I’ve never gotten terribly involved with the debate over the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant but I tend to come down against closing the plant because of some general feelings that I have about the anti-nuclear/environmental movement. To explain: I have never gotten serious answers to the following two questions from an anti-nuclear person:
a. Nuclear provides about 20% of this nation’s power. If we shut down a significant number of our nuclear plants, how will we replace the lost power?
b. How will this country fulfill its energy needs over the next half century if we curtail the use of fossil fuels and if we reduce nuclear?
Those appear to be inconvenient questions for members of the anti-nuclear/environmental movement. When I ask those questions of anti-nuclear activists they invariably change the subject to important, yet unrelated issues such as the storage of nuclear waste and the danger of nuclear accidents. Those are important questions but so are mine about supplying this country with the energy that it needs.
What we have here is a problem in the short to medium term. In the long term, unfortunately measured in decades (and several of them), renewable energy will save the day as it becomes able to produce energy in strategic volume. Sidebar: This presumes that our country’s grid is brought out of the mid-20th century so that it is able to transport renewable energy over long distances with acceptable efficiency. But I digress.
While we await the arrival of strategic amounts of renewable energy we have to keep the lights on. More than that, we need to generate the energy needed for this country to grow and to maintain a healthy economy. That’s going to be a neat trick during a time when the use of fossil fuels is being reduced to achieve Climate Change objectives.
So the question becomes...
Where is the low carbon energy that we need over the next few decades going to come from?
Interestingly, it’s possible that the only answer to that question is...
Via the expansion of nuclear energy. More use, that is, of new and safer nuclear technology.
But I won’t digress and go there at this point.
Of course, there is an important counter-argument in the case of Pilgrim: That the plant is very old and dangerous. Personally, I am not qualified to evaluate the risk of operating Pilgrim. I know what local anti-nuclear activists say, but I question their credibility. I know what Entergy says, but it is hardly objective. I know that the Nuclear Regulatory Agency has deemed the plant safe, but when has that agency ever turned down an application to operate a nuclear plant? Then there are these very important considerations:
a. While the plant has operated safely for many decades, it only takes once to turn that safety record completely around.
b. If a serious accident ever occurs at Pilgrim, Cape Cod would dry up and blow away like a tumbleweed. Who would vacation in a nuclear zone?
Let me conclude by saying this: There are valid reasons to question Pilgrim’s continued operation. But it’s hard to take the people who advocate this seriously when they refuse to address the short/medium term consequences of their position on energy supply.
While they make valid arguments regarding Pilgrim’s safety, members of the anti-nuclear/environvental movement should also consider the inconvenient question of energy supply. Without this, their credibility will suffer.