While I fully support permanently shutting down rickety old Pilgrim nuclear this week, I’m agnostic on nuclear power in general. Sixty years into the nuclear era, it remains disaster-prone and we have no answers (never mind good ones) when it comes to storing the waste. The cost of building new plants is so absurdly high it’s unclear if the United States will ever build another one – South Carolina recently spent a mind-boggling $9 billion before abandoning an attempt to build a nuclear plant. Massive investment in wind (onshore and offshore) and solar is a much better bet.
Nuclear power advocates are an odd bunch. They totally ignore safety concerns, always have some magic new technology that will somehow solve cost concerns, and insist environmentalists are the biggest obstacles to nuclear. Because progressives totally control everything on Beacon Hill and in Washington, right y’all?
Here is the 2nd sentence of today’s Boston Globe op-ed by a nuclear advocate:
Pilgrim supplied more carbon-free electricity every year than all Massachusetts solar, wind, and hydro combined, and supplied it 24/7, year-round, in any weather.
Now, reading that sentence, you would think Pilgrim operated all day, every day, all year, in any weather! Well hold onto your Dunks my friends because that’s an it-was-all-Buckner’s-fault-sized lie:
- To find Pilgrim’s most recent unexpected shutdown, you have to go all the way back to (checks notes) last week when one of its water pumps failed.
- Pilgrim is often forced to shut down by weather when we need the power most. It was knocked offline for weeks in 2018 by two snowstorms, first in January, then again in March. Pilgrim is also forced to slow down during extreme summer heat when Cape Cod Bay water gets too warm.
- Over the course of 2018, Pilgrim was at “zero” power for two full months because of unplanned shutdowns related to equipment problems.
- In 2015, Pilgrim was rated one of the worst-performing nuclear plants in the country & one step from mandatory shutdown by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
- Pilgrim was under a federally ordered shutdown from 1986 to 1989 for equipment and management failures.
Why would the Globe allow such an obvious, easily-fact-checked lie on its op-ed page?
It’s telling that nuclear advocates have shifted their criticism of solar and wind from “they don’t run full power all the time!” to “they don’t run full power all the time and battery storage cannot store our entire state’s energy usage for days at a time!” Why would we want or need that?
When it comes to Pilgrim, the simple fact is we don’t need giant, centralized power plants like we used to. As Vox’s David Roberts has detailed, electric grid operators have gotten extremely good at managing lots of different energy sources from lots of different places. We need lots of renewable energy in lots of different places, battery storage, more investment in energy efficiency and much stricter building standards.
There are some places that have existing nuclear plants in good condition that should keep them running until more renewables are online, but that’s largely a statement about how pathetically slow our legislators have been to incentivize sufficient renewable energy. Pilgrim is not one of those plants and Massachusetts is definitely one of those places where renewable energy – specifically offshore wind – has been sitting on the sidelines ready to go, waiting for our political coaches to plug them into the game.
Finally, a huge thank you to Christine Legere of the Cape Cod Times who has done unbelievably good work in the last few years documenting Pilgrim’s shoddy safety record and frequent failures. I don’t think folks outside the region understand the constant low-level stress that it puts on local residents to have having an aging nuclear plant nearby, and just through being a watchdog for Pilgrim, Legere has done a great public service. Follow her on Twitter!