The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Former U.S. Nuclear Safety Chief: 'New Nuclear Is off the Table'
By Grant Smith
From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.
"Nuclear power was supposed to save the planet," Jaczko wrote in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post. As an atomic physicist, he once endorsed that view. But his years on the NRC changed his mind:
This tech is no longer a viable strategy for dealing with climate change, nor is it a competitive source of power. It is hazardous, expensive and unreliable, and abandoning it wouldn't bring on climate doom. The real choice now is between saving the planet and saving the dying nuclear industry. I vote for the planet.
Jaczko describes how his experience revealed the pervasive political influence of the nuclear power industry in Congress and among his fellow commissioners. Their opposition derailed much of the safety measures he proposed in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. In 2011 an investigative series by the Associated Press detailed the collusion between regulators and the industry to weaken safety standards to keep existing plants economically viable.
Jaczko's efforts to protect the American public likely cost him his career at the NRC. He now leads an offshore wind power startup and is speaking out at an important juncture for the nation's energy future.
Electric utilities that operate nuclear plants are boasting of being "carbon free" by mid-century. They insist that their aging nuclear plants must be part of the equation to keep costs down. But even though Japan closed most of its reactors after Fukushima, carbon emissions went down, because the Japanese ramped up energy efficiency and solar investments.
"It turns out that relying on nuclear energy is actually a bad strategy for combating climate change," Jaczko wrote. "One accident wiped out Japan's carbon gains. Only a turn to renewables and conservation brought the country back on target."
Jaczko's heightened concern for a nuclear accident in the U.S. is also well founded. The former director of the nuclear safety project at Union of Concerned Scientists, David Lochbaum, determined that the industry's efforts to continue to run aging nuclear plants 20 to 30 years or even longer than their initial licenses allowed for is akin to playing Russian roulette.
Since Fukushima, Germany has ordered the shutdown of all nuclear plants by 2022. Japan has reopened only a few reactors. Even France, long a champion of nuclear power, is ramping down its nuclear fleet because of safety concerns. But in the U.S., the Trump administration and lawmakers in some states continue to support taxpayer-financed subsidies to bail out money-losing nuclear plants. On grounds of both economics and safety, that's a fool's bet.
Grant Smith is a senior energy policy advisor with Environmental Working Group.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jessica Taft
Fifteen kids from a dozen countries, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, recently brought a formal complaint to the United Nations. They're arguing that climate change violates children's rights as guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a global agreement.
Susan Vineyard / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Justin Mikulka
Increasingly, U.S. shale firms appear unable to pay back investors for the money borrowed to fuel the last decade of the fracking boom. In a similar vein, those companies also seem poised to stiff the public on cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on.
Top officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed to lawmakers last week that they knowingly — and illegally — stalled hurricane aid to Puerto Rico.
It appears Jane Fonda is good for her word. The actress and political activist said she would hold demonstrations on Capitol Hill every Friday through January to demand action on the climate crisis. Sure enough, Fonda was arrested for demonstrating a second Friday in a row Oct. 18, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Only this time, her Grace and Frankie co-star Sam Waterston joined her.
Switzerland's two Green parties made historic gains in the country's parliamentary elections Sunday, according to projections based on preliminary results reported by The New York Times.
By Jeff Turrentine
The coal industry is dying. But we can't allow the communities that have been dependent on coal to die along with it.