Vox: Pilgrim is not “zero-carbon” nor are megadams

The news outlet Vox published an article by David Roberts taking Massachusetts Sierra Club to task for wanting to shut down Pilgrim while at the same time opposing destructive megadams in Canada. The article is based on the false premise that nuclear power is “carbon-free.” It is well documented that it’s not.

Here’s my response to Mr. Roberts and a link to his article →

Dear Mr. Roberts,

Your January 27, 2018 article, “Reckoning with climate change will demand ugly tradeoffs from environmentalists — and everyone else” struck a chord with me – particularly since I am an “environmental” lawyer and a native of Plymouth, Massachusetts, home to Entergy’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

You’d label me a “climate hawk” and environmentalist. I worked for years to address the horrifying effects of Pilgrim’s almost 46 years of operations (heating up the water in Cape Cod Bay, killing fish and marine life, polluting the aquifer, causing increased cancer rates, the list goes on). I fight to protect endangered species like the Plymouth Gentian and globally significant forest habitats around Plymouth from clear-cuts for unnecessary, ill-conceived industrial scale solar facilities. (Solar City has since withdrawn the absurd project that is the subject of this article). I oppose industrial megadams, joined the Northeast Megadams Resistance project and filmed the riveting speech at the National Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving Day in Plymouth by Amy Norman, an Inuit woman from Labrador fighting Nalcor, which wants to bring Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity to the Pilgrim site.

Yes, I have a dilemma, but your article is factually erroneous and won’t help me solve it. Neither nuclear energy nor megadam hydro are “zero carbon” energy sources, as you claim. Pilgrim’s 680 MW or so of nuclear energy is dirty, polluting, and has generated 46 years of spent nuclear fuel. Entergy uses fossil fuels 24/7 to run cooling pumps for the spent fuel pool to try to prevent a spent fuel fire that would spew deadly radionuclides on Cape Cod’s residents and summer tourists (there’s more cesium 137 in Pilgrim’s spent fuel pool than has been released in all the nuclear bombs ever detonated) – and that’s for starters.

Credible sources (which don’t include Jesse Jenkins’ tweet storm) establish that nuclear is not carbon free. Check out one of the experts, or just ask a neighbor living next to the transmissions lines that bring fossil fuel generated electricity to Pilgrim so it can run the once-through cooling pumps for daily operations, and other electrical systems (except when the transmission lines get knocked out during a snowstorm, as happened in 2015, causing Entergy to run diesel generators).

The Nuclear Information Research Service (NIRS) says, “While atomic reactors themselves are not major emitters of greenhouse gases, the nuclear fuel chain produces significant greenhouse emissions. Besides reactor operation, the chain includes uranium mining, milling, processing, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and long-term radioactive waste storage, all of which are essential components of nuclear power. At each of these steps, transport, construction and operation of nuclear facilities results in greenhouse gas emissions. Taken together, the fuel chain greenhouse emissions are more than double solar power emissions and some six times higher than wind power—not to mention emissions-free energy efficiency technologies.” This writer says, “Nuclear power emits 10-20 times the carbon dioxide as wind power.”

Further, you are wrong – there’s no way to “make Pilgrim safe” as you suggest Sierra Club Massachusetts should do. There is plenty of research on this. Pilgrim is one of the top three worst performing nukes in the U.S.

Nor are megadams zero carbon. “Forty years of research show hydro dams create environmental damage,” says David Schindler. “I don’t know what our politicians are doing,” said Schindler. “Are they not reading science at all? How can they come out and call dams clean power[?]. There is no excuse for this kind of ignorance.” “When you add the emissions from building and producing materials for a dam, as well as the emissions from clearing forests and moving earth, the greenhouse gas production from hydro is expected to be about the same as from burning natural gas,” said Schindler.

Maybe you should have consulted experts who have been working in the field for decades, instead of the tweets of an MIT PhD student who appears to be nothing but an industry schill. Over-simplifying the issues, ignoring the existing impacts of the supposed options/solutions, and staying in the safety box of the “because we use it, we must need it” world of fantasy is not going to solve anything. You do not mention conservation, efficiency and reducing demand – I’ve been told that if everyone in Massachusetts replaced one light bulb with an energy efficient one we would not need Pilgrim or its alleged replacement, HydroQuebec. You don’t mention distributed energy, which would eliminate the need for those troublesome transmission lines through National Forests that the enviros hate. Ignoring the facts is not going to save anything… hawk or not. Please get them right and maybe I can try to solve my personal dilemma.

— Margaret E. Sheehan, Esq.

Ms. Sheehan has been a public interest lawyer since graduating from Boston College Law School in 1983. She is a Plymouth native and works on forest protection, land conservation, closing down Pilgrim, and a wide range of environmental, social justice, and conservation matters.

1 Comment

  1. Richard Wickenden

    Tremendous Work !!

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