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America needs nuclear energy

  • Jul 27, 2022
The Herald-Palladium

On May 20 at approximately 4:05 p.m., I received the following text message from a family member who works at Palisades Nuclear Power Plant: "They just tripped the reactor for the last time."

In my mind the deep bass and refrain of that old song by Queen, "Another One Bites the Dust." was playing. Eight-hundred megawatts of reliable clean carbon-free energy had been removed from the grid primarily due to the economics of producing that power. When climate friendly energy is needed more than ever to supply power to the utopian carbon-free world, nuclear plants are closing. Having worked at Cook nuclear for 11 years, it was a bittersweet feeling.

In the past decade, over 6,000 megawatts, including the 800 megawatts from Palisades, of nuclear power has been removed as an energy source in the United States. In the next three years Diablo Canyon Units 1 and 2 in California are due to be decommissioned. However, a bright spot on the horizon is that in the same time period, Vogtle 3 and 4 located in Georgia, are due to be commissioned. Both plants have approximately the same megawatt outputs, so nuclear should maintain its current 20 percent of the energy source. Wind currently makes up over 9 percent and solar 3 percent of the mix.

While there is little doubt that wind and solar will be the winners in the current energy source race, as the old saying goes "the wind don't always blow and the sun don't always shine." So, storage technology needs to improve, as well as needed improvements to the electric grid. Personally, I'm a big solar power fan. Not only are you able to use solar power from a commercial supplier, you can have your own residential power plant.

The weak link in the power picture is the electrical grid. And the electric grid needs a constant, steady source of power to function properly in its current infrastructure. So, if not dirty coal or petroleum products that are being blamed for climate change, what would be the best energy source available? Nuclear power.

Nuclear power. Clean, reliable, climate friendly. For years this energy source has been disparaged by sections of the population including politicians, mainly those on the left, or people who think the movie "The China Syndrome" was a documentary and the misinformed fearmongering of the dangers of nuclear power. In the almost 80 years of commercial nuclear operation there has been only one nuclear power incident in America, and that, of course, was Three Mile Island. And yet at TMI there was no melting fuel burning through the earths crust to China.

There was no increase in exposure of radiation to plant personnel or the general public around the site. In those same 80 years there have not been any reliable studies that have proven any increased cases of cancer or any other radiation related medical conditions to the general public or plant personnel associated with any commercial nuclear power plants in the United States. No one has yet posted a photo of a three headed cat running around a nuclear plant.

"But wait, there's more!" as the man in the OxiClean commercial states. What about that nasty issue of where to store all the spent nuclear fuel? It does have that very, very long half-life does it not? Well at one time we did have a very viable place called Yucca Mountain where it was to be stored. However, after 15 years and $9 billion to the state of Nevada, President Obama fulfilled a campaign promise to his political mentor Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and cut funding to the project, effectively killing it. The people of Nevada enjoyed an influx of government money for those 15 years and the nuclear industry had nothing to show for it. We are still looking for a place to permanently store all that nuclear waste.

How ironic after all the effort by politicians over the years to stymie nuclear power, that six months before the Palisades plant closes, the light comes on in Michigan, California and Washington, D.C., that nuclear doesn't look so bad. Now citizens and business groups write letters to politicians begging them to fund reopening plants. Our president, who wouldn't commit to support of nuclear power as a way to fight climate change during his presidential campaign, can now find $6 billion to keep plants open. By the way, $6 billion in the nuclear energy world is pocket change. It's all too little, too late.

Palisades was doomed to closure when it was cheaper to provide power with gas and coal plants than nuclear. It was certain to happen when new fuel wasn't ordered after the last scheduled outage, when job transfers and retention bonuses were offered. And now that the reactors been tripped and the breakers opened, I don't see it ever generating another megawatt of power again.

I'm a little biased toward nuclear power. A transfer to Cook plant from central Ohio in 1999 is what brought our family to Stevensville on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan. Cook Plant was my source of support for my family for over 11 years. What really irritates me is the shouting and misinformation that is so predominant today. When level-headed folks can't get together to come up with a well-planned, workable solution to address both the country's energy needs and the climate crisis simultaneously there are dark days ahead.

Mike Ford is a retired engineer who was transferred by AEP from central Ohio to the Cook nuclear power plant in 1999. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Lincoln Township with their energetic yellow lab, Polley Hamilton.

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