Dialogue and Debate

From: https://www.welovesolo.com/conflict-of-interest-faces-vectors-3/

A local interfaith group called Interfaith Works is putting on a series of dinner dialogues in which folks of all sorts of religious and spiritual backgrounds get together for an evening of sharing and exploration over a meal at a host’s home.  I believe that somewhere around 13 dinners will be happening tomorrow night, and I’m a facilitator for one!  At a training event for hosts and facilitators we discussed (among other things) this wonderful chart highlighting differences between Debate and Dialogue.

I found this interesting because I have both a dialogue (interfaith event) and a debate (on nuclear energy and climate change) coming up.  Although I hope that there are elements of dialogue in the debate, it’s just the nature of the beast that there is a concrete set of points and arguments you’re trying to convince the other side (and more to the point, the audience) of.  In the back of my mind, I do envision both sides of the debate forming a dialogue of sorts with the audience, and am curious how the audience will respond and what questions they have, which then potentially turns it into more of a dialogue as well.

Intro to my Book Proposal

I’ve been working away at my book proposal lately.  Trying to get a draft done by the end of August or so.

Curious at all about the whole process of getting a book published?  It’s a fascinating process.  Basically if you hope that your book could have a wide and large audience, you don’t want to self-publish.  You don’t want to write the book first.  You need to write what’s known as a book proposal, which follows a set form.

You then want to find a literary agent who will take your book proposal and shop it around to different publishers.  Those publishers will all bid on your book – what kind of monetary advance will they provide to the author, and how much effort will they put in to advertising and promotion?   Then you choose it and go from there.  Your agent gets a cut of what you make, but it’s well worth it because then your success is their success.  They also help you edit your proposal and handle all the meetings and networking with publishers.  Sam Harris wrote a good summary of the process here: How to Get your Book Published in 6 (Painful) Steps.  Yup, it’s painful but I’m trying to just stick with it!

A proposal has 3 parts.  The first part is what you’d think of as a proposal.  You try to hook a publisher company with your idea/book and why you just have to write this book.  Second, there’s a detailed table of contents.  And third, there’s a sample chapter.  This doesn’t have to be an actual chapter but can be parts of the best of your writing and best bits of your book.  It’s meant to show publishers what your writing style is like.  So I’m being sure to have a mix of storytelling and “serious non-fiction” type writing in mine.

Here’s the first couple of pages from the first section of my proposal!

When I was a kid, two seemingly tiny experiences planted seeds in my mind and heart that would later grow to shape the whole course of my life.  

An educational banner ran along the perimeter of my 3rd grade classroom, just below the ceiling.  It was a hierarchy of learning and knowledge, progressing from rote memorization to the pinnacle, synthesis.  As a young budding perfectionist, but not knowing what “synthesis” actually meant, the word got filed away in the back of my mind under the following labels: important, big, best, wow.

I grew up Presbyterian, in a very loving and both politically and religiously conservative family.  We went to church every week, and I always had to dress up in black slacks and a white collared button-up shirt; my dad would brush my and my older brother’s hair with a very stiff brush to make our typically-unkempt selves presentable before the Lord.  I enjoyed going to church, “big” church, that is, which is what we called the church service for adults.  I didn’t really like Sunday School because the kids weren’t very nice. I had big glasses, braces (orthodontics), and it didn’t help that I was the only kid dressed up.  I generally understood from “big” church that important and profound things were discussed there, and I wondered how and if people at church might live differently than my family based on this profundity.

In high school, I decided to give youth group a try even though almost all of the kids were from a rival high school since our church was in a different school district.  Youth group was actually fine; kids were neither nice nor mean. I was just there, but maybe that meant I paid more attention to what was actually being said, or sung, as is often the case in youth groups.

Words from one song in particular etched themselves deep inside me, a mystery that would take some serious synthesis to solve.  The song went like this: “God’s gonna move in this pla-a-a-ce, God’s gonna move in this pla-a-a-ce, God’s gonna turn the world, oh-oh upside down.”  Then if that wasn’t paradoxical enough, the next line was “One name under Heaven, whereby we must be saved.” What the heck does it mean that the world will be turned upside down, for God to move in a place, and why is there only one name under which we must be saved?  These two experiences – a fascination with synthesis as the highest form of knowledge and the youth group lyrics hinting at the transformative power of religion yet causing dogmatic discomfort – would set me on a journey full of ups and downs, mistakes and successes, being judged and feeling free.  At the time, these were only vague, unformed questions and seeds taking root in the back of my mind but in college they slowly came to forefront and were watered and fertilized.

Monks and Mennonites – my story of “discovering” the Mennonite church

Amish carriage

In the Fall of 2003, I was in the first semester of my senior year studying Engineering at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California.  It was a crazy busy time, finishing up coursework, doing my senior project, and applying for graduate schools.  I was so eager for the semester to end that at the end of each day, I’d cross off that day on my calendar, hoping and waiting for the relief of Christmas break.

In the spring of 2004 I found out I’d been accepted to graduate school at the North Carolina State University Department of Nuclear Engineering in Raleigh.  They flew me out for an interview and to finalize which professor would be my adviser.  I’d never been to North Carolina before, having only lived in Arizona and California. Flying into the airport, I remember being amazed at how green and lush the landscape was.

My interview at NC State went well, and I decided I’d go there.  I’d previously found the school’s automatic deferral policy online so I knew I’d be able pursue my plans to take a year off to live in monasteries but still have a guaranteed spot at NC State when I returned.  I let them know I’d be deferring, to start in Fall 2005 instead of Fall 2004.  For my year off, I was going to stay 3 months at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA and 6 months at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, CO, near the skiing town of Aspen.  I wanted to do this because I had been working so hard at school and wanted to “work” equally as hard to answer some burning religious questions I had and to delve deep into the contemplative prayer and spirituality that the Trappist monks were teaching.  I knew that some of the monks at Snowmass had been involved in monastic interreligious dialog and that the famous Trappist monk from a generation earlier, Thomas Merton, also recognized the spiritual depth in the deepest forms or manifestations of other religions.

Happy that the interview went so well at NC State, I returned to the airport in Raleigh to fly back to college in California.  I was puzzled when I saw a few people inside the airport who looked to me like they were Amish.  I didn’t know much at all about the Amish then, but I knew they don’t use automobiles, much less airplanes!  I was curious and asked a person nearby, “Who are those people?  Are they Amish??”  The answer I got back was that they are Mennonite.  Huh!  I’d never heard of that – what are Mennonites?  I didn’t look into it any further.

