Eco-Pragmatism Takes Root at NYT Editorial Page

By Keith Kloor | May 2, 2014 1:44 pm

This is notable:

The dangers of nuclear power are real, but the accidents that have occurred, even Chernobyl, do not compare to the damage to the earth being inflicted by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, gas and oil.

That’s from an editorial in today’s New York Times, which will make for uncomfortable reading for environmental organizations still very much opposed to nuclear power. One of those is the Riverkeeper, a respected New York based group that keeps watch over the Hudson River. One of their big campaigns is to close Indian Point, a 40-year old nuclear power plant that sits on the Hudson shoreline, about 30 miles from Manhattan. Indian point supplies approximately 25 percent of the electricity used in New York City and surrounding suburbs.

Can all that juice be replaced by renewable energy and efficiency gains, as the Riverkeeper and others contend? Highly debatable, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t close Indian Point. New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo said in 2011:

There is no doubt that we need replacement power if we are to close Indian Point. There is also no doubt that we can find it.

Sure, if you throw in natural gas as part of the energy replacement equation. Ah, but that would involve fracking, which is not happening in New York anytime soon. Of course, this doesn’t mean New Yorkers can’t still benefit from cheap fracked natural gas piped in from other states.

As a New York Times columnist observed several years ago about the battle over Indian Point’s future:

We don’t want gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. We don’t want windmills off Cape Cod. We don’t want anything to do with coal or with a liquefied natural gas project like Broadwater in the Long Island Sound, but we want our infinite genie of infinite energy.

In the age of climate change, we can’t afford this kind of BANANA behavior, even when it comes to aging nuclear reactors, today’s New York Times editorial argues: After all, the time when clean energy “can replace all fossil and nuclear fuels is still far off, and in the meantime nuclear energy remains an important means of generating electricity without adding to the steadily increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

In these kinds of contentious debates, especially the climate one, few people like to talk about the tradeoffs. (Those that do are often called sell-outs or phony greens by the purists.) It’s much easier to keep the focus on villainous climate deniers and merchants of doubt.

But that is “a dangerous game to play,” George Marshall warned last year:

Climate change will never win with enemy narratives. Once unleashed, they take on a life of their own and come back to bite us, and we will find ourselves written in to replace our chosen enemies. As climate impacts intensify there will be a lot of confusion, blame and anger looking for a target, and enemy narratives provide the frame for scapegoats.

The best chance for climate change to beat enemy narratives is to refuse to play this partisan game at all. We are all responsible. We are all involved and we all have a stake in the outcome. We are all struggling to resolve our concern and our responsibility for our contributions. Narratives need to be about co-operation on common ground – and solutions need to be presented that can speak to the common concerns and aspirations of all people.

Can common ground be built on an energy solution that includes nuclear power and a less polluting fossil fuel, such as natural gas (if it can be made safer to the environment)? Some on the green side are doing the thankless groundwork. Who knows, maybe that bridge to a clean energy future will still get built, after all.

  • Ron_S_D

    Another case of railing against everything without coming up with meaningful solutions for these enviro-quaks. I agree that nuclear power is dangerous but so is continual use of fossil fuels as the article points out. All the “green” power attempts have fallen woefully short of target so far. So while we wait for a real solution what are we to do? Go back to the way we lived in 17th century or earlier? Always remember it’s easier to point fingers than work together to come up with real solutions.

  • http://cendax.wordpress.com/ Norbrook

    At some time, Indian Point will have to be shut down, simply because it’s reached the end of its usable lifespan. Power plants of any type, green or not, do have them. The newest generation of nuclear plants are designed to be not only safer, but have many more passive safety features, that enable them to shut down safely even in disaster scenarios.

  • First Officer

    Actually, nuclear power, Cheynobyl and Fukashima included, has a rather impressive record of low deaths per terrawatt-hour generated. The damage from coal and even oil is not just from their ubiquity but on a per deaths per terrawatt-hour produced, greatly dwarfing nuclear, which stands below that from wind and solar on that measure.

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html

    • Neil

      I find this comparison highly illuminating. I especially like pointing out to people the Banqiao dam collapse – I see it as hydropower’s Cheynobyl-that-nobody-has-heard-about. My only reservation is the source….a blog :-(. Does anyone know of a peer-reviewed paper or some kind of official study that confirms these numbers?

      • First Officer

        That concerned me too but i couldn’t find much else. But, anecdotely, i can’t remember any large amounts of deaths caused by anything connected with the nuclear power industry to date, from mining to decommissioning. Until Cheynobyl, the running joke was more people died in Ted Kennedy’s car than in any nuclear accident. However, there is data to be had about deaths from coal and oil, from mining to burning and from respiratory illnesses.

