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Nuclear factors into the energy equation


http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/opinion/commentary/1020986-474/nuclear-factors-into-the-energy-equation.html Sunday, November 10, 2013 By HOWARD SCHAFFER Much has been made of the recent decision to decommission the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Some have strategically seized upon it by ascribing inaccurate reasons to the decision in order to ripen it into an asset for their own battles. Thinking people should be cautious here. The true source of the decision – the plant owner and operator – made it clear that the plant closure was driven by market forces, including “sustained low power prices, high cost structure and wholesale electricity market design flaws.” Fair enough. But the impact will be significant. Vermont Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, called the closing “a devastating blow to the plant’s 600-plus employees, their families and the Windham County economy.” School boards, teachers and parents soon will recognize the millions of lost dollars that have continuously supported local schools. The percentage of America’s electricity generated from zero-emission sources will decline. Although honest brokers must respect uncontrollable market forces, we need to be careful about false conclusions and avoid misperceptions that can have unintended consequences. We must be cautious about the political grandstanding and celebrations by anti-nuclear activists. Their monolithic, emotionally-driven focus on a social cause had little or nothing to do with the decision. They are like a rooster taking credit for the sunrise. Their animation will, however, likely be heightened. The negative consequences to our environment and our economy would be harmful if additional plants were to shut down. A case in point is Seabrook Station in New Hampshire. Those of us who have been watching this plant from its beginning know that every prediction made by the anti-nuclear activists during its construction turned out to be false – including the elements of their scare-tactic campaign complete with a parade-of-horribles ranging from doomsday scenarios about safety to security. They were wrong. They failed. Their made-for-Hollywood theories were debunked by 24 years of successful, safe plant operation. Cooler heads prevailed … and this should continue. For almost a quarter century now, the Seabrook plant has safely produced enough electricity for 1,400,000 homes. It sustains more than 700 high-paying, full-time jobs, contributing $100 million in annual salaries to families and our economy, while producing over $20 million in annual taxes. Despite the decibel level of activists, one dampening trend is the growing body of environmentalists who recognize the necessity of nuclear power for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Remember, nuclear energy constitutes 70 percent of America’s emission-free electricity. It is the one source of high-capacity, continuously-available, “base-load” electricity that does not emit any carbon into our air and atmosphere. Nuclear energy has historically been the most cost-effective source of electricity, largely because its fuel costs and operating costs are so low. It is true, however, that recent low prices for newly discovered natural gas supplies have temporarily placed a squeeze on nuclear energy. But all of us in New England who care about our environment and the cleanliness of the air we breathe need to steadfastly preserve the benefits of Seabrook Station. Energy demand will continue to rise in our region. Natural gas prices will continue to fluctuate dramatically. And the number of us who want zero-emission nuclear power plants will continue to grow. Howard Shaffer is a licensed professional nuclear engineer who holds a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from MIT and has worked at many commercial nuclear power plants as a startup engineer and systems specialist, including Seabrook and Vermont Yankee. He lives in Enfield, N.H.

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