Our opinion: The value of researching online opinions

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William Tucker, writing for Real Clear Energy, asks, we hope, tongue in cheek, if Bill McKibben, Vermont's eco-warrior, should be charged with racketeering.

Why? For "deliberately hiding (his) views on nuclear while so much new carbon is dumped into the atmosphere, shouldn't some ambitious attorney general charge them with conspiracy for keeping their support a secret during this most important quarter century in human history?"

According to Tucker, during a discussion he had with McKibben in 2011, McKibben admitted that nuclear was going to be necessary if we were ever to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. "Why don't you come out favorably in public for nuclear power, then?" asked Tucker. "If I came out in favor of nuclear," Tucker alleges McKibben said, "it would split this movement in half."

"So there you have it. McKibben, like many other environmentalists, knows in his heart that there isn't much chance of reducing carbon output without nuclear. But he does not want to be caught saying so in public."

But, in an email to the Reformer, McKibben said Tucker's quote is just not true. "I've never said that. I've said many times in public that I doubt nuclear will play a significant role in the climate fight, mostly because of the huge amount of money it requires."

Then, Tucker goes on to note that McKibben, the founder of 350.org, is suing ExxonMobil for allegedly covering up its knowledge of global warming in the 1970s. "Exxon is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, morally and practically culpable for failing to speak up when they should have done so and could have saved the world a wasted quarter century," McKibben told Rolling Stone Magazine. "They helped waste what may turn out to be the most critical quarter century in human history."

But if McKibben is suing ExxonMobile, that's news to him. "I did sit in at one of their gas stations in Burlington but as of today I've paid my fine to the state of Vermont, and that's the end of my legal involvement. I don't have any desire to sue them, but I hope the New York State Attorney General is able to bring them to justice."

Then Tucker, an avowed supporter of nuclear power, makes the jump from criticizing McKibben to discussing Entergy's shuttering of merchant nuclear power plants — such as Vermont Yankee in Vernon, Pilgrim in Plymouth, Mass., and FitzPatrick in Oswego County in New York.

He claims two years after his meeting with McKibben, Entergy Corporation "gave in to nuclear protesters and decided to close Vermont Yankee." But that's not what Entergy said when it announced in 2013 it was closing the plant. Representatives from Entergy maintained steadfastly it had nothing to do with protestors and everything to do with depressed prices on the energy market.

He also claims "Vermont is burning natural gas and importing some of its electricity from New York's Indian Point reactors ..." But as far as Vermont's largest utility is concerned, that's not true either. Green Mountain Power has a contract with Seabrook in New Hampshire, but not with Indian Point. And very little of the state's electricity is supplied by natural-gas powered generators. Technically, you could say the grid is interconnected and electrons go wherever but that's not what Tucker appears to be claiming.

Tucker also claims the explanation for the closures is not really economic, as Entergy and others have stated, noting the costs of producing electricity with natural gas as opposed to nuclear power.

"What cripples nuclear is that it receives absolutely no credit for generating electricity without producing any carbon emissions. Despite all the yammering about cutting carbon, nuclear gets absolutely no advantage, financial or otherwise, for being a zero-carbon source."

While it's true that nuclear power generates electricity without producing carbon emissions, "Nuclear plants have to be constructed, uranium has to be mined, processed and transported, waste has to be stored, and eventually the plant has to be decommissioned," wrote Kurt Kleiner for Nature. "All these actions produce carbon emissions."

While energy companies have applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 30 new nuclear power plants in the United States, those applications are still under review and to build those power plants, at a cost of anywhere between $4 and $9 billion each, the industry will require massive subsidies from the federal government. Meanwhile, noted McKibben, "The cost of a solar panel is plummeting, the cost of new nuclear continues to skyrocket. I think the direction we are going is clear."

It seems Tucker's real agenda here is attacking McKibben and his message, rather than being serious about having charges filed against him. Tucker's column is an example of what Lou Reed's mom once warned us about: "Don't believe half of what you see and none of what you hear."


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