Kirk Heinze: Energy from the ‘Heavens’ must include nuclear

By Kirk Heinze
January 12, 2011

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing two most accomplished women on Greening of the Great Lakes. Both are former governors. Both are exceedingly knowledgeable, articulate and passionate about the beliefs they hold dear. And, among those beliefs, they share a deep and abiding commitment to the development of renewable energy.

They are Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator under George W. Bush, and Jennifer Granholm, former Democratic governor of Michigan and strident advocate for Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards and the growth of the alternative energy sector of Michigan’s economy.

For Granholm, the energy portfolio of the future would include wind, solar, lithium ion battery, biofuel, nuclear and some measure of fossil fuel generation. She is particularly bullish on solar energy and battery technology in Michigan because she has seen, first-hand, how the skilled workforce and the sophisticated automotive manufacturing infrastructure can be repurposed to support the growth and development of alternative energy generation.

For Whitman, who currently serves as the co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), the energy generation portfolio of the future will also be somewhat eclectic. However, Whitman is a strident and convincing advocate for dramatically expanding America’s nuclear energy capability. She believes that, first and foremost, U.S. energy policy must move in the direction of nuclear energy expansion.

For many of us, having grown up in the 1950s, the specter of nuclear holocaust has understandably loomed large. Our parents were encouraged to construct fallout shelters, and, in school, we had regularly scheduled drills on what to do if we were attacked by the Soviets. Popular culture was replete with nuclear horror scenarios. Political rhetoric only served to fan the flames of fear. Then there was Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. And all of the anti-nuclear protests featured prominently in the media.

In my own case, it has taken a very long time to warm to the notion of pervasive nuclear energy generation. And that has been, frankly, most unfortunate. Consider, for example:

*Nuclear energy plants emit virtually no greenhouse gases; in fact, nuclear energy already provides 75% of the U.S.’s emission-free energy.

*You would have to live near a nuclear power plant for several lifetimes (even centuries) to get the same amount of radiation exposure that you get from one diagnostic medical x-ray.

*While nuclear energy plants are admittedly expensive to build, the electricity produced costs less per kilowatt hour than all other major sources of electricity.

*Nuclear power plants already account for about 20% of U.S. energy production.

*The nuclear energy industry is one of the most highly regulated in America, and its safety record is impressive by any reasonable standard.

*And, most interestingly, a 2008 Zogby International poll indicates that 67% of Americans support the construction of new nuclear power plants. I was somewhat surprised when President Obama mentioned nuclear energy expansion in his most recent “State of the Union Address,” but I shouldn’t have been.

I share Granholm’s enthusiasm for other green energy technologies, especially solar and battery, but I have come to the conclusion that we need to invest more resources in the rapid expansion of nuclear energy production. There are over 20 new reactor projects under review in the U.S. In Michigan, DTE Energy is considering building a new reactor at its Fermi plant near Monroe. If it is constructed, it would boost to 28% the amount of Michigan’s energy derived from nuclear. Further, the construction of the reactor would employ about 3,000 people and, once built, it would house between 600-700 permanent workers.

The French “got it right” with nuclear power; they now safely and efficiently produce over 90% of their energy from reactors. Kudos to them.

Oh, and one final note: the other co-founder of CASEnergy is Dr. Patrick Moore—the former head of Greenpeace. It’s somewhat comforting to know that I am not the only one who has experienced a change of heart (and mind) regarding nuclear energy.

Please join me Sunday evenings at 9 for Greening of the Great Lakes on News/Talk 760 WJR.

I do not think we should respond to Mulshine – it was just his blog post (not in the paper), so not worth engaging him and his few followers.