Nuclear Power Still Safe, Despite Distortions

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Christopher Friend (R- Big Flats)

In light of the tragic events in Japan it seems to me appropriate to consider the safety of nuclear energy in New York State. In doing so, however, we must address not only the fear we all face, but also the facts at hand. In times of crisis and chaos, great men are made not by the rash decisions they jump to, but by the measured decisions at which they arrive. Some of our leaders are not living up to this ideal; they have chosen, instead, to harness international hysteria in the service of a political goal. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been the most consistent and blatant culprit in this regard, exploiting this tragedy to play on the fears of the public in order to close Westchester County’s Indian Point nuclear plant.

The events in Japan are indeed horrifying. We mourn their loss of life and the elemental destruction wrought there. Yet, as nuclear power in the United States moves forward, we should look to this most unfortunate situation for lessons, not deterrence. Those lobbying for the closure of Indian Point Power Plant, including New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, are being shortsighted and unconcerned by the effects of their decisions. Indian Point produces between 30 and 40 percent of the lower Hudson Valley’s and New York City’s power; it is not easily replaced, especially by unproven “alternative” means.

The push away from nuclear power is based on hysterics and fear rather than reason and facts. We have been taught since the Cold War to dread anything with the word “nuclear” in it. At times, this was a very reasonable fear. Now that we are removed from the imminent threat of nuclear war and annihilation, we still attribute those same fears to that ugly word. What we should be considering is not our past fears of “Dr. Strange Love”-style chaos, but how nuclear power has helped in the past and will help in the future to improve our lives and reduce our energy costs.

For more than a half-century Europe has relied on nuclear facilities to provide cheap and clean energy. In 2010, the 27 countries comprising the European Union received 31 percent of their electricity from nuclear facilities. France generates over 75 percent of its electricity needs from nuclear-power plants and their reliance has given them independence and nearly 3 billion euros a year in electricity exports. The French have even become adept at recycling nuclear waste for power and have been doing so without incident for decades.

The reality is that nuclear energy could allow a state to produce affordable, environmentally friendly energy which would spur job creation and economic development. New York State ranks fourth in total energy consumption and only 20th in total energy production. This not only forces money out of New York, but it increases the costs of our electricity and contributes to businesses closing their doors and leaving New York.

Safety is the primary concern, and all of our plants should be thoroughly reviewed. But let’s not turn a blind eye to nuclear power because of an incident created from the culmination of singularly unique natural events. Let’s fairly judge our plants on the stringent standards established by experts, not by politicians. Safety must remain the primary goal, but the future isn’t far behind, and nuclear power could be a crucial part of moving us forward.

Note: Author of the article is a New York State Assemblyman and a Ph.D. in Chemistry