After my 3 months at St. Joseph’s Abbey I went home for Christmas and then went off to Snowmass.  I continued devouring books on religion and spirituality, and one book I came across was part of a series covering the whole panopoly of western spiritual traditions.  The book was Early Anabaptist Spirituality, and it turns out that the Anabaptists are the pre-cursors or ancestors of the Mennonites and Amish.  The term “Mennonite” came from the name of an early Anabaptist leader, Menno Simons.

Coming across this book felt auspicious because I wasn’t sure what sort of religious community or denomination I could belong to after the monasteries.  The monasteries gave me a deep appreciation of the best of Catholicism, but I didn’t think that becoming Catholic was right for me.  One of the other burning questions I’d wanted to explore in the monasteries was that of nonviolence.  After reading the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (he wrote extensively about religion and was an interfaith pioneer!), Thomas Merton, Walter Wink, Dorothy Day, and taking a harder look at the New Testament I was convinced that nonviolence is at the core of the Gospel and is a deep principle that is the best way to fight and resist evil.  It turns out the Anabaptists also believe that Jesus taught an active nonviolence based on love and overcoming or transforming evil.

The history of the early Anabaptist movement was and is fascinating to me.  They came about at the same time as the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s.  They were a group of people who thought the Reformation did not go far enough and was not being true to Jesus.  Anabaptists read the Bible together and interpreted it as a community, not being held captive to previous interpretations or dogmas.  They recognized that Jesus taught a very different and very powerful way of life, and that the New Testament was consistent in asserting that Jesus was the clearest revelation of who God is within the Bible, and that the Bible should be interpreted first and foremost through Jesus.

Much of the Reformation was literally violent against Catholicism (and vice versa), with both Catholic and Protestant groups eagerly making alliances with princes and territories to set their religion or denomination up as the law of the land.  The Anabaptists, however, refused to take part in this and saw the Kingdom of God that Jesus taught and lived as being above violence, power struggles, and politics.

The word Anabaptist means “baptized again”, based on the Anabaptist practice of adult baptism.  These folks saw that following Jesus took a deep understanding of not only the Bible but also politics and power – summed up in the phrase “be gentle as doves, wise as serpents.”  The decision to be a disciple of Jesus, made explicit in baptism, could not therefore be made as a baby or even as a young child as the Catholics and Protestants practiced.

Tithing to the Church was also mandatory back then, and infant baptism did two things: ensured that everyone was Christian and therefore had to tithe, and also pushed forward a dangerous narrative of a unified “Christian nation”.  This preempted a more genuine spirituality and understanding of Jesus, and gave church and state elites power over religion.  As a result, Anabaptists were persecuted and killed by both Catholics and Protestants, clearly because of the challenge of their beliefs to Catholic and Protestant power and wealth, not merely because of a disagreement in doctrine.

Due to this persecution and the high cost of discipleship to a nonviolent Jesus, Mennonites took refuge in biblical themes of separation from the world: you are in the world but not of the world (John 17:14,16), “do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2); avoid being polluted by the world (James 1:27).  The history is complicated, but over decades and centuries, the lived experience of being separate from society because of persecution combined with increasingly more literal understandings of these verses combined to create groups of Anabaptists – the Amish and some Mennonites – who live very simply and eschew much of technology and the typical ways of modern culture.  Today, there are a range of Mennonites from those who “look” Amish but use cars and can fly in airplanes (Old Order Mennonites), to Mennonites who integrate into modern society (as the original Anabaptists did) and still value simple living as more of a spiritual value in opposition to excessive materialism.  (Quite a challenge in the United States!)

Another aspect of the Anabaptists that really appealed to me was that they did not reject everything Catholicism had to offer like the rest of the Protestants did.  Many of the early Anabaptist leaders were monks or friars disillusioned with the excesses, fraud, and abuse of the Church but were also well versed in and appreciative of the medieval contemplative or mystic threads of Catholic spirituality.  I liked this because I came to the monasteries to learn about and practice contemplative prayer.  It also made me laugh that I happened to discover the Mennonites in a monastery when many of its early leaders left monasteries to start the movement!  Some might say God has a sense of humor!

Needless to say, when I left the monasteries I became a Mennonite.  I’ve had many wonderful experiences as part of the Raleigh Mennonite Church and later the Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship.  I’m grateful for the unique contributions of the Mennonite church and it’s one part of the (complicated) story of why I consider myself a Mennonite Christian atheist.

Divergent Mennonites?

A dove image often used by Mennonites symbolic of its peacemaking and nonviolent theology superimposed over the Divergent novel book cover. The tie-in to this book occurs at the end of the article 🙂

A number of recent articles from The Mennonite, an online publication of Mennonite Church USA, stoked the embers of my love for Mennonites/Anabaptists and the promise I think the movement holds for a transformative Christianity.  I’ll briefly summarize them here and in the next article share my story of finding the Mennonite Church, including some context about Mennonite beliefs.

A Mennonite woman and teacher in the Kansas public school system was required under state law to certify that she is not taking part in any divestment or boycott activities of Israel (usually done in protest of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians).  She worked with the American Civil Liberties Union to fight this in court, and at the time of the article won a court injunction against it.

A black Mennonite man shared some of his story of finding other people of color at a conference in the predominantly white (and might I add, peculiarly ethnic) Mennonite church, coming to a deeper realization that there is room for people like him in this particular Body of Christ.

Jess King, a Mennonite in Lancaster, PA is running for Congress.  She worked in business and sustainable development to help combat poverty but saw that many systemic and policy issues were instead working to increase poverty.  She was motivated by her faith and its focus on love of neighbor to run for office, also saying she “doesn’t fit neatly into one party” and believes that the country’s “two-party system is ineffective.”

Glen Guyton is the new Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA and also wrote a great article about the future of the Mennonite Church based on the Divergent book trilogy.  In the Divergent series, humanity is facing the task of rebuilding after some major un-named catastrophe and has split into five factions each based on a wholesome-sounding character trait.  Yet there is conflict between the factions, and people who manifest multiple traits are labeled “divergent” and dangerous.  Guyton writes that more divergent leaders and less factions are needed for the Mennonite Church. (Amen!)  In my view, Jesus is a shining example of divergence, something the institutional church has failed to grapple with.

