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How to Increase America's Dependence on Foreign Energy
Seven nuclear power facilities in South Carolina have had their operating licences renewed so that they can continue generating electricity until at least the 2030s. The license renewals would seem to be good news for everyone ranging from citizens interested in improving America's energy security to environmentalists concerned about dammed rivers and the combustion of fossil fuels.

However, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a relatively small but influential environmental watchdog, has tried to douse any optimism from the license renewals. EWG recently released a study stating that the renewed licenses would result in long-term storage of spent fuel at the nuclear generating facilities. One of the study's co-authors stated that, "We found that, even if Yucca Mountain opens up on time, we will be storing nuclear waste in our local communities for years to come."

Winston would think that if EWG is concerned about spent nuclear fuel storage at power plants, they would be working to get Yucca Mountain opened as quickly as possible. Oddly, this is not the case. Instead, EWG is engaged in a project to create a website "that allows people to learn how close nuclear waste might pass by their neighborhoods and schools..." [emphasis added] if it were shipped to Yucca Mountain. Unfortunately, fear-mongering is not a substitute for safe storage of spent nuclear fuel.

The sub-title of the EWG study, "We Can't Solve America's Nuclear Waste Problem if We Keep Making More," highlights EWG's real goal ending nuclear power generation. EWG does discuss their preferred alternatives to nuclear power, such as "natural gas and cleaner coal, and ultimately... renewable energies such as solar and wind combined with a serious commitment to energy efficiency."

Winston is pleased to see domestic energy sources on EWG's list of favored energy options. However, he does not see any data supporting EWG's contention that if "these alternatives were subsidized at amounts equal to the subsidies granted the nuclear industry, there is no doubt that a transition to a nuclear-free future could be achieved over the next 20 years." Furthermore, Winston sees no evidence that the listed energy sources are inherently more environmentally-friendly than nuclear power.

Recent news stories concerning the deaths of thousands of birds and bats from wind turbines illustrates that even wind power can have serous environmental consequences. A senior official with the Bat Conservation International was quoted as stating, "Take the most conservative estimates of mortality and multiply them out by the number of turbines planned and you get very large, probably unsustainable kill rates."

Ultimately, any serous strategy for reducing America's dependence on foreign energy sources and protecting the environment is going to include nuclear power. A spokesman for a nuclear plant in South Carolina explained that the industry has an outstanding storage safety record and that the federal license renewal process was rigorous and lasted several years. The spokesman said South Carolina noted that "nuclear power is one of the most efficient sources of electric generation."

Winston thinks that, should they choose to do so, EWG could make a positive contribution to America's energy policies. However, just saying no to nuclear energy while offering unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky alternatives benefits neither the environment nor America's energy security.

  • Click to news article about license renewals.
  • Click to read news article about bat deaths.
  • Click to read EWG study.
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