        • Neil

          yeah, I’ve had the same difficulty. I remember coming across a report, must be 20 years ago now, that did a similar comparison to that blog and I was stunned to see how deadly fossil fuels were when the comparison was in deaths/TWhr. I find it surprising that it is so hard to find this kind of data as it seems very important.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Hudson Riverkeeper

    To clarify our position, we don’t oppose nuclear power, but we most certainly oppose the aging Indian Point nuclear plant. It destroys massive amounts of fish; sits near two fault lines; poses unacceptable risk to the population, and has no viable evacuation plan in the event of a disaster. We’ve been willing to be part of the energy solution as the governor and PSC take steps toward a post-Indian Point power grid. The alternatives are more complex, but the need to close Indian Point speaks for itself.

    http://www.riverkeeper.org/campaigns/stop-polluters/indian-point/a-future-without-indian-point-2/

    • Tom Scharf

      So you consider biofuels such as ethanol a more green solution than nuclear? Might want to check your math. You will also find that manufacturing solar panels isn’t very green.

      I’m willing to test your “non-opposition”. Which nuclear plants, anywhere in the world, do you support?

    • JH

      “sits near two fault lines”

      The faults adjacent to Indian Point aren’t a threat to the power plant. It’s that simple.

      With largest recorded magnitudes of 3.0, the faults near Indian Point pack about one-millionth of the punch of the quake that ultimately disabled the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Moreover, the quake itself didn’t cause the reactor breach. The reactor breach was caused by loss of power to cooling systems that were destroyed by the tsunami.

      The issue with fish seems like one that could be resolved without shutting down the plant.

  • Tom Scharf

    I saw this the other day and thought, Wow, this is the first editorial from the NYT I have seen in years that wasn’t 100% predictable (as in reprint the latest press release from the DNC).

    I think some of this is an admission that climate progress is stalled, and has little hope to progress at all unless there is some give, and that is progress. The largest step in measurable progress in emissions reduction has been done against the green’s will (fracking), and that is kind of embarrassing. We are doing better than Europe which has all kinds of screwy climate regulations. US has lower energy prices, and better emissions reductions. What’s not to like?

    I really don’t think there would be a lot of opposition from the right to a nuclear /fracking energy plan to even further reduce US emissions trends. But as mentioned in the article, there are far too many greens who really have bought into the enemy argument. Nuclear will fracture the movement, and I would bet that tribal loyalty will win out over actual useful progress. They are building a “movement” after all.

    • http://cendax.wordpress.com/ Norbrook

      Most of the opposition to fracking in this state is based on what has happened at places that are already being fracked, as well as the problem that the areas proposed for it in the Marcellus Shale lie in major watersheds which supply a number of cities. My personal objection is not just that, but the reality that “fracking” for gas only yields a limited benefit. Most of the gas extracted is within the first year, with ever-declining amounts over the next 10. So the much-touted economic “benefits” are short-lived.

      I have no objection to wind and solar, but recognize there are limitations on where they’re the best option. Nuclear is the best option for those areas where it isn’t. We could also cut down a lot if we had a better distribution grid, since line loss is a major factor in waste.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    If everybody ceded the last 10% of their lifespans to live in clean, bounteous, joyous splendor for the other 90%, it would be a fantastic deal. Contrast that with taxation that annexes at least 40% of your life – if you are productive – up front in trade for promises come due during that last awful 10%.

    If Satan were anything, she would be social advocacy.

  • David Skurnick

    I wonder if the US is capable of changing the law to enable building new nuclear plants. Right now, opponents use the legal process to hold up construction for a long, long time. As a result, people aren’t willing to invest money in new plants, because the investment is apt to be used up before construction is allowed to begin. In order to build more nuclear plants, there will have to be a change in the law to permit fewer delays.

  • Ray Del Colle

    “Carbon pollution from dirty energy is warming our planet. Just ask 97% of the top climate scientists in the world.” http://clmtr.lt/c/GGF0cc0cMJ

    • David Skurnick

      Sure, but there’s no agreement on how fast the planet will warm. It’s quite possible that warming will slow enough so as not to be a problem. The measurement of the lower troposphere shows that actual warming since 1979 (the beginning of that series) is proceeding at a rate of only 1.2 degrees C per century.

  • http://creditspoint.com/ CreditsPoint

    The cost of nuclear power is impossible to calculate. A damaged reactor
    can cost a fortune or two. How to dispose of the wastes some dangerous
    for a million or more years is still a unanswered question and at what
    cost, who knows? Better wise derived biofuels,wind, solar, and tide
    whose cost we can derive. http://creditspoint.com/

  • Michael Moody

    There is ONE way we could generate infinite power, and without any input forces. I dont know if it would work, but if it did… there could be power for many, many people that do not have it. If anyone has any interest in this, please respond back to the email address of crazinessincorporated@gmail.com . This could quite well be the answer we are looking for. I have worked on this design with a few others for three months.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »