Rep. Chris Gibson’s proposal to explore the construction of a nuclear power plant along the Hudson drew a predictably negative response from one local environmentalist, who said she’d rather the focus be on cleaner energy alternatives, like wind and solar power, as the nation moves away from fossil fuels over the next few decades. Her position, presumably shared by other environmentalists, may be understandable given concerns over things like nuclear waste disposal, but it’s not very realistic.
The United States’ appetite for electricity has grown tremendously in the 37 years since we licensed our last nuclear power plant. Meanwhile, nuclear technology — as demonstrated by the hundreds of plants that have been built overseas — has improved tremendously. Nuclear may not be as green or as safe as solar or wind power, but it’s a lot cleaner and safer than it used to be, As President Obama suggested in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, it should at least be part of the mix that will enable us to meet our goal of reducing carbon emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
Solar works well when the sun is out, but the panels needed to power even a single house require a lot of room and are expensive. Wind turbines have also proven to be effective power generators — in places like New York’s remote Tug Hill Plateau, where there is lots of wind. But then transmission lines have to be built to move the power to urban areas for consumption. And there been environmental concerns and political battles over the wind turbines themselves — the noise they generate, their imposing physical presence, the threat they pose to birds, etc.
Considering that it takes roughly 2,000 30-story wind turbines to match the output of a single nuclear power plant, it should be clear to anyone, as President Obama said the other night, that “we need them all.”
While Gibson’s interest seems based more on the economic development a project would bring to the region, it’s worth looking into for other reasons — namely, the emissions-free energy it would produce. He and other members of Congress also need to stop playing political games over the waste disposal issue.