For years, industry shills have touted nuclear energy as the solution to global climate change. In reality, the impacts of climate change have been highly unpredictable, and have created very real concerns about the security and reliability of nuclear power.
Here in Connecticut, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently ordered the shutdown of one of two nuclear reactors at the Millstone power station in Waterford. The order came after water temperatures in Long Island Sound were found to be higher than Millstone’s permit allows. This marks the first time that facility has had to cut production due to high water temperatures in its 37 years of operation. Data collected by environmental scientists at Millstone show that average temperatures of the water used in Millstone’s open-loop cooling system have risen by as much as .67 degrees per decade since the plant opened in 1976.
This should be perceived as a wakeup call to the people of Connecticut. Each year, climate change creates new challenges that people must adapt to, from changes in how we manage food and water resources, where we build our homes, and of course, how we produce energy. The long term impacts that climate change will have on our state may not be known for decades, but we do know that the rising water temperatures that forced Millstone nuclear to shut down its reactor are the same increased temperatures that are creating stronger, more frequent extreme weather patterns that we have seen in recent years (i.e. Tropical Storm Irene and the freak snow storm that hit CT in late October of last year that left a combined 1.6 million CT residents without power, some for as long as a week after the storms hit).
The implications that these kinds of extreme weather events can have on the future of Connecticut’s energy infrastructure are staggering. Connecticut is heavily reliant on Millstone for its energy; about 48% of the electricity the state uses comes from nuclear power. The remainder is comprised mostly of natural gas, coal and oil, with only about 6 or 7% coming from renewable energy resources like wind and solar.
This leaves Connecticut vulnerable to energy shortages and other hazards associated with natural disasters. The risk is magnified by the fact that there are so many people living in close proximity to the power station; recent estimates show that 20 million people live within 50 miles of Long Island Sound. One “hundred year storm” could knock out power at Millstone and potentially jeopardize millions of people for miles in every direction. Furthermore, Long Island Sound generates over $8.5 billion in revenue for the local economy every year through commercial fishing and tourism, making it a vital natural resource our region can’t afford to lose.
Nuclear energy is not the solution to global climate change, and certainly not for the state of Connecticut. We need local investments in clean, safe, renewable energy like wind and solar in order to address climate change on a global level. The move towards clean energy will take a coordinated effort coming from citizens, states and policymakers at every level of government to get our nation off of its addiction to dirty nuclear energy. Now is the time to pick up your phone or write your congressperson, and tell them to fight to end federal subsidies for nuclear power. Now more than ever, we need clean, homegrown energy that won’t compromise our environment or leave future generations to deal with the poor choices we make today.