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 Lauren Wolahan
For the first time ever, the UN is building out a roadmap for curbing carbon pollution from agriculture. To take part in that process, a coalition of U.S. farmers traveled to the UN climate conference in Madrid, Spain this month to make the case for the role that large-scale farming operations, long criticized for their outsized emissions, can play in addressing climate change.
They're prepared from puréed acai berries — which are fruits grown in Central and South America — and served as a smoothie in a bowl or glass, topped with fruit, nuts, seeds, or granola.
By Elliott Negin
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' recent decision to award the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to scientists who developed rechargeable lithium-ion batteries reminded the world just how transformative they have been. Without them, we wouldn't have smartphones or electric cars. But it's their potential to store electricity generated by the sun and the wind at their peak that promises to be even more revolutionary, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and protecting the planet from the worst consequences of climate change.
The global population of the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros has increased to 72 after four new calves were spotted in the past several months.