Updates on life (including book!) – Part 2

A big part of my motivation for writing is that I really do believe the pen is mightier than the sword. It’s so hard to have deep conversations about complex, difficult, and sensitive topics so I’m just gonna put it all in a book! I know that the book will put me in touch with the right people and give me the platform to engage on issues of science, religion, and spirituality on a level I simply couldn’t otherwise as an engineer.

Previously I posted on my job as a wastewater engineer.  That took up more space than I originally anticipated so I didn’t get to the other things I’ve been up to.

So without further ado:

    1.  I’m working to complete my book proposal package, which you use to woo a literary agent.  The agent helps you tweak your book proposal, and represents it to book publishers to sell. I used this fascinating book about writing book proposals (!) here

      Writing it is a bit of an ordeal and I take comfort knowing that other authors struggle with the process too, for example, New Atheist Sam Harris’ blog post How to Get Your Book Published in 6 (Painful) Steps.  The 3 parts of a proposal are:

      1. The proposal section says what your book is about in story or narrative form, why you want to (or have to!) write it, and highlights interesting bits that stand out.  It includes a section on the book’s competition where you describe other related works and how yours is unique or a needed contribution.

      2. A detailed table of contents to give the publisher and agent a sense of the overall book.

      3. A sample chapter, which doesn’t necessarily have to be an actual chapter.  They say it’s often more effective when it’s a compilation of the most important and interesting stuff in your book.  (No pressure!)

    2. I submitted a 2600 word article about Islam to Free Inquiry, an online secular humanist magazine.  I just heard yesterday (3/14) they didn’t accept it, so I’ll be looking for another outlet to send it to.

      But what exactly did I write about?  Much of the discourse on Islam in the West claims to be based in logic and rationality, but is at a shallow level. Rationality needs depth (and even spirituality!) to be effective and help contribute solutions to complex problems.  Accurate storytelling is one angle, and I tell the story of Muhammad and address many common misconceptions about Islam.  I’d be happy to share it individually if you want to read it, just let me know!

    3. I just ended a stint as a young adult leader in the interfaith non-profit Religions for Peace.  I’m incredibly grateful and honored to have been part of this amazing group and organization.  I’ve had the amazing experience of meeting young adults of many different religions from North America and from around the world.  Working with RfP was an outlet for my intense passions for religion and interfaith work, often the only outlet because I’ve been so heavily steeped in science/engineering graduate school and/or jobs these last years.

      With RfP I have been to the 2015 UN climate change talks in Paris; to the global RfP meeting in Vienna; Tunisia to connect with religious young adults who helped bring about their Arab Spring, and various meetings in the US (St. Louis, Chicago, greater New York City metro area).

    4. Finally, I’m on the executive board of a wonderful group called Uplift Syracuse, which has both an issue-based focus and a political focus.The core issue areas Uplift Syracuse is focusing on are:


      1. Addressing the terrible problem of children’s exposure to lead paint in homes.  Uplift is working with a coalition of groups to address this issue, drawing on a successful example from Rochester, NY.

      2. Municipally owned high speed broadband internet service.  Our city of Syracuse could install its own fiber optic internet lines and offer faster and more reliable service.  Revenue would stay in the City, and the City would be better able to attract and retain businesses and young professionals.

      3. Advocating for the replacement of a short segment of I-81 running through downtown Syracuse that has literally outlived its safe lifespan with a community grid solution.

      4. Advocacy for increased Syracuse school district funding in cooperation with the City’s Commissioner of Education.

That’s it for now!  As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback!

Updates on my life (Part 1)

A large wastewater treatment plant serving 2.3 million people in Florida

Hi everyone!

It’s a familiar chorus on my website to remark on how I haven’t written in a while.  Oh well, c’est la vie!

I wanted to give a few updates on what’s going on in my life.

I’ve been at a new job for a little over 6 months now, finally the type of job I want to be in for my career!  I’m a wastewater engineer in an office that focuses on that, water systems engineering (safely and efficiently delivering drinking water), and solid waste management (composting at a municipal scale).  People who know me and my interests could well imagine why I’d be happy there!  I get to do some awesome stuff designing new sewer collection systems, pump stations, wet wells, and wastewater treatment plant upgrades.  Here’s a quick breakdown of those details:

  • Sewer collection.  Where does a city/town want sewers installed?  How many houses/businesses will connect and contribute to those sewers?  How much wastewater do they produce: maximum, minimum, hourly, monthly, etc?  What size sewer pipes are needed to convey that wastewater?  How much would construction and installation cost for the new sewer system?

  • Pump stations and wet wells.  Sewers that flow by gravity (sloped downhill) are cheapest and easiest, but rarely are all locations between sewers and the final wastewater treatment plant all downhill.  So at some places water has to be pumped up in elevation at a pumping station so it can then keep flowing downhill from there.  Or, wastewater has to be pumped from a pumping station directly through a pipe to a wastewater treatment plant, with the pipe being known as a force main.  Questions to figure out and design: How big do the pumps need to be?  How can we meet minimum velocity requirements so crap doesn’t settle out of the wastewater?  What size force main (pipe) is required, and what material should it be made out of?  How big should the wet well (that collects the wastewater at the pump station) be so it meets regulatory and best practice requirements?

  • Regulations on how much organic matter, nitrogen, chlorine, and other pollutants/constituents are getting tighter, so wastewater treatment plants need to be upgraded so they can better remove these.  Also, treatment plants get old, have equipment nearing the end of their life, or municipalities grow or have new businesses that generate wastewater (breweries, dairies, manufacturing) so treatment plants have to be upgraded to meet higher flows and pollutant loadings.  We evaluate multiple different treatment options and work to keep up with new processes and technologies so we can implement the most effective solutions at lowest cost.

That’s just a little snippet of some of the things we do.

I’m sort of a nerd, so I wanted to go into a little bit of detail about my job.  I think it’s very important what happens to what we flush down our toilets, and that we don’t think about it very often!

One funny story that just made me think of.  My wife was editing a paper for a journal, and it happened to be about wastewater treatment.  She remarked to me, “Gross!  This article talks about [sewage] sludge all the time!”  Which is amusing because she’s completely used to the idea of our composting toilets.  Then I go and tell this story to a few colleagues at work, who are used to the idea of sludge and talk about it and perform calculations related to it every day.  One of them is kind of grossed out about the idea of composting toilets!  To one, composting poo is normal and sludge is gross.  To another, composting poo is gross and sludge is normal!

I really got a kick out of that.

For my next post, I’ll continue updates on life other than work, including what’s going on with my book!  And in case you’re skeptical that I’ll get it done promptly, I’m working on it right now and will set it up to automatically publish a few days after this post!

