Yesterday President Obama announced federal loan guarantees of $8.3 billion to build two nuclear power plants in Georgia.
It’s about time.
The rest of the world seems to appreciate the value of nuclear power (the French get 80% of their electricity from nuclear plants) and I’ve been wondering when we’d finally get back on the bandwagon. American paranoia — perhaps induced by the release of a movie, The China Syndrome, in 1979 and the coincidental Three Mile Island accident just 12 days later — has been just that, unwarranted paranoia. The Russians’ Chernobyl disaster in 1986, a result of poor training, poor design and construction, and human error reinforced the paranoia.
I was married to a “nuke factory” engineer for three years and the experience only reinforced my belief that these power plants are safe, clean sources of power. He, like most of the other engineers, got his training in U.S. nuclear submarines. I heard every day about the safety checks, inspections, maintenance routines, design redundancies, and security. In the wake of 9/11, I heard about how the containment vessel was designed to take a direct hit from a 747.
In addition, I saw firsthand how the plants were providing virtually the only steady, secure employment in an otherwise seriously depressed and declining region.
I also happen to agree with the president in regard to nuclear waste disposal. Building a storage facility at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain would be a huge, unnecessary expense. The plants themselves are already in place and built to safely contain radiation. Why spend more money to duplicate existing facilities?
More important than cost, however, is the hazard of shipping radioactive waste across the country. Most of our nuclear plants are in the eastern half of the country; Yucca Mountain is in southwestern Nevada. To me, the idea of continually shipping nuclear waste around the country on our crumbling rail system or crowded highways is the real terror.
Existing nuclear power stations provide approximately 20% of U.S. electricity today, yet most of them are more than thirty years old. They need to be replaced, and it takes ten years or more to get a new plant on line. We need to start now.
Build new nuclear plants? Hell, yes!