Joshua Goldstein: Sees irony in opposing nuclear power 40 years ago

Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Sees irony in opposing nuclear power

The Gazette’s May 17 editorial (“Rich history of environmental activism”) notes that Valley activists sparked a movement against nuclear power in the 1970s that stopped hundreds of reactors from being built nationally, and eventually led the industry into its current doldrums.

But was that so smart? If those reactors had been built as planned, our electricity sector would now be fossil-free. Sweden and France did just that, and have enjoyed cheap, safe, clean electricity ever since. Instead, the United States continues to get one-third of our electricity from dirty, deadly coal and another one-third from natural gas (methane). From mining to transportation to combustion to wastes, these fuels are orders of magnitude more dangerous than nuclear power and are prime movers of climate change.

Last year, Massachusetts’s carbon emissions increased, after a decade of reductions, because the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant closed. Everywhere in the world that nuclear plants have closed, they have been replaced with fossil fuels, as renewables do not yet fill the gap. It’s been coal in Germany, LNG and coal in Japan, and natural gas in California and New England.

Here in the Valley, we also had a spike in electricity prices and a shortage of natural gas that led to the current gas moratorium and demand to build new pipelines.

Today’s activism against new gas pipelines is great. But the supreme irony is that if environmentalists had not blocked nuclear power 40 years ago, they would not need to be blocking pipelines today, and the world could be on track to stop climate change.

Joshua Goldstein