The Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment appears to be becoming a factory for anti-nuclear propaganda, turning out one manifesto after another about the dire consequences of developing new reactors.
The institute staff is loaded with lawyers, PhD’s in economics, plus former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Peter Bradford, who is now on the board of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Vermont institute observers have always thought it would be nice if they had an engineer or two who understood something about the nuts and bolts of energy; however, for their latest manifesto, it would have been sufficient to have someone who understood logic concluded one Renaissance wag.
The latest study, whose title is too long and dull to be listed here, tells us that France has made a huge mistake in going nuclear and that a similar fate awaits the U.S. if we follow the same path.
Got that? France has the second-lowest carbon emissions in Europe (behind only Sweden, which is half nuclear, half hydro). It has Europe’s lowest electrical rates. It imports only half as much natural gas from Germany and Britain because it doesn’t need it to generate electricity. It is the world’s largest exporter electricity, collecting $3 billion a year by shipping surplus nuclear electricity to Germany and Italy, which have foolishly stymied development of their own reactors.
So what’s the problem? Well, here’s what senior economic analyst Mark Cooper has to say:
1) Nuclear reactors are expensive to build.
2) Investment in nuclear has “crowded out” investment in conservation and renewable energy.
Let’s take a look. Sure, nuclear has become expensive to build. So has everything else. To put 1500 MW of generating capacity in windmills would cost almost the same amount as building a reactors – except that when you’re through you’d have a system that only works one-third of the time and requires more billions in transmission lines to carry it to where it’s needed.
But the point is this. France already has its reactors. They were smart and put them up in the 1970s and 1980s when they didn’t have to compete with China for building materials and before bureaucratic oversight made it almost impossible to build anything in Europe or America. We should have done the same thing.
Cooper then argues that reactors have led to “nuclear socialism,” but in case he hasn’t noticed, everything in France is owned by the government. EDF, the national electric company is owned by the government, Areva is 80 percent owned by the government, radio and television stations are owned by the government airlines are owned by the government – it’s the legacy of Louis XIV. We have dozens of private companies and utilities in this country that could build nuclear if only we would let them.
So now how about the point that nuclear has “crowded out” investment in wind and solar? The answer to that is, “So what?” or better yet, “Thank goodness!” Spain, Germany and Denmark have allowed investment in renewables to “crowd out” nuclear and what have they got for it? Spain ended up with abandoned solar factories and had heavy industries moving to France for cheaper electricity. Denmark has the highest electrical rates in Europe, a grid that operates on imported coal and a landscape where you can no longer go anywhere without being in sight of a windmill. Germany has become highly reliable on Russian natural gas, imports nuclear electricity from France and is playing with fire by talking about shutting down its own 17 reactors.
But the point is this. Saying nuclear has “crowded out” renewable investment isn’t even an argument. It is only an assumption that renewables are the “wave of the future” and that anything that stands in their way is bad. Where’s the evidence that renewables are a better investment than nuclear? There is none. In logic, this is called “assuming that which is to be proved.”
It is unlikely the Vermont Law School will have much impact in France. Unfortunately, it may have a marginal effect in persuading the good people of Vermont to give up one-third of their electricity by closing down Vermont Yankee.
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