To Patrick Moore the 1979 nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island isn’t a symbol of the U.S. nuclear power industry’s failure but a testament to its safety.
When one of the reactors at the Pennsylvania plant lost cooling water the reactor suffered a near-worst-case-scenario situation with a partial reactor meltdown. But Moore, a Greenpeace co-founder-turned-nuclear energy evangelist, says the radiation release was small and there was no loss of life — proof that the safety measures put in place worked, despite the many instances of human and system error.
| Moore is in town to bolster the so-called “nuclear renaissance,” which could bring two more reactors to the South Texas Project near Bay City.
The “success” at Three Mile Island brought nuclear power development to a nearly 30-year halt in the U.S., however. And despite no deaths related to radiation at U.S. nuclear plants in the ensuing years public support for them was slow to recover. That’s why Moore said during a visit with the Chronicle on Tuesday he finds it a bit ironic that more than 70 people were killed in a hydroelectric plant accident in Russia last month, “yet no one called for the end of hydroelectric plants.” (well, Greenpeace doesn’t like them so much).
Moore is making the rounds as part of the efforts of the CASEnergy Coalition, a group of businesses, organizations and elected officials pushing for an expansion of the nation’s nuclear power plant fleet. This includes expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear plant near Bay City.
While the group has been around a while, Moore’s tour seems well-timed for the Senate’s plans to take up the climate change bill again, particularly since it could include more incentives to kick-start reactor construction.
Moore will be in San Antonio Wednesday for
a CASEnergy event (turns out it’s not CASEnergy-sponsored, my misunderstanding) that is also aimed at supporting the local utility, CPS Energy, and its plans to help in the STP expansion, led by NRG Energy. But opponents of the plant have set up their own meeting to counter his claims. Our sister paper, the San Antonio Express-News, did a lengthy piece on one of the issues surrounding the expansion, water usage, this past weekend. They’ll likely cover both meeting so check back with us for updates.
But back to Moore… He isn’t shy about using the odd juxtaposition of his early Greenpeace roots and current consulting work for the nuclear industry (and others). We described some of his past in a profile when he came through Houston a few years ago, as well as a follow-up on some of his critics’ counterpoints.
On Tuesday Moore said he thinks the vigor with which Greenpeace went after one of its first causes, bringing an end hydrogen bomb testing, made it all too easy for the environmental movement that followed in the wake of their success to paint nuclear power as equally evil.
“It colored our attitude about everything nuclear, which is about as sensible as lumping nuclear medicine in with nuclear bombs,” Moore said.
The post-Three Mile Island nuclear freeze opened the door for a generation of new coal plant construction that Moore says is the greater threat to human health. He argues if the nuclear path had been maintained in the 1980s the switch to a low carbon economy today would be much easier.
Moore said he parted ways with the group in 1986 while serving as a director for the international organization just as it was about to launch a major campaign to ban the use of chlorine (the so-called “Devil’s Element”).
“I told them I didn’t think we had the authority to ban part of the periodic table, and that adding chlorine to drinking water was one of the biggest advancements in public health,” Moore said.