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Web Letter

So Harvey Wasserman tells us to "say no to nukes in the stimulus package" because "The desperate nuclear power industry has dropped a $50 billion stealth bomb meant to irradiate the Obama stimulus package." However, I say "yes" to nuclear power plants for many reasons that are based on fact, on the experience of the industry and on my own experience working in that industry from 1970 to today.

Now, there are normally several fundamental flaws in any of Mr. Wasserman's 1970s-based anti-nuclear power writings. This commentary is no different.

1) Here, he cites the over-budget problems of Seabrook in New Hampshire, New York's Shoreham, Pennsylvania's Beaver Valley and California's Diablo Canyon, and uses the DOE study that places the overall average overruns at 207 percent. Perhaps a little history is needed here to address a few:

Construction of Diablo Canyon Power Plant in California's San Luis Obispo County was well along to completion when an earthquake fault was discovered offshore of the plant. Several years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent by Pacific Gas & Electric to retrofit the plant with upgraded seismic structures. (I worked there for more than seven years in the 1980s and 1990s, so have some knowledge of its history).

Shoreham on Long Island was a case of politics, from what I learned by reading and listening during its troubled life. I understand that a local/regional group gained enough political clout to prevent it from starting up after it was completed. What a waste.

Seabrook Station in New Hampshire, eight miles from my home in northeastern Massachusetts, was a result of the less-than-adequate size and management stength of a small utility, New Hampshire Public Service Co., to take on a project of this magnitude in the mid-1970s, and the inadequacy of the construction company to manage the project. Yes, only one of the two units was completed, but a total of more than $10 billion was spent. Yes, Mr. Wasserman was probably a part of the Clamshell Alliance that organized huge protests at the site and cut through the fence to enter and stop construction there. Hoooeee! Yes, that added some time and cost to the project, but I have to give the anti's credit: they also may have helped some utilities to learn the hard way that their attitude of "If you don't like nukes, then shut off your damn lights" was counterproductive, to say the least!

2) Another example of flawed writing is the idea that these loan guarantees are "handouts." If Wasserman could stop for a moment and think about it, he'd see that these loan guarantees are designed to provide the industry with partial cushions against sudden direction changes of policy in Washington. Visualize utilities spending the money and time to get a nuclear power plant partially constructed, only to have a change (perhaps a new law would be passed in Congress that would say "no more nukes" in this country, as was done in Germany) that causes all construction to stop. Hundreds of millions or even billions are invested with no hope of any return on that investment. Because of the long lead times and construction schedules for a "nuke," the length of time a utility is exposed to this potentially huge financial hit can be several years, and those years could bridge across the presidential terms of two political parties with differing philosophies, or perhaps none at all. Bankruptcy, anyone?

3) Mr. Wasserman writes "Only massive federal and ratepayer subsidies could bring [the nuclear industry] back, to the direct detriment of the revolution in renewables." Interesting, isn't it, that government tax benefits have been the make-or-break factor for the renewables industry since the 1970s?--of which Mr. Wasserman is one of the loudest supporters (through his Solartopia, for example), and I believe that prejudice, along with his lack of first-hand experience or knowledge of the nuclear industry, makes him one of the least authoritative negativist spokespeople.

4) I don't know of anyone who authoritatively says that the alternative/renewables energy sector can provide this country with the electricity we need in either the short or long term. Do you? What we need is a mix of energy sources, and I totally support use of photovoltaics and wind energy as part of the mix, along with nuclear power. While Mr. Wasserman uses the four abovementioned nuclear plants as his examples, they were 1970s and early-1980s examples that bear no resemblance to the exemplary safety, generation and security records of the plants since then. Check out the real story at www.nrc.gov, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's web site.

Mr. Wasserman, please bring up something new and relevant in your future posts.

Bill Darbyshire

Galien, MI

Feb 9 2009 - 12:27am