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Counterpoint: ‘Clean, reliable and affordable’ power

We should learn from Fukushima, not prevent nuclear development

Sen. Jim Inhofe April 20th, 2011

In March, Japan suffered from a devastating earthquake followed thereafter by a massive tsunami. In its aftermath, the world witnessed a nuclear accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

This accident left many Oklahomans wondering: What does this accident mean for them? What is the role of nuclear energy in the U.S.? What is our response to the accident?

First, our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people. We will continue to stand with them throughout the response and provide assistance as they struggle to recover.

I agree with the Obama administration that our nuclear plants are indeed safe and that we should continue to develop new nuclear plants. Reactors built in the U.S. are robust and designed to withstand significant natural disasters, including earthquakes, tornados and hurricanes. Two operating nuclear plants in California can withstand the impacts of an earthquake greater than the one in Japan, and, closer to home, the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in southeastern Kansas can weather an EF5 tornado with over 360 mph winds. All of our reactors are constructed according to a “defense-in-depth” approach, with multiple, independent safety systems in place so that if one safety system breaks down there are several backups.

My confidence comes from what I have learned in the days and weeks following the Japanese accident.

The safety of our reactors has long been one of my top priorities. When I served as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, I learned that the committee had not held a hearing on the NRC in years, so we held several hearings each year to ensure that the agency was reaching the highest standards of safety and efficiency, and was capable of handling the workload of preparing for new nuclear plant development.

The NRC and the industry continually ask themselves, “What if…?” There is a systematic process in place to incorporate lessons learned from events worldwide to update and improve plant safety and security.

Shortly after learning of the accident, I spoke with NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko to discuss the necessary steps forward for nuclear power in the short term. A week after the accident, I had the chance to question Chairman Jaczko and the nuclear industry. I have been assured our plants are safe, and that the industry and the NRC are conducting systematic reviews of the protections currently in place. Both are working together to determine whether changes are needed.

There will certainly be lessons the industry can learn from Japan. Those lessons will no doubt help make nuclear energy safer for the American public. It is important, however, that any immediate scrutiny by the NRC should be focused on improvements that provide real safety benefits, not just red tape.

Nuclear power is a key element of our energy future: It is clean, reliable and affordable. We should learn from the accident at Fukushima, but it shouldn’t prevent us from harnessing the benefits of nuclear energy to power this great machine called America.

U.S. Sen. Inhofe, R-Okla., is a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

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04.21.2011 at 11:58 Reply

Senator, there are a number of factors why I disagree with you, the first of which is radioactive spent fuel.  You and I both know you don’t get something for nothing, and in the case of Nuclear power, the cost of all that energy is a lethal by product that we don’t even have a facility to store it in.  Right now, spent fuel is being held on site at all of our nation’s nuclear facilities in large containers called casks.  Those casks seem indestructible because of their composition, but what would happen if you had a terrorist crash a plane into them?  The fact of the matter is, this waste is stored above ground, in broad daylight.  So such a horrific thing could conceivably happen.

I also disagree with the expense of Nuclear Plants.  The average Nuclear power plant costs between 3-5 billion dollars!  An average household can purchase and install a Vertical Axis wind turbine (VAWT) with enough average output to cover there annual electric expenses and potentially feed back to the grid for approximately $50,000.  So you could buy 60,000 VAWTs for $3 billion and 100,000 VAWTs for $5 billion.  60,000 of the largest VAWTs (like those sold by running at their worst efficiency would produce approximately %50 the power output of a small nuclear reactor, and produce none of the waste or hazards.

Just consider that idea for a moment.  Doing so would cause a number if things to happen.  The first of which is massive domestic job creation, both in manufacturing and installation.  The increase in demand for these turbines should lower the cost over time, allowing even more to be bought.  So now you have this booming new industry.  You can easily get landowners to lease their land for the VAWTs by letting them draw power from it at a discounted rate.  They save money, and the excess goes back to the grid, and sold to other customers.  The same could be done for solar.  Please understand, the equipment will be owned by the utility, so the profit goes to the industry, NOT the land owner.

When one thinks about energy independence, we really do need to stop considering these focused sources of power generation.  You and I both know that power plants make attractive targets.  But if you turn every American home into a small power plant you eliminate that possibility altogether and you can eliminate the toxic waste, and completely remove the possibility of a Fukushima type of accident altogether.  In a sense this is a national security issue, as much as it is an energy policy issue.

I realize that it’s in your interest to pass legislation that so many wealthy people have a stake in.  But why is it that these powers are so focused on just one solution, and why are the consequences of that solution so bad?  They must be bad, because I don’t believe for a second that those lobbying for this energy source would want a nuclear plant erected next to their house.  There is still plenty of room for profit if that money is diverted to the production of thousands of small wind and solar installations on private properties.  In the beginning the production costs will be elevated, but as demand increases and more suppliers step up to the plate and begin producing these renewable sources, you’ll see the costs drop.  Domestic employment will increase significantly as a result of this shift.  There are so many more positives that come from this pursuit.  But it means taking the high road. 

So Senator Inhofe, are you brave enough to take the high road?  Are you brave enough to spur America’s economic future on the promise of green jobs?  Or will you take the low road?  The road littered with spent radioactive fuel, potential catastrophe and limited American employment opportunities?