WSJ blog asks, Who’s the radical?

by Mike Gaworecki

April 29, 2009

We’ve been saying all along that nukes are not the answer to global warming: they’re too expensive, too risky, and new reactors take far too long to bring online. We need a clean energy economy now, not 10 years from now. Our Energy [R]evolution report shows how we can meet our growing energy needs and help rebuild our economy entirely without building new nuclear energy plants (or new coal-fired plants either, for that matter).

According to a Wall Street Journal blog post, it turns out the new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) agrees with us:

FERC Chairman: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Nukes

Forget everything you’ve heard from people like energy secretary Steven Chu and Exxon boss Rex Tillerson about the need for a mix of energy sources this century. The U.S. doesn’t need any new nuclear or coal-fired plants. It can do the job with just renewable energy and natural gas.

Yes, that is Greenpeace’s energy blueprint. It’s also the line of Jon Wellinghoff, the new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the nominal head of the U.S. power system.

Speaking at a conference yesterday, Mr. Wellinghoff said the U.S. can make do without new nuclear or coal plants, Green Wire reports: “We may not need any, ever,” he said.

And yesterday the WSJ had another blog post up pointing out the similarities between our stance on coal and nukes and Mr. Wellinghoff’s. Yesterday, you might recall, was also our new boss’s first day on the job. Phil Radford spent the first half of his first day on a 140-foot construction crane helping to hang a banner across the street from the Major Economies Forum at the State Department, and the second half in jail for his part in this daring non-violent action. The WSJ blogger, Russel Gold, after first pointing out that both Radford and Wellinghoff oppose nuclear and coal, proceeds to ask, Who is the real radical: “The guy inside the political power corridors – or the one dangling from a crane above them?”

Now, given that he’s writing for the Wall Street Journal, I have a feeling Russel Gold is probably trying to undermine the credibility of Jon Wellinghoff, not demonstrate how our position on global warming solutions – which were once very much on the fringe, especially when we started working on the issue in the 90s – have become mainstream.

Of course the answer to Gold’s question is: neither! They’re both realists. There’s nothing radical about opposing nuclear power: at $12 to $18 billion per plant, even MidAmerican Holdings, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (Buffett, if you’re not familiar, is one of the world’s most successful investors, known as the “Oracle of Omaha” for his investing acumen), withdrew plans to build a new nuclear power plant because it was not economically viable (citation available in this PDF).

And Congressman Ed Markey has even said that, “by the time we reach the switch being pulled for the first nuclear power plant to be generating their first 1,000 megawatts we will probably have 150,000 megawatts of renewables 10 years from now.” Here’s hoping we do have that much renewable energy capacity by then, because if not, we will have failed to avert the worst effects of global warming.

Every one of those $12 to $18 billion we spend on a new nuclear plant is a dollar we don’t spend developing renewable energy generating capacity, or the smart grid needed to get that energy to the marketplace. These technologies are ready to start producing energy now, not 10 years from now. What’s so radical about wanting to implement a solution that will actually solve the worst environmental crisis of our time, rather than throwing money away on false solutions?

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