Letters to the Editor – The New York Times

Letters to the Editor – The New York Times

To the Editor:

In his review of “A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow,” by Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist (Feb. 10), Richard Rhodes correctly notes that nuclear power should be part of a future carbon-free energy mix. However, he doesn’t present quite enough of the math to fairly evaluate their proposal.

First is the sheer number of reactors. Nathan Lewis at Caltech estimates that on the order of 20,000 new 1-GWe plants will be required to meet projected demands in the second half of the 21st century. Just 10 percent of Professor Lewis’s estimate still represents a lot of construction and an enormous amount of money. How does this actually happen?

Second, who is going to build, operate and regulate these plants? Despite the disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, the commercial nuclear industry, clustered in the developed world, actually has been remarkably safe over its lifetime. Yet much of the developing world, where energy demand is growing most rapidly, struggles to deliver basic services such as clean water and human waste disposal.

Are big, centrally located power plants the real solution for the energy demands of the developing world? These plants require clustered high demand and extensive transmission capacity; this is perhaps fine for megacities, but much of the demand in the developing world is dispersed and more efficiently served by distributed power sources such as wind and solar that can be delivered in stages as demand increases.

Complex problems rarely have simple solutions. No doubt nuclear power can and will be deployed to address some of the energy needs of the developing world. However, should our efforts to reduce carbon emissions and meet global energy demands be vested in a single 20th-century technology? The future of the planet might be better served by working to develop next-generation power sources and the political will and private capital necessary to deploy them.


The writer is a visiting research scholar in disaster mitigation, industrial and systems engineering, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

To the Editor:

Richard Rhodes’s review conforms, not surprisingly, to his longstanding bias in favor of nuclear power. But he doesn’t get history right. The anti-nuclear-power movement did not arise from concerns about overpopulation. These movements were separate. In fact, the gap between the antinuclear movement, arguably the most spontaneous grass-roots movement in history, and other environmental groups and movements is both striking and instructive.


To the Editor:

I grew up with Three Mile Island and the environmental movement of the 1970s, and I can assure you that concerns about storing and transporting radioactive material, not population density, was reason to be concerned about nuclear power plants.


The writer is an educational consultant to the Philadelphia Water Department.

To the Editor:

How can one write a review extolling the (many) virtues of nuclear energy without mentioning, much less dealing with, the problems of nuclear-waste disposal?

My then home state of North Carolina welshed on its agreement to take its turn as a depository in a multistate nuclear-waste compact. Nevada has so far resisted plans for disposal at Yucca Mountain, although that may change since the leader of the Senate is no longer from that state.

Even in Finland, which has created a secure repository, there remains the problem that nuclear waste is a threat for many millenniums. How do we communicate with our descendants, if they exist 10,000 years from now, about the menace we have left for them?

There may be solutions to these problems, but waste disposal must be part of the balance when we consider the pros and cons of nuclear power.


To the Editor:

Richard Rhodes’s review attempted to consider why Americans reject nuclear power as a reasonable energy option to moderate climate change.

One reason is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is vulnerable because it is subject to partisan appointments, budget cuts and policy changes that threaten protocols that do not have great flexibility. The satire of a bumbling Homer Simpson as a nuclear plant worker plays out the endgame of nuclear annihilation to an audience terrified of a nuclear accident in a way that tickles us but does not dissolve our very real fear.


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