“April 11, 2009

Letter to the Editor

The Record

Recently William Tucker wrote an op ed piece for the Record calling for the closure of nuclear reactors at Indian Point. In March Mr. Tucker and I were both on teams that participated in an Oxford style debate at the King’s Daughters Public Library in Garnerville New York.  The motion for the debate was “This House urges the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reject the license renewal application for Indian Point Nuclear Generating Unit Nos. 2 and 3.” Mr. Tucker’s spoke for re licensing the plant, I advocated against it . At the end of an Oxford style debate the house votes whether or not to support the motion. I am pleased to report that we carried the day and the house voted against re licensing by more than a two to one margin. Needless to say, seeing his opinion piece calling for closing Indian Point shortly after our debate was quite a surprise.  My first thought was that he had indeed “seen the light”  and that our team’s superior debating style coupled with our accurate information had wrought an amazing transformation.  Unfortunately, a closer reading revealed that this was not the case.

It is apparent that Mr. Tucker remains mired in the industry jargon that sets up a false choice between nuclear and coal.  This is a pathetic straw man that nuclear proponents bring up time and time again.  Let’s be clear.  No one in the environmental movement has ever, or will ever, agree to more coal plants.  Rational dialog would be well served by retiring this bogus argument permanently. Perhaps industry spokesmen are finally catching on since Mr. Tucker trotted out a different straw man at the debate which he repeated in his article.  In a nutshell, he insists that neither wind nor solar will work because they take up too much space.  Like many who favor splitting the atom to boil water to generate electricity, the author has a bias toward mammoth, slow to build, hugely expensive, subsidized and centralized means of production.  That is exactly what makes nuclear power such a dinosaur.  Those days are over. We are now on the brink of distributed generation where new buildings and homes can generate on their own electricity and put power back into the grid when they have an excess. Existing roof tops and parking lots can be utilized for production.  Who would not welcome some shade in the desert of a mall parking lot when looking for a place to leave their car.  Park under a simple structure that has a solar panel on top and we all gain.  Google already has this on their campus and they have gone one step better.  Their cars pug into the solar panel overhead and recharge while waiting for the next driver.  Distributed generation puts smaller, cleaner sources of electricity closer to where it is needed. It can protect us from massive outages because there are so many more sources of electricity.  Coupled with the new smart grid technology it will be easy to move electricity further and faster than ever before.  It also smooths out the differences between intermittent and base line generation. The wind is always blowing somewhere.

It is also time to put to rest the myth that solar can be used only in the summer during peak electricity needs. While this is a good thing, it is equally true that new solar panels work efficiently on much less sunlight. People in our region live in them year round and save a bundle on their utility bills.  Couple this with geothermal heating and you have a very small carbon footprint and a lot more money in your pocket. The public library in Ossining, NY installed a geothermal heating system because it saves so many taxpayer dollars in the long run.  This is only one example of what we can do as a community.

Mr. Tucker’s contention that environmentalist only favor generation projects that are “over the horizon” is nonsense. Environmental impact studies, proper siting and some common sense that assigns a value to viewscape and other intangibles that don’t normally appear on the bottom line of corporate budgets are all important. Otherwise we will repeat the mistakes of the past. We operate under a capitalistic economic system and there is absolutely nothing wrong with turning a profit. However, this profit cannot be derived from the abuse of the common good by an industry that disposes of waste at no cost to themselves. Thermal pollution of the Hudson River by the Indian Point generators is a good example. The deleterious effect on the Hudson River is well documented and it is unfortunate that the recent Supreme Court decision on this matter upheld the use of cost benefit analysis as part of the Clean Water Act.  Hopefully, now that the matter is in the hands of a more enlightened EPA the company will nonetheless be required to go to closed cycle cooling to end the destruction of more than two billion fish a year – should the plant be re licensed.

Basically, Mr. Tucker has thrown down the gauntlet and said close Indian Point. He says it will make the industry more viable as it goes to new construction and raise the cost of electricity.  That way we will all see what life in our region is like without nuclear power. I am confident that the environmental community would do so in a heart beat.  Would that the decision was ours to make. Indian Point is a business. Businesses close all the time. It is imminently possible to plan for its orderly shut down and address all the many factors involved such as replacement electricity, jobs, and taxes. Our free market economy is full of entrepreneurs in the field of energy who will undoubtedly fill in any gaps and line their own pockets in the process. The site is ready made for a natural gas plant that could easily replace the megawatts. Both reactors were down just last week and it is worth noting that every one’s lights stayed on, the subways ran and most people didn’t even know the difference. Con Ed did what any distributor would do, they got their supplies elsewhere. Despite scare tactics by the industry, the truth is we have plenty of electricity and a strong grid to move it around.

Go ahead, Mr Tucker.  Call my bluff.  Shut it down.  Put an end to the production of high level radio active waste.  We would all be better off.

Marilyn Elie

Marilyn Elie is a co founder of Westchester Citizens Awareness Network.  WestCAN is a grassroots organization that works for the closure of Indian Point.”