 

Mythbust: Dietary Changes to Save the World

Image result for beef emissions image

From: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/16062017/china-beef-consumption-exports-higher-greenhouse-gas-emissions-climate-change

Every now and then, a fresh new research article comes out saying that if only people became vegetarian, or stopped eating beef, or ate more beans, that we’d take care of climate change.  Granted, agriculture and cattle production do have emissions associated with them and we need reductions everywhere we can get them.  Further, the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change: the hyperlink is to its chapter on Agriculture, a pdf download) warns that large increases in meat consumption, especially of the middle class in China, will increase global emissions by as much as a few percent.

So, the latest such article is in The Atlantic, “If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef” by James Hamblin with the tagline or summary “With one dietary change, the U.S. could almost meet greenhouse-gas emission goals.”  It summarizes a paper by Helen Harwatt and others that makes this argument.

This sounds amazing!  I didn’t know it was so easy!  (Even though it’s really hard to get 300 million people to change their diet.)

But more important, how accurate is this?  It turns out that the tagline is true, but the greenhouse-gas emissions goals it references are so weak this doesn’t turn out to mean much.

Here are a couple of key questions which really reveal that the devil is in the details:

  1. What or which climate goals are these?  The article references Obama’s climate goals for 2020 and says that this dietary change will get us 46% to 74% of the way there.  So what were Obama’s climate goals, how ambitious were they, and therefore how large or significant is a 46% to 74% step to those goals?
  2. How do these emissions due to beef compare to emissions due to fossil fuels?  While all reductions in emissions are great, do we need to focus on creating policies that meaningfully curtail beef production or, for instance, that curtail fossil fuel production and use?  If we answer “both”, what practical steps do we take?

Obama’s Climate Goals
The 2020 Obama pledge is a pledge that he made at the 2009 Copenhagen conference, which was that emissions would be 17% lower in 2020 than in 2005.  The graphic below which visually shows this is from the Climate Action Tracker webpage for the US: the 2 black, round circles in 2020 column, which the first vertical band of colors.  These black dots are located right about at the transition from the red color to the yellow color.  The red color means that emission reduction efforts are absolutely inadequate, yellow that they are medium (not adequate but not completely awful), green that they are adequate, and dark green means that emission reduction efforts are a role model for the world.

These particular climate goals mentioned by the article are completely insufficient.  Further, this report came out in 2017 when emissions are lower than in 2005 (as seen in the article), mostly due to some energy efficiency and the switch from coal to natural gas.  So getting us now from our current emissions to our 2020 emissions goals represents a change in emissions from about 6800 MT eq (metric tons equivalent, which already factors in the fact that methane and other gases are more potent than carbon dioxide) to about 6200 MT eq.  This is a decrease of about 10% in overall emissions, and so if every American stopped eating beef and ate beans instead, we’d get about 46% to 74% of that 10% decrease.  In other words, this colossal dietary switch would reduce our overall emissions by about 5 to 7% overall.

I would celebrate such a reduction for sure, but it’s not the smoking gun or amazing progress the article makes it sound like, huh?  Plenty of people are taking this to mean that if we made this dietary change, we would meet some super aggressive climate goals or would be 60% of the way toward truly doing the US’s part in stopping climate change.  Not so.

Emissions compared to fossil fuels
The true culprit in climate change is fossil fuels.  The US EPA reports the breakdown of US greenhouse gases by economic sector in 2015 in the pie chart below.  Again, this is in units of equivalent emissions, which already factors in the effects of the stronger potency of gases such as methane (CH4) compared to carbon dioxide (CO2).

Pie chart of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector in 2015. 29 percent is from electricity, 27 percent is from transportation, 21 percent is from industry, 12 percent is from commercial and residential, and 9 percent is from agriculture.

Total Emissions in 2015 = 6,587 Million Metric Tons of CO2 equivalent

Almost all of the remaining 91% of the emissions from electricity, industry, transportation, and commercial/residential are from fossil fuels.  So agriculture represents about half the emissions of any one of these categories, but the rest of the categories are linked by having fossil fuels as the root cause.  So clearly, doing something about fossil fuels would be drastically more important and effective than doing something about diet.  (Not to say that doing something about diet isn’t good: I eat very little meat, but this alone isn’t going to solve climate change!)

I applaud anyone who changes their diet for health and/or climate reasons.  Eating less meat helps with both.  But the first graphic shows just how deep our emissions reductions need to be to truly tackle climate change.  We need to be talking much more about that, and way to curb fossil fuels that are politically feasible in this country, such as a revenue neutral carbon fee with rebate, which would create 2.8 million jobs and decrease emissions 50% from 1990 levels within 20 years.

It gets confusing how people reference different years as reference levels, but looking at the first graph we can get a sense of it.  1990 levels were about 6200 metric tons (eek!  we are currently above 1990 levels in 2017!), while 2005 levels were about 7100 metric tons.  So a 50% reduction from 1990 levels within 20 years would have us at about 3000 metric tons of emissions.  Holy cow, what a real step forward!

The good news is that with some political activism and education, this carbon fee is politically feasible because it grows the economy, is not a tax because revenues are returned to households as a rebate, and does not grow the government because the government doesn’t keep the revenue.  Groups like Citizens Climate Lobby are working to educate the public and convince Congress to pass this law, which is simple and is only a few pages long.  Some major gas companies even support the concept in general, as a type of carbon action that is fair and transparent.

We all are passionate about different topics, but if we are serious about wanting to slow or stop climate change, we’ve got to figure out a practical way to curtail fossil fuel use economy-wide!

I worry about articles that make it seem like diet or some other quick fix (which is still quite difficult) will do it.  What does this type of misinformation serve to do?  Divide the climate activist community on the best path forward?  Help people feel proud of themselves for changes they will or already made (becoming vegetarian)?  Distract from the main cause, which is fossil fuels?  Make climate activists seem elitist or disconnected, focusing on peoples’ personal eating habits?  What do you think?  Why might these ideas about diet seem to be so popular and eagerly believed?

As always, I welcome your comments!

 

Tritium leaks at nuclear power plants

I’ve got family from Greensboro, NC visiting and we got talking about energy.  They were telling me that there’s a controversy in NC over Duke Energy (a utility company) trying to charge ratepayers for a coal ash spill accident that occurred a few years ago and to pay for new regulations over coal ash.  Although much of the area around Greensboro is served by Duke Energy, the city of High Point just outside of it is not.  It gets its power from a different provider, with no or very little coal fired electricity and mostly nuclear power from a plant in South Carolina just southwest of Charlotte, NC. The city of High Point is totally exempt from this rate paying controversy due to nuclear. Pretty interesting!  My family didn’t even know that nuclear supplies a significant portion of power to their state.

