011 and has remained closed ever since.

Worse, regulators are concerned that an unexpectedly high storm surge could breech the holding ponds where nuclear-power-plant operators keep spent nuclear-fuel rods. The recent Japanese tsunami did just that at the Fukushima power plant. When the waters receded, the fuel rods were exposed to air and exploded, spewing dangerous radiation over a 50-mile radius, and contaminating a far wider area.

During Sandy, NRC inspectors at the Millstone plant discovered that the operators lacked a way to measure the storm surge coming in from the storm and issued the operator with a citation for this safety violation.

I don't know where Harrington got his research but consider this final fact. In Japan, which was the country most dedicated to the use of nuclear power before the earthquake and tsunami hit, just announced that it plans to replace the power lost because of the catastrophe at Fukashima by building a massive wind farm. The Fukushima site itself will remained quarantined for decades to come.