Friday, May 2, 2014

New York Times Editorial Board Draws the Wrong Lessons after Chernobyl

On 1 May 2014, an overtly pro-nuclear op-ed was published by The New York Times.  It is not just another run-of-the-mill op-ed, this is the New York Times Editorial Board itself, with all its majesty.  Collectively, they come out in favor of nuclear power every once in a while, and the mind boggles with speculation what drives them to do it. 

There is, as usual, some nonsense about Germany, which I won‘t bother to address here.

The main message concerns the US; it is a plea to keep the fleet of US nuclear power plants running, against the economic interests of the operators.  (Closure decisions in the US are taken by operators.)

Change the economics?  Stop fracking by giving it equal treatment with other activities under environmental legislation, and tax oil and gas extraction?  Unlikely in the present-day US.  Stop the expansion of renewable power?  The op-ed argues against it, and it would be futile given the downward cost-curves of solar, wind, and likely storage, too.  Subsidize nuclear power even more?  That must be the plan, probably by further increasing the share of utility revenue from capacity payments, which are already high in the US. 

Some US nuclear power plants are shut because they are simply in the wrong location to compete.  More importantly, with age they become more expensive to run, some need repairs some need retrofits, for some even routine refueling may no longer make economic sense. 

The consequences of serious nuclear accidents are too large to insure, and governments have colluded through legal conventions to stop victims from suing for compensation.  Serious accidents are also more frequent that is usually admitted; there was about one core-melt incident every 5 years since the accident in Chalk River, Ontario, in 1952.

The New York Times Editorial Board asks the nation to "extend and pretend", extend operations and pretend it makes economic sense.  It also asks the world to "delay and pray", to delay true reckoning of the risks of nuclear power, and pray that no more serious accidents will happen. 

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