Now living in Sparks, Nevada, I returned to Maine last year for my 50th Lewiston High School reunion and, while in the area, visited the Seabrook nuclear plant.
I grew up in Maine and lived in the state when Maine Yankee went online. Contrary to what people were led to believe, it was a successful power generating station. Built in only four years, it generated power from 1972 to 1997 — 25 years of the 40 for which it was licensed.
Maine Yankee was a small plant compared to the other 98 in the United States’ nuclear fleet today. Many of these were updated according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements; such upgrades implemented advancing nuclear technology and, on average, improved production output by 20 percent. But Maine Yankee was a smaller plant, and the economics of the upgrades were simply not practical for the owners.
Maine Yankee produced power for 25 years and never had a meltdown. There is a logical difference between perceived complaints and reality. Most complaints are frivolous, seldom based on fact, and usually come from unqualified people, and they have hindered nuclear power for years.
Nearly 30 years after Congress created Nevada’s Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository — entailing the efforts of thousands of people and costing more than $15 billion for a science and engineering study — the storage facility remains empty. This critically needed national repository has not been built because of the political maneuvering of one lawmaker: Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.
We know, for all practical purposes, that scientific studies of Yucca Mountain prove its public safety and operational functionality. In recent surveys, nearly 73 percent of those polled are willing to have the research completed. Pro-nuclear groups have educated the public in spite of ill-founded environmental opposition.
For political reasons, Reid did his maneuvering in Washington with the Obama administration instead of asking for a Nevada public referendum because he was unsure how the people would vote. Members of the public, once educated, are not as foolish as one might think.
There are trends in play today on national issues facing our government, such as taxes, education (Common Core) and Yucca Mountain. The trend is that the education of the grass-roots public will result in the reversal of government mandates.
Nuclear technology has been misrepresented since its inception. These days, Patrick Moore, a leading figure in Greenpeace Canada and Greenpeace International between 1971 and 1986, and Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand support nuclear energy. More than two dozen notable environmentalists support nuclear power, but we have to make these facts known to the grass roots in order to garner support for our public referendums.
Maine may find success in educating the people about small modular reactor technology. Transparency is still a growing factor in responsible government. By submitting legislation that would make it easier to site a small nuclear plant in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage may find that the Maine people are not as gullible as the environmental opposition groups would lead them to be.
Every state needs to seek its own energy independence. New England will need to establish new energy production for growth and to maintain competitive costs to support industrial manufacturing to compete. China is building and has plans for 40 full-size nuclear plants, realizing that, with the world’s worst pollution, it must reduce its coal plant fleet.
States must research future technology before it is a topic of daily dialogue among the public. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which direction the power trend and grid should move toward. Carbon-free nuclear power is the future.
The Western states have virtually no power capacity from hydropower other than the Colorado River. Much of the hydropower has been maximized in New England for some years, requiring the necessary development of new sources. Solar and wind remain costly and carry their own environmental issues.
Nuclear remains the safest large-volume source of emission-free power in the world. America has made grave errors in not advancing nuclear power technology over the past 30 years.
Gary J. Duarte of Sparks, Nevada, is director of the U.S. Nuclear Energy Foundation, a national nuclear advocacy group based in Sparks.