By no means is the debate over the Ginna Nuclear Power Plant a black and white issue. If the plant closes it will initially lead to hundreds of lost jobs and millions of dollars in lost tax revenue for Wayne County. Everyone knows this. It doesn’t seem to matter if the rising cost of running a nuclear power plant makes keeping Ginna open an economic and environmental liability. Not only are the proponents of salvaging Ginna concerned about the lights going out, they are also worried about putting bread on the table.
Yet our nation’s second smallest reactor is also the seventh oldest in the world. For decades it has been on the verge of closing. In 2012-2013 the plant was scheduled to lose $43 million before it was gobbled up by Exelon. It has been a long time since nuclear power has been competitive without “must-run” contracts and “clean energy” subsidies. In fact, if not for subsidies from energy consumers like you and me, the plant would not survive. Sadly, 300,000 utility users are preparing to fork over $132 million annually to keep a plant alive that is underperforming, producing excessive radioactive waste and delaying the transition to an infrastructure for renewables such as solar and wind. According to the Rochester Area Reliability Project, unsafe levels of radiation at Ginna have been a longstanding problem whereas fears about the lights going out are unsubstantiated. If a comparison with a nation that is many years ahead of us in terms of energy, on one day last year the Germans supplied over 70 percent of their energy from renewables. With further investment from their government and continued buy-in from their citizenry, this could reach 100 percent on every single day of the year in the next 5 years!
Regarding the important issue of jobs, The Alliance for a Green Economy has demonstrated that for every 1.7 jobs created by Ginna, there are 5.4 jobs that could be created by solar and nearly 7.2 jobs that could be created in the energy efficiency sector. Moreover, the dismantling of the nuclear reactor requires extensive skilled labor, as does the removal and storage of hazardous materials. Rather than think about losing jobs in Wayne County, we should be thinking about creating hundreds of new jobs that will last longer, pay better and be far more safe to humans, animals, and the air. Now is the time for the transition. If we wait, the opportunity might not come again.
At one time, Ginna was the future. But it was a future made in the image of a country less familiar with the dangers of global warming, radioactive waste and nuclear proliferation. Back then (44 years ago) the world was a lot more predictable and controllable, and the oldest reactor of its type was cutting edge. Today it just cuts. Regarding climate change in particular, renewables are the only option that make any sense whatsoever. Major studies by MIT, the Commission on Energy Policy and the International Atomic Energy Agency, agree that about 1,500 to 2,000 large new atomic reactors would have to be built worldwide for nuclear power to make any meaningful dent in greenhouse emissions. (Less than 400 reactors now operate globally.) Furthermore, construction of 1,500 new reactors would cost trillions of dollars, take six to 10 years a piece to build and produce an astonishing amount of dangerous waste and plutonium. Meanwhile a new solar rooftop system is installed in the U.S. every four minutes, a number the Nuclear Information and Resource Service predicts will reach 90-seconds by 2016.
The option is ours. We can try to create a path forward that leads to a 100 percent reduction in carbon emissions and the establishment of a robust green economy (in a region that has an abundance of natural resources) or we can side with a dying reactor that will either fizzle out or be catastrophically destroyed by an unforeseen natural event. The Fukushima accident was caused primarily by loss of power, not damage from the earthquake/tsunami. Even without mega-storms reactors like Ginna are vulnerable to more frequent tornados, ice storms and power outages. Who can honestly say that Ginna is not more vulnerable today than it has ever been in its history of operation? That being the case, the question should no longer be: Who is financially responsible for Ginna? The real question should be: Who does our future belong to and how can we make sure that they have one?