I’ve always cared about taking care of our planet. I grew up in the ’80s with Save the Whales posters in my room and wearing Nature Conservancy T-shirts of rainforests. I wanted to do everything I could to help “Save the Earth.” As I gained independence, I continued to build my life around conservation and sustainability. When I was around others, I was often shocked at the lack of consideration for resources and our natural world. I was also frustrated that such little progress could be made just by one lifestyle.
When I first thought of working at Diablo Canyon, I was nervous. But in addition to my interest in nature, I have a strong curiosity and an appreciation for science. I decided to find out everything I could about nuclear power and either validate or disprove my fears.
It has been a long evolution — after five or six years, I knew enough to realize I was helping the world just by running the plant. The enormous amount of emissions-free electricity that’s generated is irreplaceable, and it’s particularly valuable now that people are recognizing the severity of climate change. That was enough to satisfy me — until now, when, 13 years into my career, I learned of plans to shut down the plant early.
How could that possibly be the right decision? My curiosity went to work, and I began to research the idea. Top scientists agree that we should increase nuclear energy to reduce emissions. Sure, some don’t believe in climate change. They still should care about air pollution, which will go up if we shut down nuclear and place more reliance on fossil fuels.
What about renewables? We should use every tool in our arsenal, but a screwdriver simply will not work for every job. Or even a screwdriver and a wrench. If we’re talking about something as large-scale as our national power supply, we need something like a hoist to do the heavy lifting, and then we use the other smaller tools in their specific applications. That hoist is nuclear power. No new plants have been built in 40 years, yet nuclear still provides 20 percent of our nation’s power (60 percent of the emissions-free power).
It’s true, renewables are scaling up, but there’s still a huge issue with the grid. To achieve about 50 percent renewables, we will need to expand our national grid by approximately seven times! And when adding more renewables, that number goes up exponentially. This is due to instability issues created by the intermittent nature of renewables.
The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, so in addition to a larger grid (think tower and wires cutting across landscapes), we will need to store energy. Batteries are toxic, inefficient, and small-scale. They account for less than 4 percent of the entire energy storage in the country. The rest is pumped hydro — using two reservoirs with water flowing down to generate power when demand is high, and then using power to pump water back up the hill when there is excess generation. Most environmentalists agree that damming more rivers is not ideal.
Another impact emerged that I was not necessarily expecting. One quarter of the world’s population has no electricity. Access to energy is critical to human health and also to economic development. Countries cannot advance without power for health care, sanitation, and infrastructure improvements. There is no way to provide this kind of electricity on a global scale without utilizing nuclear power.
Finally, when I started speaking out about these topics, I realized how misinformed, and often preyed-upon, the public has been concerning nuclear power. It will take a concerted effort for individuals to change their minds. A fellow mom on my daughter’s playground last week told me, “I kind of hate you now, because now I have to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about nuclear.”
Now I must work quickly to share what I know — that nuclear power is required for our future on this planet — it is the environmental and humanitarian solution. So, while it took me 13 years to realize how important this is, we don’t have 13 more years to Save Diablo Canyon, and also change the false perceptions about nuclear worldwide.
Please visit MothersforNuclear.org to start a dialogue and help us develop a global community of support for all clean energy.