Friday, August 5, 2011

Nuclear power’s still our best energy option


A guest opinion by Beatrice Brailsford in the July 6 issue, titled "Tell nuke regulators: Not with our money," substitutes scare-mongering propaganda for facts.

First of all, dismiss the rhetoric that Brailsford mentioned from some representatives of European countries that they are forsaking nuclear power. Such regurgitations are merely PR nonsense to temporarily allay fears in their country's citizens until something else comes up for the citizens to worry about. In 2001, I was in Sweden for quite some time, and often heard about a 20-year-old plan to shut down Sweden's nuclear plants for alleged environmental concerns. In 2009, Sweden realized the inescapable and simple fact that nuclear plants degrade the environment less than the other large-scale energy sources like carbon-burning plants or hydroelectric dams. Today, Sweden's nuclear plants still reliably provide vast amounts of clean, safe electricity, and there are no more silly plans for shutdown.

If the Snake River Alliance, the organization with which Brailsford is connected, is still truly an environmentally concerned organization, as it once used to hint it was, it should be advocating nuclear power, not opposing it! Ms. Brailsford's recent opinion piece, which opposed the Areva uranium enrichment facility, was an overlong hodgepodge of suppositions and insupportable conjectures. Her initial untruth was to refer to the Areva project as a "bailout." Note that a commercial loan agreed to by all parties, with the loanee a multinational corporation with impeccable financial credentials, is not a bailout. Calling it a "bailout" is the first of many fabrications in her antinuclear diatribe, and I will address a few of the most grievous ones.

Her antinuclear rant counted heavily on the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami at the Fukishima power station. My source for the following observations is via a now-retired engineer who worked at Fukishima for many years. General Electric was, in fact, the designer of the Fukishima nuclear reactors, all which worked flawlessly, as designed. However, note that the overall design of the Fukishima power station was Tokyo Electric Power Co. It was solely responsible for the selecting improper and inadequate location of the backup emergency power diesels. TEPCO was responsible, too, for the related emergency electrical distribution system that proved vulnerable to the tsunami surge. If the nickel-nursing Japanese government nuclear bureaucrats and the TEPCO bean counters had spent the appropriate money to properly install and protect the emergency power diesel systems, no spent fuel basins would have overheated and no reactor would have suffered meltdown. There would have been no release of radioactivity to the environment, and no brave reactor operators risking their lives trying to avert catastrophe.

By the same logic, building a much higher seawall would have also done a better job of protecting the plants; the suggestions of some engineers for initially building a higher (and more expensive) seawall were allegedly ignored by TEPCO.

Fortunately, here in the U.S., with extremely well-designed nuclear plants, facilities that are carefully designed and built, more responsible utility executives and oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the increased use of nuclear power will continue and the fallacious bleating of the anti-nuke fear-mongers will continue to be ignored as irrelevant. Areva will build an enrichment plant in Idaho, and it will provide fuel to even more nuclear plants.

Marty Huebner is a resident of Sun Valley.

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