You Have Nothing to Lose but the Nukes, and a Solar Future to Gain!
Stephen Comley addresses the Clams on the World Fellowship lawn.
Ever heard of the “bathtub curve?” It’s a principle of reliability engineering that illustrates the failure rates for technology. When a form of technology is new, it has a high failure rate. As the bugs get worked out, failure rates decline. But as the products age, failure rates rise again.
Paul Gunter says the bathtub curve is useful for understanding nuclear reactors. Disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl represented catastrophic failures of relatively new reactors. Fukushima would be an example of failure for an aging reactor. The aging of the US reactor “fleet” means “this is the most dangerous time,” Gunter said.
With backing from the Cheney and Obama administrations, the industry promised a 21st century nuclear renaissance and promoted itself as a replacement for fossil fuels. Former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford says “the renaissance story line was hard to resist.”
“By early 2009,” he writes, “applications for 31 new reactors were pending at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The promises came garnished with tales of remorseful changes of heart from oft-obscure nuclear converts. With few exceptions, the news media – especially television with its thirst for the short and the simple – fell for the renaissance story line.”
In a foreword to The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013, Bradford writes of the supposed renaissance, “It is all in ruins now. The 31 proposed reactors are down to four actually being built and a few others lingering on in search of a license, which is good for 20 years. Those four are hopelessly uneconomic but proceed because their state legislatures have committed to finish them as long as a dollar remains to be taken from any electric customer’s pocket. Operating reactors are being closed as uneconomic for the first time in fifteen years.”
Or as Paul Gunter put it, industry has gone from the “too cheap to meter” line of the 1950s and ‘60s to the reality of “too expensive to matter.”
Gunter, a Clamshell founder who is now co-director of Beyond Nuclear, was one of several speakers at last weekend’s Clamshell Alliance Reunion, held at World Fellowship in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The annual event is part social, part educational, part planning and plotting for a community of activists who met in the No Nukes days of the 1970s and 80s.
Other speakers included Doug Bogen, who’s been promoting the potential of offshore windpower from floating turbines in the Gulf of Maine; Naoto Inoue, a solar entrepreneur from Arundel, Maine; and Stephen Comley, who woke up to the dangers of nuclear power when an NRC official told him to stock upon potassium iodide pills for the the residents of his Rowley, MA nursing home, 12 miles from the Seabrook reactor.
Spurred to action, Comley organized 80% of town residents to sign a petition for Seabrook to be shut down. As a long-time Republican activist, he even delivered the petitions in person to President Ronald Reagan. He is still talking about nuclear dangers, especially his allegation that counterfeit, substandard parts were installed at 72 reactors, a fact revealed to him years ago by an industry insider. Comley started a group, “We the People,” to collect such stories and try to get action from people in high places. At this time he’s trying to communicate with Michelle Obama in hopes that she can get through to her husband.
Paul Gunter said “climate change needs to motivate all of us.” That’s why it was great to hear from Naoto Inoue, who heads Talmage Solar Engineering in Arundel, Maine. From installing photovoltaic (PV) systems at homes on the coast of Maine, Inoue has taken the plunge into large-scale solar generation with a 2.2 megawatt PV installation in Sharon, Vermont. With support from Vermont’s pilot “feed-in tariff” program, the solar array can economically provide enough electricity for the entire town.
Doug Bogen says offshore wind is another viable alternative. The state of Maine has a commitment to support 5000 megawatts of capacity in the next 20 years, by coincidence the date the Seabrook reactor’s license is due to expire. We can’t rely on wind for 100% of our energy needs, he said, but the potential is there to replace New England’s aging nuclear plants and phase out fossil fuel plants as well. Bogen is promoting the idea that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a massive industrial facility sited on a deep water port, would be the perfect place for the massive wind turbines to be manufactured.
I was also grateful to spend some time with Sukie Rice, a former American Friends Service Committee staff member who conducted nonviolence training workshops for early Clamshell demonstrations at Seabrook. She recalled meetings in the spring of 1976 at which Clamshell organizers agreed to adopt nonviolence as a guiding principle for direct action. “If what they wanted was for New Hampshire residents to see them as legitimate, they would have to act in the manner of nonviolence,” she recalled. It was Elizabeth Boardman, she said, who introduced the Quaker principle of consensus decision-making. The use of affinity groups and “spokes” meetings came from the experience of the Cambridge-based Nonviolent Direct Action Group, an anti-war project of the early ‘70s. From early on, she said, “I knew it was the start of something big.”