I read up on the Catawba nuclear power plant and the only incident with it listed on Wikipedia was a tritium release (I’m not saying Wikipedia is the best or only source but it’s a good source to review among many).  Last year I had written an article for the New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA) on a tritium leak from the Indian Point nuclear power plant just outside of New York City.  The media doesn’t do very good reporting on tritium leaks, so it reminded me of the article I wrote and that I could post it here on my website as well.  This should provide context for just about any news about tritium leaks at nuclear power plants.

I hope you find this interesting and insightful.  As always, I’m eager for feedback and responses!

Balancing the Facts on Tritium Levels at Indian Point
On February 6, 2016, the Entergy Corporation notified state and federal authorities and the public that elevated levels of radioactive tritium were found in 3 out of over 40 groundwater test wells underneath the Indian Point Energy Center (nuclear power plant) in Buchanan, NY, located about 30 miles north of Manhattan [1,2]. The tritium levels were approximately 1,000 times smaller than those which trigger mandatory reporting to authorities and did not pose a threat to the environment or human health, but much of the media coverage focused on alarmist angles or facts that distracted from this core message.

The timing of this incident after the water-related tragedies in Flint, Michigan and Hoosick Falls, New York might contribute to a heightened concern about water quality. Radiation is invisible and not well understood by the public or media; and, naturally, we tend to fear what we do not understand. There is also a great deal of misinformation spread about radiation by anti-nuclear organizations and individuals. It is, therefore, important to transparently discuss and analyze the radioactive tritium leak at Indian Point.

Figure 1. The Indian Point Generating Station in Buchanan, NY
Source: Wikipedia, creative commons license

What is Tritium?
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen with a half-life of about 12 years and a biological half-life of approximately 10 days [3]. Typical non-radioactive hydrogen has 1 proton and no neutrons, while tritium has 3 nuclear particles: 1 proton and 2 neutrons. The short biological half-life of tritium means that it does not accumulate within biological organisms because half of any ingested quantity is excreted every 10 days. At 100 days after ingestion, for example, only 0.1 percent would remain (10 biological half-lives, or 0.5 raised to the power of 10).

Figure 2. Nuclei of the three isotopes of hydrogen: protium (normal hydrogen),               deuterium, and tritium.
Source: http://education.jlab.org/glossary/isotope.html

Tritium is naturally present at very low levels in the environment via interactions of high energy cosmic rays with gaseous particles in the atmosphere. Tritium decays into a non-radioactive helium atom, releasing a beta particle which is essentially a high energy electron [3]. Radiation damages cells and DNA, but cells have elaborate repair mechanisms [4] and no health effects are observed at low doses [5].

Based on detailed studies and modeling, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) set maximum drinking water standards for tritium at 20,000 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter of water) [6]. The Curie is a fairly large measure of radiation, but pico means one trillionth or 0.000000000001 of something, so the picoCurie – or even 20,000 pCi – represents a very small amount of radiation. The NRC’s studies showed that if water with a 20,000 pCi/L concentration of tritium was consumed by a person over the course of a whole year, this would result in a radiation dose of less than 2 mrem (millirem) in that year [6].

This 2 mrem dose is very small, and is:
**   Half the dose from a roundtrip flight between Washington, DC and Los Angeles (4 mrem) (because less atmosphere at higher elevations results in lessradiation shielding).
**  About 7 times less than the dose we all receive from naturally occurring radioactive potassium in our bodies (15 mrem)
** 75 times less than the average exposure Americans receive from medical tests and procedures each year (150 mrem).
** 150 times less than the average annual dose from natural background radiation in our environment (300 mrem) [6].

Thus, daily ingestion of water with a concentration of 20,000 pCi/L is safe. In fact, it could be argued that the tritium drinking water limit is rather conservative, erring on the side of caution since none of us thinks twice about the radiation dose we get from flying or from the naturally occurring radioactive atoms in our bodies.

Tritium Releases from Indian Point
The Indian Point Energy Center has two separate nuclear reactors, since unit costs are decreased by operating more than one reactor at the same site. The reactors are known as Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) because water at high pressures is used to cool the reactor core and carry heat to steam turbines that generate electricity. The fundamental basis of nuclear power in PWRs is that Uranium-235 absorbs a neutron, splits or fissions into 2 smaller nuclei, and this reaction releases a large amount of energy. In addition, either 2 or 3 neutrons are produced when each uranium atom fissions, and these neutrons can make other Uranium-235 atoms split. The reaction is controlled using non-fissionable materials that absorb neutrons, preventing them from reacting with U-235.

One of the ways the nuclear reaction is controlled in PWRs is by adjusting the concentration of boric acid in the coolant water. Boron is an excellent neutron absorber, giving operators a way to fine tune the power output of the reactor. The coolant water is housed in separate pipes and does not come into direct contact with the reactor. Some tritium is produced in the coolant loop by the interaction of neutrons from the reactor with boron atoms. Tritium, therefore, builds up in the coolant and must be purged from time to time. Because the concentrations are low from a safety and environmental perspective, PWR reactors are permitted to intentionally dilute and release the tritiated water under strict guidelines [6].

The elevated groundwater tritium levels beneath Indian Point indicate a leak in underground pipes that store and transport coolant water. Regulations do not allow the unintentional discharge of tritiated water no matter how low the concentration, so Indian Point must locate and fix or replace any leaky pipe sections. The best current understanding is that a leak in the pipes between storage and release is responsible for the elevated levels. Investigations into the cause continue. [1,2]

Typical concentrations of tritium in the 40 groundwater testing wells beneath Indian Point were 12,300 pCi/L. The elevated tritium levels found in three of the groundwater monitoring wells were initially as high as 8 million pCi and later increased to 14 million pCi [7,8]. Many articles reported the first figure as a dangerous or “alarming” 65,000 percent increase in radiation levels or reported that it was 400 times the drinking water limit [7]. The numerical figures themselves are accurate, but are not dangerous because the site was designed so its groundwater does not flow to drinking water, but rather flows to a discharge canal where it is intentionally diluted. In addition, further dilution to undetectable levels occurs upon reaching the Hudson River. For more information, see Reference 9, written by John Kelly, a retired radiation protection manager who oversaw construction of Indian Point and has lived near and worked at the plant for decades.

