Some exciting news from north of the border (and driving distance from me): Quebec shut down its only nuclear power plant, the 675-megawatt Gentilly 2, yesterday. Quebec now joins Germany and Italy, among other places that have abandoned nuclear power.
I’m not familiar with this particular plant, but according to the article, it’s had a history of troubles.
What’s especially interesting is that this plant’s license was very recently renewed.
As someone who’s been using what influence I have to help shut down Vermont Yankee, whose license was renewed by the federal government in violation of both Vermont state law and the earlier promises of plant owner Entergy, this gives me hope. Vermont Yankee has been operating illegally since March 2012, and immorally and unsafely since Vermont Yankee first opened in the 1970s.
Sooner or later, as a society, we will figure out that not only don’t we need nuclear, but relying on nuclear power poses huge risks—not just the catastrophic failures like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, but in routine operation. There are risks to our health, from radiation releases…risks to our freedom, because of the security apparatus necessary to protect not just the plants themselves but the entire infrastructure at every step along the very complex path to splitting atoms—starting with mining the uranium and continuing through the milling, processing into fuel rods, transportation across great distances, use in the reactor, and then storing the waste for tens of thousands of years—and risks of putting so much trust in a few large generating stations and being unprepared to cover their absence when they suddenly go off-line. And don’t even get me started on the economic consequences of nuclear power.
Oh, and if you believe the nuclear power industry’s propaganda that nuclear is a “green” technology because the actual moment of splitting atoms doesn’t produce greenhouse gases—think about the carbon footprint AND the energy cost of all those other steps in the process.
The good news: we already have all the know-how to get rid of nuclear and phase out fossil fuels. Clean and renewable energy alternatives exist, and their technology is improving all the time. By designing intelligently to lower demand, and switching to sources like solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, even magnetic and tidal energy, we could maintain and improve our quality of life, reduce greenhouse gases, have more money in our pockets, etc., etc. A good place to start exploring is the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Reinventing Fire page, which shows how countries like Denmark have boldly embraced a safe energy future, and how we could too. Yeah it’s a bit technical—if you want something easier, try this infographic about the potential for renewable energy in the US (note that this chart includes biofuels, some of which are not necessarily clean).
My own view:
- The greatest potential for energy is in designing and retrofitting for conservation and in changing our use paterns; in the US, we could easily slash energy consumption 50 percent, and with a deeper effort, 80 percent or more. After all, northern European countries like Germany and Denmark use half the US’s per capita energy and achieve comparable lifestyle quality.
- The clean renewables like solar, wind, and geothermal supply far more energy than we use; we just have to capture it efficiently.
- It makes the most sense to capture that energy in small systems close to where the power will be used, rather than building huge centralized, environmentally risky solar and wind farms and then wasting a huge percentage of the energy in transmission losses.
- We have the technology. We just need the will. Let’s do it.