The New York Times has done probably the best reporting on Fukushima and its aftermath of any U.S. mainstream media outlet. This piece for example, published last week, paints a clear and disturbing picture of the ongoing disruption and stress caused by the Fukushima disaster, the subsequent evacuation, and Japan’s new efforts to encourage resettlement of some contaminated areas.
“The government and the media say the radiation has been cleaned up, but it’s all lies,” said Ms. Kim, 55, who is from South Korea, and who with her Japanese husband runs a small Korean restaurant outside Miyakoji. “I want to run away, but I cannot. We have no more money.” In that one quote, reality shows its ugly face. That quote sums up the fear, the disgust, the trauma that is Fukushima. The whole article is well worth reading.
Yesterday, however, the New York Times editorial page came up up with its opinion on nuclear power and you just have to wonder if the editorial page writers ever read their own newspaper.
Using the Chernobyl accident anniversary as its hook, along with concern that the current crisis in Ukraine could slow down efforts to install the massive new confinement cap over the ruined reactor (the subject of another recent NYT article with amazing photos, also well worth your time), and throwing in a little Fukushima on the way, the Times editorial board–in an astonishing leap of faith in a failed technology and unsupported reasoning–somehow jumps from that concern to the need to keep aging, poorly-designed reactors in the U.S. operating. Indeed, the Times simply cribs from this week’s Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) nuclear industry-dominated and sponsored press conference. GreenWorld reported on this event and provided analysis on April 25 and on Tuesday, the same day the Energy Information Administration predicted several more reactor shutdowns over the next few years.
While acknowledging the dangers of nuclear accidents (but not mentioning other nuclear problems like radioactive waste, environmental devastation from uranium mining and processing, proliferation, etc.), the Times argues that the recent ICPP report on climate change means that nuclear power must be “part of the mix” (a phrase the industry uses constantly) to reduce carbon emissions.
Then the Times buys into, while providing no backing for its position, the notion pushed by Dr. James Hansen, C2ES and other nuclear boosters that renewables just can’t do the job: “But the time when these can replace all fossil and nuclear fuels is still far off, and in the meantime nuclear energy remains an important means of generating electricity without adding to the steadily increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
In fact, as we have pointed out numerous times (for example, here), it is nuclear power that cannot ramp up fast enough to be a meaningful force in addressing climate change–even if it were an effective counter to carbon emissions, which because of its huge costs, it is not. Rather, spending enormous amounts of money on nuclear reactors that won’t and can’t be operational for a decade or more (if new “safer” designs are used, it would be much longer), simply diverts those resources from being used to further the already rapidly-growing renewables and energy efficiency industries.
Taking its final page from C2ES and the industry astroturf group Nuclear Matters, the Times editorial board warns that the shutdowns of five operating reactors last year imperils U.S. ability to meet our carbon reduction goals, even while admitting the shutdowns were caused by inability to compete with renewables and gas as well as unwillingness to spend more money to meet safety requirements. The implication is, of course, that more reactor shutdowns should be prevented.
Is that what the Times wants? Ratepayers forced to pay higher prices for electricity for overly-expensive nuclear reactors? Utilities skimping on safety repairs to keep unsafe reactors running? Those are the industry’s “solutions” to early shutdowns–and those “solutions” are not very compelling.
While the Times is correct in its very narrow statement that “the time when these can replace all fossil and nuclear fuels is still far off,” that is not the issue. All nuclear and fossil fuel plants are not going to close immediately–renewables and efficiency don’t have to do the entire job overnight; but the trend of closing them early should be welcomed. The very modest goal of a 17% reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 can be met without dangerous General Electric Fukushima-clone reactors, without high-priced nuclear power that can’t compete with wind, without aging reactors on earthquake faults near some of our nation’s largest cities, like Indian Point and Diablo Canyon.
Rather than listen to paid spokespersons from nuclear industry-sponsored organizations, the Times editorial board should take a look at what some of its own reporters are saying. Nuclear power has destroyed a portion of Japan, and the lives of the people who once lived there. It did the same in Ukraine and Belarus. It will do so again, somewhere, and will do so over and over until it is finally ended. That is the real warning of the “great shield over Chernobyl.”
May 2, 2014
A slightly different version of this post appeared on NIRS' blog GreenWorld, May 2, 2014.