Wednesday, 05 December 2012 00:00
By H Patricia Hynes, Truthout | Op-Ed
“In a climate-disrupted world, nuclear power plants are not reliable partners.”
David Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service to InsideClimate News
A torrent of editorial comment about climate silence followed in the path of the powerful hybrid storm Sandy - a silence that pervaded the presidential and vice presidential campaign debates and that stubbornly persisted during and since this complexly dangerous storm. The 2012 debates were the only ones since the 1988 debates to omit any reference to climate change.
Climate silence in the debates was matched by editorial silence about President Obama’s and his challenger Mitt Romney’s mutually steadfast support for nuclear power. A grievous omission given the unprecedented risks this mammoth storm (and earlier extreme climate events in 2012) posed to nuclear plants.
More than a dozen nuclear power plants stood in the mega-storm Sandy’s path, some having reactors with the same flawed GE Mark 1 design that failed at Fukushima. The Oyster Creek, New Jersey, nuclear plant was put on alert when flood water overwhelmed four of six massive pumps, thus jeopardizing the cooling system for its spent fuel rods, a potential radioactive catastrophe. Three other reactors went into automatic shutdown because of grid and offsite power issues caused by the storm. These shutdown events, called scrams, induce premature “wear and tear aging reactors can ill afford.”
While silent on climate change, both President Obama and Republican contender Romney reserved a sizable niche in their energy independence portfolio for nuclear power. And both tout nuclear power as “clean” - code for no global warming emissions; “safe” - that is, safely managed and regulated; and “reliable” - meaning steady energy output. Nonetheless, the nuclear emperor has no clothes.
March 2011’s meltdown and explosions in three Fukushima nuclear reactors triggered a sea change in much of the world’s faith in nuclear power. The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012 graphically conveys an industry reeling and in decline from the multiple impacts of world recession, the Fukushima disaster, and immense competition from renewable energy development and natural gas, with costs growing and credit ratings and share prices plummeting. Nineteen reactors were shut down in 2011 while only seven came on line. Five industrial countries announced phase-outs of their nuclear power plants: Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Japan . At least five countries that planned for nuclear power have delayed or suspended plans: Egypt, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait and Thailand. Australia is the latest country to opt out of a nuclear energy future. China and other countries have delayed new construction starts. This is merely a partial portrait of the industry in free-fall.