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Editor's Letter: Our bargain with the nuclear devil

It would be lovely if we could shut all 104 nuclear plants in this country, and the coal- and oil-burning plants, too, and live off solar and wind power.

My family and I live about 20 miles from two 35-year-old nuclear reactors. So do 10 million other people in New York City and its northern suburbs, all of whom have the Indian Point nuclear power plant in their figurative backyards. Indian Point’s twin licenses expire over the next few years, so anti-nuclear activists have been clamoring to shut Indian Point down, on the grounds that a major accident or act of terrorism there could render the entire New York City region uninhabitable. The unfolding cataclysm at the Fukushima Daiichi plant certainly adds some weight to that argument, but here’s the dilemma: Indian Point provides about 30 percent of the electricity used in the New York area.

It would be lovely if we could shut all 104 nuclear plants in this country, and the coal- and oil-burning plants, too, and live off solar and wind power. But in even the most dewy-eyed projections for the next few decades, “renewable” energy sources will provide no more than 5 or 10 percent of the country’s total energy needs. That leaves us three practical alternatives: Burn more coal and oil, thus dumping more greenhouses gases into the atmosphere; continue our bargain with the nuclear devil and hope for the best; or reduce our electricity consumption by 20 to 30 percent. Now, fear can be a powerful political force, but not quite as powerful as America’s passion for our air conditioners, our flat-screen TVs, our computers, our rapidly proliferating panoply of electrical gadgets. America’s credo is more, not less. In 2015, I’d bet, Indian Point will still be running, with fresh new licenses for another 20 years.    

William Falk

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