Stafford 1st CD Candidate Forum: Energy and Environment

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In my view, Krystal Ball has it exactly right on energy and environmental issues, which is one main reason why I endorsed her back in December 2009. For instance, I strongly agree with Krystal regarding the Chesapeake Bay that the "current regulatory regime for controlling nonpoint source pollution is just broken" and that "we’ve got to get the EPA more involved in controlling nonpoint source pollution." I also couldn't agree more that all our efforts on the Bay will ultimately be "for nought if we do not get climate change under control." Sadly, as Krystal points out, "Rob Wittman has voted time and time again against renewable energy" and he has "voted against Cap and Trade." Rob Wittman needs to go!

On cap and trade, Krystal argues what I've been saying for a long time, that this "is exactly the sort of market-based energy reform that, again, a responsible Republican should support." I'm impressed that Krystal understands what most politicians apparently have no clue about, that cap and trade is designed to allow "market mechanisms to set the price," just as was done successfully with acid rain. For his part, Scott Robinson does not support cap and trade, which he also noted in his Blue Virginia interview back in December 2009.

Finally, on nuclear power, once again I strongly agree with Krystal -- not philosophically opposed to nuclear, but concerned over the extremely high costs of building and operating these plants, plus the thorny issue of what to do with nuclear waste. Given the cost and waste issues, Krystal understands that wind, solar, and energy efficiency are far better ways to go than nuclear power. In contrast, Scott Robinson is gung-ho on nuclear power, specifically breeder reactor technology.

Unfortunately, there are some major problems with breeder reactors, which is why very few of them are in operation. For starters, as EIA points out, Fast Breeder Reactors have "so far, proven to be more expensive to build and operate than LWRs [light water reactors]." Also, "The plutonium content of the spent and reprocessed fuel also raises concerns over weapons proliferation." Third, the early FBR designs "experienced system failures." Third, "Many FBRs have used molten sodium, a metal with which there is considerable experience but which has sometimes proven difficult to handle." Fourth, as this website notes, the plutonium-239 used in breeder reactors "is extremely toxic" with an "extremely long" half-life of 24,000 years. "This could create an almost impossible disposal problem if large amounts of this material are generated." In short, breeder reactors have a long, long way to go before they are a viable energy source on a serious scale - hundreds of reactors - for this country (or other countries: see Scientific American on that topic). We're talking decades, most likely, if ever. In the meantime, we need to stop looking for magic techno-fixes for our problems and go for realistic, low-hanging-fruit solutions like energy efficiency, wind and solar, geothermal and wave, possibly natural gas as a relatively low-carbon fossil fuel.

Fortunately, we have one candidate in the 1st CD who understands energy and environmental issues ranging from the Chesapeake Bay to renewable energy to nuclear power. Her name is Krystal Ball, and I urge everyone to get behind her candidacy!

P.S. For more discussion of this forum, see Leaving My Marc.

UPDATE: A few days ago, the International Panel on Fissile Materials released a study which concluded that breeder reactors - the ones Scott Robinson is advocating - are "expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair." The study also, "After six decades and the expenditure of the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars, the promise of breeder reactors remains largely unfulfilled and efforts to commercialize them have been steadily cut back in most countries." Princeton University Professor Frank von Hippel concludes that "The breeder reactor dream is not dead but it has receded far into the future." International nuclear energy consultant Mycle Schneider says that France's Superphénix Fast Breeder Reactor "was shut down in 1998 with one of the worst operating records in nuclear history" after "an endless series of very costly technical, legal and safety problems." And Princeton's M.V. Ramana says that "breeder reactors are likely to be unsafe and costly, and their contribution to overall electricity generation will be modest at best." In short, breeder reactors are not the answer, certainly not now, almost certainly not in the next decade or two, and possibly never. I'm not sure what information would suggest otherwise.