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The Counter Opinion: Should Ohio subsidize its nuclear plants?

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According to The Columbus Dispatch, FirstEnergy Solutions has announced it will close its Ohio nuclear power plants, located in Perry and Davis-Besse, unless the state agrees to subsidize the costs of maintaining the plant.

We asked our writers: Should Ohio subsidize the remaining nuclear power plants in our state?

Contributing writers are Charlotte Caldwell, a freshman journalism major, Katie Nolan, a sophomore environmental studies major, and Tim Zelina, a junior journalism major.

 

 

Charlotte: Nuclear power plants are a step up from the use of fossil fuels because they don’t produce air pollution or carbon dioxide while in operation, like fossil fuel-fired power plants. Despite this, they still aren’t the best solution to combating climate change.

Nuclear power plants have many precautions in place to avoid harming the environment, but all of these steps have the potential to cause harm if done improperly. For example, when spent reactor fuel assemblies are taken out of commission, they have to be stored in specially designed pools of water or dry storage containers. Since the U.S. currently doesn’t have a permanent disposal facility for this high-level nuclear waste, many reactor operators just store them onsite. If something were to go wrong during this process, it could impact the land and the people surrounding it for thousands of years.

Despite the steps that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission takes to safely contain the radioactive waste produced by these plants, there is no guarantee that there couldn’t be an accident. The incidents in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and Fukushima, Japan, show that nuclear power plants aren’t always safe. No matter how advanced the technology becomes, there is always a possibility of a disaster.Climate risks aside, these plants are also expensive to build. Every nuclear plant under construction in the U.S. is at least $1 billion over budget, and cleanup for these sites if they ever had an accident could cost at least 100 times more than that. For these reasons, Ohio would be better off investing the bailout money in conversions to renewable energy throughout the state.

 

Maddie: Ohio’s relationship with clean energy is patchy at best, considering the restrictions on wind turbines and the sheer amount of oil and gas fields in the state. A bailout of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants could be a step in the right direction for Ohio’s clean energy efforts.

Other states with more assertive clean energy goals, such as New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, have provided similar subsidies to nuclear plants. These states are all leaders in the new clean energy movement, while a similar bill to subsidize nuclear power in Ohio died in committee in 2017. A possible new bill may include additional support for other renewable energy causes in order to get it to the House floor.

This being a high priority is a big step for the Republican controlled House. However, FirstEnergy Solutions donated a considerable amount to prominent Republicans, who mostly won their races. Many Ohio Republicans received anywhere around $5,000 to $10,000 from FirstEnergy’s political action committee. FirstEnergy using their money this way possibly shows how they want these Republicans to vote — they may want Republicans to remember where some of their campaign funding came from.

New legislation to bail out the nuclear plants could be a chance for Democrats to call for more progressive decisions regarding clean and renewable energy. This proposed bail out would be a step in the right direction for Ohio’s future with clean energy.

 

Tim: Nuclear energy makes many people nervous, and for good reason. Considering disasters like Chernobyl, as well as the practical concerns of disposing of nuclear waste, it’s understandable why no one wants to live next to a nuclear power plant.

However, the state of Ohio currently relies on something far more dangerous than nuclear energy to power its electrical grid: natural gas. Despite the industry trying to claim natural gas is ‘clean,’ it plainly is not; while there is notably less carbon dioxide production from natural gas compared to, for example, coal or oil, natural gas still produces a significant amount of the carbon dioxide.

Ohio is one of the key states that has led to an explosive increase in the United States’ production of natural gas. While the cheaper prices at the pump are nice, the prospects of combating climate change grow dimmer every time we put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Certainly, there are safer, more cost-effective ways to produce green energy, like wind or geothermal power. But until Ohio has a solid plan to invest in these newer technologies, there is no reason to abandon our nuclear power plants just yet. Though they may be a bit pricey to maintain, they’re well worth the brighter future they provide.

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One Comment

  1. H. John Lilburne

    March 30, 2019 at 1:39 PM

    The Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act already creates a 1,610,152% insurance subsidy (You check the math!) for nuclear source electricity generators such as First Energy.
    It caps owner payouts per incident at $98.5 million, annual premiums per reactor at $10 million, and creates a payout pool of only $10 billion among all reactor owners.

    The 1982 Sandia National Laboratory study, titled Calculating Reactor Accident Consequences (CRAC-II), conducted on behalf of the NRC, conservatively estimated damages from a severe nuclear accident as much as $314 billion, equivalent to $793 billion in 2018 dollars. (This doesn’t include the actual loss of human life and ensuant tragedies.)

    A 1987 GAO review of the 1982 study “found that property damages would be twice as much as those calculated in 1982, solely on the basis of the modeling improvements made.”

    That could make the costs of a severe nuclear accident in 2018 dollars as much as $1.58 TRILLION. That’s effectively a 1,610,152% insurance subsidy.

    Try and get that degree of discount on your automobile, health, renter’s or home owner’s insurance policy.

    $793,000,000,000.00 Damages ‘as high as,’ per severe nuclear accident, 2018 dollars
    ÷ $98,500,000.00 Price-Anderson payout cap per owner, per nuclear accident
    1,6101.522843
    x 100 Percent
    1,610,152.28 % discount

    That subsidy is completely apart from the Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund, R&D, the Nuclear Production Tax Credit, loan guarantees for nuclear and uranium enrichment, the Next Gen Nuclear Plant Project – $31 billion in subsidies since 2005 and over $85 billion historically.

    Of course First Energy wants greater subsidies. And they’re willing to use Climate Change as the extortion mechanism to acquire them.

    How much traction that gets in a state legislature which repeatedly makes its bed with fossil fuels industries remains to be seen.

    Reply

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