The green activists who would shut down the Indian Point nuclear reactor to save us from terrorism have it backward. We're far safer with nuclear power than without it.
Nuclear plants generate gargantuan amounts of power in a very small space1/100th of an ounce of uranium releases as much heat as 3,000 pounds of wood, 1,000 pounds of coal or 700 pounds of oil or gas. Thus, minuscule amounts of fuel at Indian Point power 1.5 million New Yorkers. Precisely because it is so concentrated, nuclear power is comparatively easy to secure and contain, and to operate cleanly. The fuel at Indian Point is surrounded by millions of tons of concrete and hundreds of acres of tightly guarded real estate. The nuclear industry as a whole has established an exemplary safety record. And the environmental case for zero-emission nuclear power grows stronger year by year.
As 9/11 taught, other energy-rich targets present much more attractive opportunities to terrorists. Nothing else in our economy moves so much energy around, so fast, in such fragile packages as do passenger jets. But after the attack, we didn't permanently close airports or great swaths of airspace. We buried our dead, comforted the grieving, beefed up security, took out the Taliban and got on with life. To have done anything less would have left us permanently weakened.
More than 90% of the growth in U.S. energy demand since 1980 has been met by electricity. Electricity powers industries and services that account for two-thirds of our gross domestic productincluding the financial and information-centered businesses in New York. Nationally, some 60% of new capital spending is on information technologyand that percentage is much higher in New York City. Nationwide, electric demand rises in gulps equal to about four Indian Points a year, and faster when the economy is robust. Despite 9/11 and an economic slowdown, electric demand in New York is projected to rise 7% before 2008. Rising efficiency won't change that outlook.
The overall energy efficiency of the U.S. economydollars of GDP produced per unit of energy consumedhas risen 30% since 1982, but energy consumption has increased by 33%. More efficient machines invariably end up being put to new uses that were impractical or uneconomical when technology was less efficient. Windmills and solar power aren't going to substitute for Indian Points either. Despite billions in research and subsidies, solar provides .01% and wind .3% of the nation's electricity. Indian Point occupies 240 acres; it would take 300,000 acres of Statue of Liberty-size windmills strewn across the landscape to generate as much power with wind.
The only practical alternatives to nuclear fuel are coal and natural gas. Coal generates half of U.S. electricity, and U.S. reserves are enormous - but the anti-nuke lobby opposes coal just as vehemently. Gas-fueled power plants meet somewhat less resistance, but they now consume one-third of our available gas supply, and gas prices thus are rising sharply. Powering New York is already a challenge. The city could not stay lit, much less grow or prosper, if we shut down our largest, safest, cleanest and most efficient power plant.
Despite the deadly October 2000 terrorist attack against the destroyer Cole, 150 nuclear reactors still power the Navy, and these nuclear ships and submarines are still welcomed home at ports in Groton, Conn.; Norfolk, Va., and San Diego. As they contemplate our resolve, the murderous architects of 9/11 can only hope that New Yorkers and other Americans will come to fear not terrorists, but power itselfour ownto the point where we no longer dare to use the assets that make us strong.