When pulling lobster traps out of my boat, I enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the Maine coast. How lucky we are in Maine to have avoided nuclear meltdown disasters such as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and, more recently, Fukushima (2011).

I suffered a near-miss with Chernobyl, as I was downwind in Russia the day it melted down. Today, radioactive strontium-90 levels are as high in Belarus as they were in 1990, causing an immune system problem in children so bad that it is known as “Chernobyl AIDS.”

Gov. Paul LePage has a proposal before the Legislature that would make it easier to bring small nuclear power plants to Maine by stripping voters of the power to sign off on new plants.

Nuclear is not a safe technology. Every nuclear waste dump ever built has leaked. Every nuclear plant gives off daily emissions. And there will always be another meltdown, just as there will always be another plane crash. Statistically, the chances are small, but that doesn’t matter much if you’re on the plane that goes down.

Sadly, with nukes, the consequences are more tragic, as an area the size of Pennsylvania could be contaminated forever.

The good news is that renewable energy is abundant, dramatically cheaper, better for national security and safer and faster to build.

Nuclear plants are extremely vulnerable terrorist targets. In contrast, terrorists are unlikely to try to blow up a windmill, a solar plant or well-insulated houses. Nuclear plants have made nuclear weapons obsolete: The nuclear material already is located near a population center, and it can provide a dramatic statement and destroy large amounts of territory and electrical power.

Yet resistance and disinformation is high from the nuclear industry. They blame activists for the demise of the industry. But nuclear plants in France, Germany, Britain, Russia and Japan suffer from the same problems as we are, yet they lack effective opposition to nukes.

Wall Street and other investors are the new anti-nuclear activists. Because of their business decisions, no new nuclear plants are being financed with private risk capital anywhere in the world. The financial downside is too great, especially when there are far safer investments in renewables.

Pro-nukers love to talk about carbon emissions and coal, and a few prominent individuals have signed on to nuclear power as a way to address climate change. But no major environmental group is endorsing nuclear power.

There are two major problems with their climate-change argument: Nuclear plants emit radioactivity to the environment on a daily basis. And nukes are so expensive, not to mention slow to build, that renewables can replace coal plants dramatically faster than nukes. In business, it’s called “opportunity cost.”

Nuclear power is not the answer to climate change or carbon emissions. Renewables are the way to go.

Pro-nukers used to talk wistfully about the French nuclear program. Indeed, the plant under construction at Flamanville was to be the flagship of the new nuclear industry.

But construction costs have tripled, it’s already five years behind schedule and just recently flaws were discovered that — about $8 billion later — may cause them to abandon the project completely. They don’t talk about the French as much these days.

New nuclear plant estimates are on the order of $12 billion to $24 billion. Construction cost overruns are typically on the order of 209 to 381 percent. The excess costs to Maine taxpayers for another nuclear plant would make the $16 million cost of the Cate Street scandal look like lunch money.

The nuclear industry is suffering a decades-long collapse, the greatest collapse of any enterprise in industrial history. In 2007, of 31 nuclear plants under construction worldwide, 12 had been “under construction” for 20 years. And as we learned in Maine, used nuclear plants are harder to sell than an old rusted-out car.

Despite cost overrun after cost overrun, radioactive leak after radioactive leak, and failure after failure (aside from three major meltdowns, nuclear plants typically last only about 20 of the 40 years they are supposed to run, and still average only about 60 percent power), the industry keeps promising that if we will just believe it one more time, it’ll get it right. Wall Street doesn’t believe them, and neither should we.

It would be dangerous to let LePage take the people out of the decision-making progress, especially when it is always the people who pay dearly for the nuclear industry’s mistakes. Like Mark Twain said, even a cat won’t sit on a hot stove more than once.

Bill Linnell, of Portland, is co-founder of and spokesman for Safer, Cheaper Power, which lobbied successfully for the closure of Maine Yankee 12 years early, in 1996.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: