Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A (Precautionary-)Principled Legislator

By William Tucker
Congressman Edward Markey, co-author of the Waxman-Markey climate-change (read “energy tax”) bill, has come up with a novel reason for being opposed to nuclear power. Even the most rabid environmentalists are willing to admit that, as a powerful source of carbon-free electricity, nuclear energy might be a bit useful in forestalling global warming, if such a thing exists. But Markey has put the cart before the horse. He argues that because of the inevitable climate catastrophes from global warming, nuclear reactors shouldn’t be licensed.

In a letter last week to the Government Accountability Office, Markey, head of the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce, asked Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general, to review the licensing procedures at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “to evaluate and improve the resilience of the nation’s nuclear power plants to climate change.”
"Severe weather conditions, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, as well as flooding caused by heavy rains, can all impact the status of a nuclear reactor. . . . In addition to discrete events such as a storm or earthquake, climate change has the potential to affect more routine reactor operations. Although [former] NRC Commissioner [Dale] Klein stated in a May 2008 letter that no nuclear power plants — neither operational nor decommissioned — are threatened by rising seas, the estimates of potential rise in sea level by 2100 have increased significantly since then — with estimates now (up to 1.45 m) more than double the 2007 IPCC prediction (up to 0.6 m).
Nuclear power plants also require a very large volume of water for cooling purposes. Consequently, the increasing frequency and severity of heat waves and drought due to climate change will likely lead to more regional water shortages that have the potential to significantly impact their operations."
Apparently nobody has told Markey that those IPCC predictions are now, shall we say, slightly suspect. But there’s no sense in not being prepared. Come to think of it, has anybody checked whether solar panels work underwater? Read more.
— William Tucker is author of Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Long Energy Odyssey.

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