Cravens dispels myths about nuclear power

by Rob Roper

I had the pleasure of a long chat with Gwyneth Cravens, author of, “The Power to Change the World,” which looks at the risks and benefits of nuclear power. Though she started out as a “ban the bomb,” Greenwich Village protester.

Cravens is now a staunch advocate of nuclear power, admitting that many of the perceptions that led her earlier opposition were not based in reality.

Craven’s book takes the reader on her own journey from ignorance to understanding of the science and potential of nuclear power. Our conversation had added resonance (for me anyway) as it set the table for Governor Peter Shumlin categorical statement that Vermont Yankee would not remain open after 2012, and then the Burlington Free Press’s article, “Lowell Mountain wind project opponents carry on despite setbacks.”

Vermonters seem hypnotized by the idea of renewable “green” energy, but for some reason don’t want to grasp the potential of nuclear energy, or the environmental drawbacks of wind and hydro.

One fact that Cravens relayed is that it takes 200 square miles of wind farm to realize the same amount of power (and it’s not even base load power) as one third to one half a square mile of nuclear plant, and wind requires between five and ten times the amount of concrete per kilowatt-hour. The base “plug” that a 400 foot tall wind turbine sits on is a 45’x45’x40′ (yes, 40 feet deep) concrete block that needs to be blasted into the mountain top. The road creating access to the wind towers in the Lowell project are described as being at points wider than I-89.

It’s mystifying to me that people who supposedly care about our environment and our landscape would willfully do this to large swaths of our most pristine wilderness when every home in the city of Burlington could be powered by a new generation modular reactor that could literally fit inside a space no bigger than a large three car garage, buried underground with (as I suggested in our interview) a old red barn on top for pictures’ sake.

Safety is the rallying cry, of course. But, as Craven’s points out, no one has ever been killed as a result of nuclear power. In fact, she shows how the most deadly form of energy generation is that great, green renewable hydro. When a dam fails, you better not be standing in the way. Dam breaks have killed over 1000 Americans, and the collateral damage to homes and property is considerable. Natural gas lines explode killing people, and we take it as a matter of course. (How much ink was devoted to the story of two killed by natural gas explosion in Harrisburg, Pennsilvania, on Jan 30th as opposed to the leakage of a harmless amount of tritium – less than exists in a common “exit” sign — in Vernon, Vermont?)

If we really love the health and the aesthetics our Vermont landscape, we better grow up and realize that in nuclear power we really do have, as Gwyneth Cravens says, the power to save the world. Or at least our very special little corner of it right here in Vermont.