Not Your Father’s Nuclear Power

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[Op-Ed: On Energy]

“But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.” – President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 27, 2010.

Among talk of jobs, TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), bank bailouts, health care reform, two wars and repealing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" – President Obama called for the expansion of nuclear power.

This is a call the clean energy community has been sounding for years, and one an ever-increasing number in the environmental community is rallying around. 

In his State of the Union address, President Obama reached the same conclusion many reputable environmental organizations, community groups, religious institutions and elected officials have; that nuclear power is one of the cleanest forms of reliable energy. Not only is nuclear power a greenhouse gas-free, but it also supplies energy around the clock, not only when the sun shines or the wind blows. 

Here in New York, a line of thought is that turning off the lights on the Indian Point Energy Center, whose licenses expire in 2013 and 2015, can be replaced by renewable sources like wind, solar and hydro-power. Although there is room for these clean sources, the fate of communities of color, small businesses and neighborhoods overrun with high asthma rates and an abundance of dirty air power plants, relies upon sources that do not emit the dangerous greenhouse gases that contribute to growing asthma rates in New York’s minority communities.

Those who say that New York City, with our growing population can be powered reliably with wind, solar and hydropower power are ambitious, but their plan falls short. In 2008, an official with the American Wind Energy Association stated: “There are good wind resources in the Northeast, including New York. But there is just not enough space to build on the scale of the wind energy projects like Texas.”  Vincent Cozzolino, the CEO of New York’s Solar Energy Consortium, an organization committed to attracting solar energy companies to New York, said: “You can put all of the solar mirrors you want to in the desert, like they do in California. But where are you going to put something like that in New York?”

There are those who recklessly advocate for discontinuing the use of nuclear power in New York without concern for the  the consequences. These harmful voices can be heard not only in New York but nationwide; and they are not aligned with our President’s mission.  These are the same people who feel that Three Mile Island happened yesterday and advances in technology, medical science, and agriculture never occurred.

Back in the 1970’s our cars had 8-track players, our televisions were equipped with rabbit ears and the New York Mets stunk. Today, cars have GPS, radio signals come from satellites and hundreds of channels are beamed into our homes. OK, the Mets are still terrible, but the fact remains, innovation, ingenuity and progress are traits woven into the fabric of America. To think that this change hasn’t occurred within the nuclear power industry is to deny the very essence of our country.

New Yorkers collectively spend about $13.4 billion on energy, which is responsible for roughly 80% of local global-warming emissions and more than 40% of all locally generated air pollution. Our state already has the second highest energy prices in the nation, and asthma rates in minority neighborhoods like Harlem, Crown Heights and the South Bronx far outpace the rest of the nation. With rising electricity prices and adverse health problems affecting countless minority children and seniors, the time has come to embrace nuclear power. As our President asked in his State of the Union address: “How long should we wait?

Craig Wilson is the Executive Director of Safe, Healthy, Affordable and Reliable Energy, an organization committed to ensuring clean and affordable power.


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