I’m not a big fan of nuclear waste. I feel I should say that up front so I don’t get a bunch of comments from those who are staunchly opposed to nuclear energy.
There is mixed news on the energy front. Today is the 40th anniversary of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant’s partial meltdown. This event caused a major backlash of public support for nuclear energy in this country. This decline in popularity was reinforced by the Chernobyl complete meltdown in 1986 which rendered the surrounding area unsafe essentially forever and caused a plague of cancers and birth defects still seen today. NPR ran a story this morning about the eminent closure of the Three Mile Island plant. The partial meltdown released small amounts of radiation to the atmosphere, double a person’s normal dose of radiation for a day (yes, we are bombarded by radiation all the time! From space, from the ground, from things of our own making like cell phones…). That release of radiation was nowhere close to the scale of Chernobyl and research has not found any adverse health correlations. On the plus side, the partial meltdown on March 28, 1979 led to stringent safety measures and system of checks for nuclear energy plants.
To reiterate, I’m not a big fan of nuclear waste (I don’t think we have the capacity as a species to keep it safe forever, but that’s a whole other post...some day, maybe). I am also not a fan of nuclear meltdowns. I am, however, a fan of energy production that does not release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If we start to shut down all of our nuclear energy plants the likely successor for electricity production is natural gas. In my opinion, we should not shut down nuclear plants until we have wind and solar in place to fill those energy needs. Closing existing nuclear plants and replacing them with fossil fuel burning plants will be a major leap backward in the fight to slow the warming of our planet. My two cents.
That being said, I was happy to see a report released last week with the news that the US has doubled renewable energy electricity generation over the past decade. More good news: CNN reported that the cost of wind and solar is dropping so rapidly that coal will likely be outcompeted in many markets in the next decade. I think this is really the key point. Once it becomes cheaper to produce and buy wind and solar, fossil fuels should (according to the rules of capitalism and the free market) get phased out by the market. Unfortunately we can’t rely on (most) people to just do the right thing. They have to be motivated and it has to benefit them. It all comes down to money in the end.
On a related note, last week I e-mailed all my town Selectmen/people to encourage them to increase require our town electricity provider to increase the renewable energy content to 10% from 5%. I was pleased to get a response from one of the Selectwomen who thanked me for offering specific suggestions (I recommended increasing to 10% and then each year increasing that by 1-2%, following the model set by the Massachusetts legislature with their Renewable and Alternative Energy Standard programs.). It was nice to get a "real" response. This is so different from the canned or nonexistent responses from senators and representatives, both state and federal level. Little digression story here. A few weeks ago I e-mailed a senator to vote for some legislation and I received a three page e-mail that detailed policy on something completely unrelated. Obviously a copy/paste/send job by an intern. Anyways, the personal response from my town selectwomen really made the motto "think global, act local" hit home. So I encourage you to get involved locally. You could make a difference in policy, especially if you encourage your neighbors to speak up too.