You don't have to be an anti-nuclear fanatic to wonder whether it would still make sense, were we starting from scratch, to build a large nuclear power plant complex just upriver from New York City, on the edge of a metropolitan area containing nearly 20 million people. So it's not surprising that the New York State government has decided to challenge the renewal of licenses for the two Indian Point reactors, which expire in 2013 and 2015, and nor is it surprising that the New York Times has weighed in with an editorial saying the state deserves to have its day in court. "This should not be misconstrued as an attack on nuclear power," said the Times three months ago. "Indeed, the state has an obligation to explain what it would do about the 2,000 megawatts of electricity that would be lost if the plant closed."
Indeed. And The Times might be construed as having the same public responsibility. But to judge from a more recent editorial, commenting on a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal to be built in Long Island Sound, one might wonder whether its editorial writers really grasp the implications of their own fine rhetoric. The Times opposed the Broadwater LNG terminal, which would provide the city with a billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, with this "crucial caveat": its critics, in opposing it, "are committing themselves to bearing the cost of the cleaner, greener way. This means a serious commitment to energy conservation and serious investment in wind and solar power, and in retooling existing power plants for efficiency and cleanliness," said the Times.
That's a cop-out if there ever was one. Conservation is a very good thing, and some of the world's most imaginative green architecture is being done in New York City today. But remember, on a per capita basis, because of its population density, New York is already the most energy-efficient and energy conserving place in the whole country. There is only so far that conservation and improved energy efficiency can go.
The 2000 MW Indian Point complex, as it happens, has just been retooled for greater efficiency--and won't be getting much better than it already is. As for the rest of the city's power, it comes from miscellaneous other fossil plants, and no matter how much you improve them, they're still going to be spewing undesirable amounts of greenhouse gas.
Solar being nowhere near ready for prime time, that leaves wind. So if you take the Broadwater terminal out of the equation or close down Indian Point, what then is the Times proposing? Does it want to fill Long Island Sound with 1000 very large wind turbines? That's what it would take to make up for Indian Point, or to meet needs comparable to what Broadwater might supply.