Phase Out Nuclear Power

by Jim Riccio

April 23, 2012

The Washington Post chose Earth day to pose the question: Can the world fight global warming without nuclear power? In fact, we can do just that, as Greenpeace's Energy Revolution scenario has shown. Let's keep the nuclear reactors on the drawing board; they dont meltdown there, like they do in real life. Borrowing a line from the nuclear industry, the Post argues that nuclear is the only source of low carbon baseload electricity and thus necessary. Greenpeace disagrees. Nuclear power is a dangerous distraction from real climate solutions and Greenpeace long ago plotted out an energy path that precludes the Posts supposed need for nuclear plants. In fact by ramping up renewable energy and energy efficiency, we can meet our energy demands and climate goals, while phasing out nuclear reactors and shutting down coal plants. Greenpeace is not alone in this view. The head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Jon Wellinghoff argued in 2009 that we may not need new nuclear or coal plants. Wellinghoff explained to the New York Times that, It's like people saying we need more computing power, we need mainframes. We don't need mainframes, we have distributed computing." Greenpeace agrees, we don't need anymore nuclear or coal plants when we have safer and more affordable alternatives we can bring on line. In fact, it's already happening. Last year alone, in a down economy the US installed nearly seven gigawatts of new wind power. The U.S. nuclear industry will not produce that amount of electricity from a new nuclear plant for a decade or more. The Post questions the shutdown of reactors in Japan and the phase out of old nuclear reactors in Germany after the triple meltdowns at Fukushima. But contrary to the Posts fears, Germany has met its climate targets for greenhouse gas emissions and can continue to so long as the phased out nuclear reactors are not replaced by coal. In fact, with a nuclear phase out by 2015, greenhouse gases could be reduced to 46% below 1990 levels. While Japan too could meet its climate goals, the Post argues that Japan could further reduce emissions if it restarted its nuclear plants. But Japans situation is not a phase out,its a total nuclear shutdown precipitated by the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. The Post claims that even though the triple meltdown at Fukushima was scary it wasnt catastrophic. It's an extraordinary claimconsidering the fact that a year after the disaster the meltdowns are still not under control and the molten radioactive cores of three reactors are not yet contained. Perhaps the Post opinion writers should visit the 12 mile exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant and explain to those whose children were contaminated and who will never return to their homes that the meltdowns werent catastrophic. Rather than questioning the Japanese shutdown and German nuclear phase out, the Washington Post should be grilling the nuclear industry and its regulators questioning why dozens of Fukushima like reactors are STILL allowed to operate in the U.S. despite known design flaws. Instead, the Post continues to be an apologist for a deadly and dangerous industry that we and the world are better off without.
Jim Riccio

By Jim Riccio

Jim Riccio served as Greenpeace’s Nuclear Policy Analyst from 2001 to 2017 and has over two decades of nuclear activist experience. He has been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe, and has appeared on ABC News, NBC News, Al Jazeera, CNN, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel.

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