Nick Coleman burns finger on nuclear issue

Star Tribune Columnist Coleman refers to “a host of unsolved problems” without naming any except for a vague reference to nuclear spent fuel waste.

Rolf Westgard

In an Aug. 29 column published in the Star Tribune (“Let’s not get all aglow about nuclear power”), would-be nuclear engineer, Nick Coleman thinks nuclear power is a glowing “pig in a poke.” He refers to its “safety and security problem” and the costly plans of in San Antonio, Texas to add two new reactors to the two now operating in San Antonio’s South Texas Project. He doesn’t know that the project’s two existing reactors achieved a significant safety milestone recently, going 10 million labor hours without a significant injury or accident. They also produce power at a total operating cost, including fuel, of roughly two cents/kilowatt hour.

Columnist Coleman refers to “a host of unsolved problems” without naming any except for a vague reference to nuclear spent fuel waste. The French store the spent fuel from 58 operating reactors in the floor of a single large room at La Hague by reprocessing the spent fuel. Ninety-five percent of it can be recycled into new fuel.

It was 52 years ago on Aug. 3 that the nuclear powered submarine, USS Nautilus, passed directly under the North Pole. Two days later, the Nautilus emerged, completing a four day 1,830-mile voyage under the Arctic ice cap. The Nautilus relied solely on power from its nuclear reactor which propelled the big sub at a steady 20 knots.

Coleman refers to Minnesota’s nuclear power plants at Monticello and Prairie Island as reaching “the outer limits of their originally expected 40 year life spans.” Actually both will operate for at least 60 years, as Monticello has recently been granted a 20 year life extension, one of 56 granted so far by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Prairie Island should soon receive the same. Coleman refers to “old dangers” without refuting the fact that Occupational Health and Safety Administration studies identify the nuclear power industry as our safest industrial activity. Cutbacks at the Tribune appear to have left the paper short of editors competent to review technical columns.

It’s time for the Minnesota Legislature to join the world nuclear renaissance and lift our state’s ban on new nuclear power plants. Like the postman, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor other vagaries of weather stays those plants from the swift reliable completion of their obligations.

Rolf Westgard College of Continuing Education Geological Society of America American Nuclear Society