Many media articles were comparing apples to oranges by reporting radiation levels in comparison to drinking water levels. When the public reads that radiation levels are 400 times higher than regulatory limits, this naturally causes worry and sounds frightening. But the 20,000 pCi regulatory limit is specifically for drinking water and, as previously discussed, the site was specifically engineered and designed such that groundwater would be highly diluted to safe levels and would not flow into drinking water sources.
Media articles also quoted other safety related information, such as the fact that 317,000 people live within a 10-mile evacuation planning zone around the reactor [7]. This may bias the public toward thinking about catastrophic nuclear incidents, whereas, consequences of the tritium leak were insignificant from a human health or environmental perspective (but still required action to remedy).

Is Any Radiation Exposure Harmful?
One of the most common anti-nuclear arguments is that radiation is harmful at any dose. Radiation at small doses does cause limited small scale cellular damage, but the body has intricate repair mechanisms [4,5] and no long-term damage occurs. Cellular DNA can be damaged by metabolic byproducts like free radicals, and DNA copying errors are relatively frequent during cell division. “Cells have evolved a number of mechanisms to detect and repair the various types of damage that can occur to DNA, no matter whether this damage is caused by the environment or by errors in replication” [4]. We know that at low doses radiation does not produce health effects.

An example of a response to the Indian Point tritium link that focuses on the supposed danger of even a single radioactive atom is a citizens group called Shut Down Indian Point NOW!, which released the following flier to build support for a town hall meeting on the tritium leak:

Figure 3:  Flyer about shutting down Indian Point.  Obtained from the “Shut Down Indian Point! NOW! Network” Facebook Page

The flier highlights some of the misleading facts/statistics already discussed, but it also invokes images of at-risk infants and pregnant women. It further claims that the ingestion or inhalation of even a single molecule of a radioactive isotope can “cause cancer, birth defects, and mutation” — a clear case of inciting irrational fear. We continually breathe extremely low levels of radiation, such as radioactive Carbon-14 that forms the basis of carbon dating techniques. But atoms are incredibly tiny, so when we ingest or breathe extremely low concentrations of radioactive atoms we still ingest or breathe huge numbers of them!

An example is the potassium-rich banana. The average banana contains about 0.4 grams of potassium, and about 0.0117 percent of all potassium in the world consists of radioactive K-40 [10]. A single banana, therefore, contains 0.0000468 g of radioactive K-40 (0.4 g × 0.0117%). From basic chemistry, the molecular weight of potassium is 39 g/mol or 40 g/mol for K-40, and every mole contains 6.02 x 10^23 atoms (Avogadro’s number). Converting 0.000468 g of radioactive Potassium-40 to atoms, this is 7×10^17 (or 700,000,000,000,000,000) radioactive atoms ingested! From this, it should be clear that the ingestion of a single atom of a radioactive substance is not dangerous and will not cause mutations, cancer, etc.

Radiation is unseen, poorly understood by the public, and is the subject of much science fiction. Scientific knowledge and transparency surrounding topics of radiation can help alleviate public fears and help us as a society to focus our limited time and resources on issues with a high impact on human and environmental health. To use an analogy, if the tragedies in Flint, Michigan and Hoosick Falls, New York were as dangerous as charging rhinos, then the tritium leaks at Indian Point would be like a house fly – irritating, perhaps, but not a threat.

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References
1. Entergy Statement on Comprehensive Groundwater Monitoring Program and Elevated Tritium at Indian Point, http://www.safesecurevital.com/entergy-statement-on-comprehensive-groundwater-monitoring-program-and-elevated-tritium-at-indian-point/
2. Information on Groundwater Monitoring Program and Tritium at Indian Point, http://www.safesecurevital.com/groundwater-monitoring.html
3. Idaho State University Radiation Information Network Tritium Information Section, http://www.physics.isu.edu/radinf/tritium.htm
4. Clancy, S. “DNA damage & repair: mechanisms for maintaining DNA integrity.” Nature Education 1.1 (2008): 103. http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/dna-damage-repair-mechanisms-for-maintaining-dna-344
5. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Backgrounder on Biological Effects of Radiation. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/bio-effects-radiation.html
6. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Backgrounder on Tritium, Radiation Protection Limits, and Drinking Water Standards. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/tritium-radiation-fs.html
7. CNN. Indian Point nuclear plant leak causes radioactivity in groundwater. Feb 6, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/06/us/nuclear-facility-ground-contamination-new-york/
8. Reuters, Indian Point tritium leak 80% worse than originally reported. Feb 10, 2016. https://www.rt.com/usa/332087-indian-point-tritium-leak/
9. Bill Kelly, Rockland Times Op-Ed. Former Entergy Manager says It’s Time to End Political Fear-Mongering about Indian Point. Feb 25, 2016. http://www.rocklandtimes.com/2016/02/25/former-entergy-manager-says-its-time-to-end-political-fear-mongering-about-indian-point/
10. Argonne National Laboratory. Human Health Fact Sheet, K-40. August 2005. http://phi.nmsu.edu/~pvs/teaching/phys593/potassium.pdf

Healthcare Solutions from my friend, Dr. Sunny Aslam MD


My friend Dr. Sunny Aslam, MD is a psychiatrist who works primarily with low income patients and whose state-run hospital also serves the homeless.  He knows first-hand the weaknesses of our health care system dominated by private insurers.  The hospital he works at has an entire building full of staff dedicated to navigating the incredibly complex insurance system, filling out all the different forms that each of dozens of private insurance companies use, and fighting the insurance companies just to get paid.

He is active with two groups working to bring a much better system of healthcare that provides much better coverage and also costs less.  One is at the New York State level (Campaign for New York Health) and one is at the federal level with Physicians for a National Health Plan.

There is a bill at the NY State level that would eliminate private insurance company coverage and replace it with a single payer system.  This just means that doctors and hospitals would bill the State for medical services, instead of having to deal with dozens of different health insurance companies who want to deny care to people who need it and thereby make zillions of dollars.  The whole system would be funded by a payroll tax instead of paying extremely expensive insurance premiums.  This would save businesses and 98% of New Yorkers money.  Most of the money comes from payroll and investment taxes on the very rich, but everyone pays in at least a little (except for people making less than $25k a year).

