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Nuclear industry has blunted progress on energy efficiency, renewables

Adam Auster, Precinct 3 Town Meeting member, wrote the following letter, which is republished from the July 25 Boston Globe with the author's permission. The writer was the field director for the Clamshell Alliance, an antinuclear organization founded in 1976 to oppose the Seabrook nuclear power plant, from 1982 to 1984.

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The heart of former state environmental affairs secretary (and onetime Seabrook nuclear plant protester) John DeVillars is surely in the right place. But his arguments in favor of nuclear power plants do not reflect the impact that another round of nuclear subsidies would have on the growth of renewable energy (“Part of the solution to climate change is nuclear power,” Opinion, July 18).

Faced with the existential threat of our climate emergency, it is tempting to accept the costs of nuclear power, including environmental hazards, security risks, and even periodic catastrophes, as necessary and lesser evils. Historically, however, nuclear has been inimical to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Fossil fuel use grew dramatically during the nuclear period, during which utility companies actively resisted efficiency and solar development.

My colleagues in the antinuclear movement considered nuclear power to be the greatest obstacle to the development of renewables, which threatened the companies’ centralized business model. The destruction of this model opened the door to Mass Save and to the renewable energy credits that are fueling the rapid development and deployment of photovoltaics.

There is little reason to believe this impact has changed. In California, a proposal to extend the life of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant threatens to undermine the economics of rooftop solar. In Ohio, legislation to bail out the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants was used to keep the Sammis coal plant operating after what had been its planned retirement in 2020. The Ohio bailout also cut efficiency and renewables.

Abstract comparisons of the relative risks of climate vs. nuclear are only part of the story. In the real world, nuclear choices have consequences for the political, economic, and financial systems that will determine our survival. By focusing on the former, and ignoring the latter, DeVillars and other smart people of integrity are, regrettably, missing a forest of climate jeopardy for the trees.


This letter was republished Monday, July 25, 2022.

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