To the Editor:
Peggy Saphire's recent op ed contains an error that should be corrected.
Bill McKibben does not endorse nuclear power as a solution to global warming.
In his book The End Of Nature published in 1989 he was (contrary to the impression given in the passage quoted by Saphire) ambiguous about nuclear power. In his book Eaarth published in 2010 (before Fukushima) he seemed to reluctantly but firmly make the case against nuclear power. Since then he has made clear that he does not endorse nuclear power as a solution to global warming. His main argument is that it is too expensive. After his recent talk before the Vermont legislature he was specifically and publicly criticized for declining to embrace nuclear power.
Briefly, there are at least six good reasons why nuclear power cannot solve the global warming crises:
1. It would take 1500-2000 new nuclear reactors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. There is zero chance of doing this - under any scenario - by mid-century. Most climate scientists say we have less than 10 years to turn things around.
2. The nuclear industry loves to tell you that nuclear power is carbon free. That is definitely not true. It's less than coal or gas but more than wind or solar. It's the mining and enrichment of the uranium fuel that creates much of nuclear's carbon footprint.
3. A warming climate makes it more difficult to cool a nuclear plant by increasing the temperature of the water used to cool the plants. Already there have been a number of instances world wide when nuclear plants were either shut down or powered down for this reason during a heat wave.
4. A warming climate makes it more likely that nuclear plants will be shut down due to flooding along the rivers where many are located. This has already occurred in the US.
5. A warming climate makes it more likely that drought and low cooling water levels will cause the shut down of nuclear plants.
6. A warming climate makes it more likely that severe weather events will cause nuclear plants to shut down. For example, super storm Sandy caused several nuclear plants to shut down or power down. Last week's snow storm caused the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Massachusetts to shut down.
And then there's all the usual anti-nuclear arguments like nuclear waste, accidents, radiation leaks, etc... . and the fact that the nuclear waste for many nuclear plants (like Vermont Yankee) is a sitting duck for terrorists conveniently positioned seven stories above ground with very little protection ready to cause the worst man made catastrophe in the history of the world worse than Fukushima because there's more nuclear waste stored in Vermont Yankee and I'm sure the good people who work at Vermont Yankee are working very hard to make sure nothing happens I mean really how likely is it that some lunatic would intentionally fly an airplane into a building!? so there's no need to talk about this and just refer to items 1 through 6 ... supra.
Attempting to use nuclear power to solve global warming would be a mistake we cannot afford. It would be like taking the wrong exit on the freeway on your way to the emergency room.