We’re getting close to passing this New York Health Act in New York State.  All the Democratic State Senators support it.  The challenge is to convince Republican State Senators to support it.  With the support of just one Republican, a majority of State Senators would support it.  The Act would save businesses and people money, it would free counties from the portion of property taxes that go to pay Medicaid (property taxes are a big deal in Upstate New York), and it eliminates tons of waste – something Republicans all generally support.  A full study is available here.

To do this, organizing efforts are focusing on the districts where there are Republican State Senators, such as in the North Country and around the Watertown, NY area.  They are working to appeal to the sensibilities and concerns of people in these more rural areas with conservative ideas, including highlighting that President Trump promised he’d bring everyone better healthcare.

Here is a great letter to the editor Sunny wrote along these lines, focusing on media attention about how military veterans would lose important coverage under the Republicans’ American Health Care Act and how the NY Health Act would be much better.

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Editor,

‘Health bill seen hurting veterans’ (Watertown Daily Times, 5/7/17) is yet another reason why we need an improved Medicare for all system in our country. By tinkering around the edges of our broken health care system, we can’t move towards President Trump’s promises of comprehensive coverage for less money for all Americans.

There are 108 sponsors of HR 676 [federal legislation] which would create this universal, guaranteed coverage. Powerful insurance company interests oppose Medicare for all, because it would end their reign over American health care. Thus most politicians still oppose it as well, despite the potential savings to our state ($45 billion the first year implemented) and our nation (over $400 billion annually). These savings come from the unsustainable administrative costs of private health insurance.

We can act to cover all those who live in New York by supporting the NY Health Act. The plan would be more comprehensive than private insurance plans, covering all medically necessary services and prescriptions for New Yorkers. You pay based on income and there are no copays, or deductibles.

We can afford this by reducing administrative waste associated with private insurance companies, and negotiating fair drug and medical device prices. 98% of New Yorkers would pay less for health care.

The NY Health Act is a huge boost for New York businesses. It would lower payroll taxes and property taxes, which currently pay for Medicaid.  An estimated 200,000 jobs would be created because of decreased employer costs.  Plus no one gets stuck in “job lock” where a person has difficultly leaving a job they rely on for healthcare.

We need State Senator Ritchie on board as a sponsor. If you want excellent coverage for yourself and neighbors that doesn’t depend on your job, here is your chance to act.

 

Controversy over existing nuclear power in Central New York

This is an in-depth post about contested subsidies for nuclear power plants in Central New York.  A few prominent anti-nuclear groups are strongly working against these subsidies. At the moment, their strategy is to make an economic and taxation argument – that these subsidies cost too much, that it raises our electric bills, and is a bailout of “big business”.

My interest in this topic surrounds climate change, and about discourse based on facts with a minimum of spin and propaganda.  We need more transparency behind what we claim are facts, so people have enough information to judge for themselves.  In this spirit, I offer this work, deconstructing the argument that these subsidies are “bad” and providing links and information that anyone who wants to can follow.

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There has been plenty of information and data in the reporting on the bailout or subsidies for Upstate nuclear plants, but the reporting is lacking context related to the role of hydrofracked natural gas (fracking), comparisons to the subsidies renewable energy receive, and longer term analysis of electricity prices.  This missing context is crucial to understanding impacts on climate change and to better understand the nature of anti-nuclear spin and propaganda.

Electricity Prices and Natural Gas
Let’s start with electricity pricing and prices.  The graph below helps us understand the history of electricity prices in New York State over the past 15 years (dark blue line) and how linked it is to the cost of natural gas (yellow line).  They are linked for a number of reasons but suffice it to say that the price of natural gas heavily influences the price of wholesale electricity.

As seen in the graph below, from 2000 to 2003 and about 2009 to 2013, the cost of electricity fluctuated around $55 per MegaWatt-hour (MWh), a unit of energy, seen in the light blue horizontal line.  This is an important number to remember.  The cost was significantly higher from about 2004 to 2008 ($65 to $95 per MWh).  Further, the graph doesn’t show month to month changes or swings which can be even larger.  For instance, residents of Central New York may remember that electric prices shot up in January and February of 2014 to about $160 per MWh due to high demand for natural gas in the winter.  This was just before fracking brought prices down to a historic, stable 15 year low for the rest of 2014, 2015 and onward.  (NYISO Power Trends 2016 – also the source for the graph below).  This price decrease occurred because of the start of fracking in Pennsylvania, with lots of cheap natural gas coming to New York State through pipelines.  The price of electricity has since stayed in the $40 to $45 per MWh range due continued fracking.

The effects of low electric prices due to fracking on nuclear power
The Fitzpatrick nuclear power plant in Scriba, NY (near Oswego) sells its electricity at the wholesale rate and needs a price of about $50 per MWh to break even and about $55 per MWh to make what’s considered a good profit.  For most of the last 15 years, therefore, Fitzpatrick was making a good profit and was doing extremely well in 2004 to 2008.  It’s only been struggling in the last couple of years because of the low $45 per MWh price caused by fracking.  Therefore, arguments about the high cost and expense of nuclear power related to Fitzpatrick simply don’t make sense.  Fitzpatrick is in trouble because of fracking, something environmentalists detest.

The new development of fracking, put Fitzpatrick in financial trouble and it was actually scheduled to close in January 2017, but for action by the State and Cuomo.  What a shame if the 600 employees of the plant would have lost their jobs, especially in a small town highly dependent on the economic benefits of the power plant.  Further, we know fracking is “boom and bust” – wells produce for only a few to several years – so natural gas prices are likely to go up within a few to several years in which case Fitzpatrick will be profitable on its own again, without any help or subsidies.

This explains the speed and nature of the subsidies put together to help Fitzpatrick.  To help justify the subsidies, it was also noted that nuclear energy produces very little CO2 or other greenhouse gas emissions: it doesn’t cause climate change and global warming like fossil fuels do.  Wind and solar energy receive subsidies because they don’t contribute to climate change, so why wouldn’t it be fair for nuclear to receive subsidies based on CO2 as well?  That’s how the thinking went.

As a result, the Public Service Commission suggested an initial subsidy of about $17.50 per MWh.  Based on the increasing costs of climate change over time, the PSC had the subsidy increasing gradually to as high as $29 per MWh within 11 to 12 years.  These subsidies are based on an assumed wholesale price of $39 per MWh, so the initial subsidy would mean the power plant gets a little over $55 per MWh, which is profitable.

