October 29, 2007
By Jack Spencer
On Oct. 23, a group led by singers Jackson Browne, Graham Nash
and Bonnie Raitt delivered a petition to the Senate denouncing
nuclear energy. Their spurious arguments are off-key to say the
least. They confuse nuclear weapons with nuclear energy, claim
non-existent dangers, and misrepresent nuclear power's economics.
Otherwise, it was quite a show.
Mr. Browne and Co. masquerade as environmentalists, pushing what
they describe as environmental justice. But their agenda would deny
Americans, especially the poorest Americans, access to one of the
cleanest, most secure and economically stable sources of energy
They don't seem to realize that things have changed since the old
No-Nuke movement packed up its placards. Today, the nuclear
industry's safety, environmental and economic record ranks among
the best in the energy (or any other) industry.
In an effort to devalue nuclear power's environmental advantages,
Mr. Browne's warriors include the pollutants and CO2 released
during the construction and fueling process in their evaluation,
without fully acknowledging that other energy sources have similar
impacts. No apples-to-apples comparisons for this crowd.
For example, 2 million tons of concrete, about double what a
nuclear plant requires, must be produced and delivered to anchor
enough windmills to match one nuclear plant's energy production.
Just producing this concrete emits the CO2 equivalent of flying a
Boeing 747 from New York to London 450 times.
Carbon-free fairies do not magically drop windmills onto
mountaintops. Every windmill or solar panel started as a raw
material that was mined, transported and manufactured using fossil
We live in a fossil-fuel based society. CO2 is released by almost
any activity, whether building a windmill or a nuclear power plant.
Ultimately, however, nuclear technology provides the world an
opportunity to make its energy profile less
The new No-Nuke crowd then warns of the ripe targets that nuclear
plants provide terrorists. Really? Now Jackson Browne is a
terrorism expert? But his credibility is, we must say, "Running on
Empty." Nuclear plants were among the nation's most protected
assets before September 11, 2001, and have had numerous security
upgrades since. But none of the world's 443 nuclear power plants
have been attacked. Why?
Simply put, they're not easy targets. Nuclear plants are built to
withstand airplane impacts, are heavily guarded and are under
constant review. If risks are discovered, the answer is to fix the
problem, not shut down the industry.
But what about the disposal of nuclear waste, the No-Nukers ask?
Actually, industry solved that problem decades ago. Spent fuel is
removed from the reactor. The reusable portion is recycled by
separating it and re-using it; the remainder is placed in either
interim or long-term storage, in remote locations such as Yucca
Mountain. Other countries, including France, safely do this every
day. Politicians and bad public policy prevent it from occurring in
Waste transportation is another favorite target. The truth is that
nuclear waste has been transported on roads and railways worldwide
for years without incident. Indeed, more than 20 million waste
packages are transported globally each year, and more than 20,000
shipments have traveled some 18 million miles since 1971. It's just
not a problem.
The No-Nukers argue that nuclear power is bad economics. Back in
the 1970s, they successfully drove the costs of nuclear power up by
forcing delays and instigating superfluous regulation. Though
affordable, nuclear power is as expensive as it is today because of
that success, not because the technology is uncompetitive.
The situation is much different today. Streamlined regulation,
better designs and greater efficiency make the economics of today's
nuclear plants much more predictable. Nuclear energy is among the
least expensive energy sources today. Indeed, numerous studies have
shown that new nuclear power is very competitive in a
The anti-nuke crowd already nearly killed the nuclear industry
once, and America is paying for it today with higher energy prices.
This time the stakes are higher and consequences are greater.
Sadly, the environment and the poorest Americans will be hardest
hit if they succeed. Nuclear energy is the only realistic and
affordable option if we hope to cap CO2.
The old rock stars of the world may be able to afford higher
electricity prices. But the single mothers of the world cannot.
It's time for a Browne-out.
Jack Spencer is a
research fellow in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy
First appeared in the Washingon Times
On Oct. 23, a group led by singers Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt delivered a petition to the Senate denouncing nuclear energy. Their spurious arguments are off-key to say the least. They confuse nuclear weapons with nuclear energy, claim non-existent dangers, and misrepresent nuclear power's economics. Otherwise, it was quite a show.
Director, Roe Institute
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