Now the catch is that the subsidies also have a provision so if the cost of electricity goes up on its own, the subsidies will decrease by the same amount.  This makes sense and is very fair – the power plant will only get subsidies if it really needs them.  Due to the expected slowdown of fracking and for other reasons, the cost of electricity is expected to be back up to about $65 per MWh within 6 years.  When this happens, Fitzpatrick won’t be receiving any subsidies because it will be very profitable on its own (i.e. wholesale price of electricity is greater than the profitable value of $55 per MWh).

So why are people raising such a big stink about these subsidies, which are just a temporary measure?

Well, a big part of it is spin: these subsidies will cost taxpayers BILLIONS.

The cost of the subsidies, and comparisons to renewable energy subsidies

An average household will pay about $2 a month more in its electricity bill because of these subsidies.  That’s $24 a year, and when multiplied by the millions of people in New York State, that does in fact add up to BILLIONS of dollars.  But it’s still just 2 bucks a month.

Further, I haven’t seen any articles or reporting on this topic point out that hey, your electricity bills actually fell by about $2 a month because of fracking.  This subsidy therefore isn’t really increasing people’s overall electricity bills, it’s just restoring them by $2 to the level before fracking.  Because of this, arguments about the excessive cost of these subsidies really fall apart in my view.  Something else must be going on beneath them.

But before I get to that, let’s take a quick look at the subsidies that renewable energy require.  Wind energy has been growing in New York State, and this is a great thing.  Yet, wind energy is still reliant on subsidies, as seen in the following graph from the Union of Concerned Scientists.  The story is this: Congress has to re-approve subsidies for wind turbines every few years.  When these subsidies are in place, we start ramping up the number of wind turbines we build each year.  But then the subsidies are up for re-approval, and businesses just don’t know if they’ll be approved, so they don’t build as many turbines.  If the subsidies are approved, then it starts building up again from the low level and if they aren’t approved, then they fall even further.  You can see this in the graph below.

         Source: Union of Concerned Scientists.

How much do subsidies for renewable energy cost, and how do they compare to the nuclear subsidies?  Well, subsidies for wind and solar power in New York State have ranged from about $22 per MWh to $35 per MWh, for 20-year fixed terms.  The Fitzpatrick subsidies range from $17.50 to $29 per MWh, but go away if electricity prices go up.  Wind and solar subsidies stay in place.

So we actually pay a little bit more in subsidies for wind than for Fitzpatrick and within 6 years will likely pay no subsidies whatsoever for Fitzpatrick.  Not only that, but wind and solar receive federal subsidies as well, on top of the state subsidies.

Hang with me, I’ve got one more line of thinking and reasoning, then I’ll wrap up.

How much wind would power it take to replace Fitzpatrick?
Some groups such as the Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE) argue that Fitzpatrick should be shut down and its energy replaced by renewables.  As an example, how much wind power in particular would it take to replace Fitzpatrick, how feasible is this, and how does this all look in the context of climate change?

The Fitzpatrick nuclear power plant produces 850 MW of power.  You might think that 850 MW of wind power would replace it, but it wouldn’t.  The catch is that the nuclear power plant produces this power basically around the clock, while wind turbines produce power only when the wind is blowing fast enough.  The concept that describes this is called the “capacity factor”.  Nuclear in NY State has a capacity factor of 94%, while wind has a capacity factor of 26%.  This means that nuclear power plants ran 94% of the entire year of 2015, while wind turbines spun only 26% of the entire year of 2015.  Therefore it takes the ratio of 94/26 = 3.6 times as many MegaWatts of wind power to get the same amount of electricity as 1 MW of nuclear power.  Therefore it will take 850 x 3.6 = 3060 MW of wind power to replace the electricity produced by Fitzpatrick.

Is 3060 MW of wind power a lot?  Let’s look at how much wind power all of New York State has.

NY State Wind Power Capacity Additions (MW).  The blue color shows the number of MW’s that were installed in each year, while the orange color keeps track of the cumulative or total number of wind MWs installed.  Source: US Department of Energy statistics

According to statistics from the US Department of Energy, from 1999 to 2014 a total of just under 1800 MW’s of wind power were installed in New York State.  Shutting down Fitzpatrick would lead to the loss of the equivalent of 3060 MW’s of wind energy, setting us back roughly 20 years of building wind turbines.   Basically, Fitzpatrick alone produces the amount of energy that all our wind turbines in the whole state plus 70% more produce!  So it is simply not true that the energy from the power plant could be quickly replaced by wind turbines.

Why not subsidize the nuclear power plant for the maybe 6 years it needs it, pay a couple of bucks a month, and also build lots of new wind and solar panels?  Why do some groups make it out to be either/or?  Climate change is a pressing concern.  Why do we need to go backwards on climate change by shutting down Fitzpatrick?

Wrapping up
I hope this piece has made it clear that our local nuclear power plant – and all the jobs and people it supports – is only in financial trouble because of hydrofracking.  Why would we let hydrofracking kill this nuclear power plant?  We all seem to agree we should pay a little more for renewable energy.  So why not pay just a little more to keep this plant open – 2 bucks a month for just 6 years, especially when our bills have gone down by the same amount anyway because of hydrofracking?  It blows my mind that the core argument against the nuclear subsidies implies an acceptance of the status quo with hydrofracking and the savings we get from it.

I can’t escape any other conclusion than that the arguments against the subsidy are really a front for being against nuclear power in general.  It only makes sense to be against these subsidies if you really want the plant to close, period, no matter what.  And why would we want a plant to close that provides so much of our electricity, jobs to a small town that desperately needs them, and that provides electricity with almost no greenhouse gas emissions?  We would only want that if we were absolutely convinced that nuclear energy – or at least this particular nuclear reactor – is unsafe, an imminent danger, or that it’s already caused loads of cancers in people.   We should instead be focused on ways to phase out fossil fuels.

The truth is that nuclear power in the United States is extremely safe and has an amazing safety record.  There have been only two major nuclear accidents around the world, yet there have been countless deaths caused by fossil fuels that far outstrip all the deaths caused by nuclear.  Further, fossil fuels have been causing climate change, which has already caused suffering and will only continue to cause more suffering in the future.   New nuclear reactors with advanced and passive safety systems promise even safer power.

I hope this has made a convincing case that all this talk about subsidies and taxpayer burdens and unfairness and “The Cuomo Tax” (check out the link) is all a front for people who want to shut down nuclear reactors at any cost, at any price…even at the price of the communities around them and the employees at the reactors.  So if you equate nuclear energy with the doomsday, then by all means, be against these subsidies.  But say what you really mean, and don’t hide behind all this talk about #StopTheCuomoTax.