A letter to Bill McKibben: Do the math

Write a book on the benefits of nuclear energy

Dear Bill McKibben,

Thanks for coming home to Concord/Lexington on April 2 and reminding us how we have wasted precious time since you sounded the alarm in 1989 with “The End of Nature” book.

We shrugged our shoulders then and went on to build McMansions in your old neighborhood and ignore the far-flung receding Arctic ice cap and the floods and fires of Biblical proportions that aren’t in our neighborhoods. Sadly, a crisis is typically required to quickly turn the battleship.

Now awakening to the nightmare we have collectively created, this time, you’re the one who is not listening to expert predictions. You advocate putting all our hope and resources into wind and solar to replace fossil fuels by 2050. Bill,  DO THE MATH because wind and solar cannot replace fossil fuels.

Start with the NIMBY  – Not In My Backyard — problem. You told us how Lexington voted down 100 units of affordable housing in the 1960s to bring greater diversity to town. Where do folks from Lexington and Concord want to install the massive wind and solar facilities and the required transmission lines? I guarantee it won’t be in their backyards. Wealthy landowners squawk over converting an abutting rail line to a bike path.

When you calculate the so-called “low cost” of a wind and solar utopia, remember to include all expensive of the LCOE – Levelized Cost of Energy — such as construction of new transmission lines and gas plants to back up solar and wind facilities when the sun goes down and the wind doesn’t blow.

Have you researched the data on the irregularity of wind? Can you point to any location where wind provides electricity dependably without gas backup? Battery technology is a unicorn – it does not exist and cannot affordably achieve the Herculean task of backing up a regional electric grid.

Do you include the costs of replacing and disposing of solar panels and turbine blades every 20 to 30 years? Recycling it is nearly impossible. Solar panels contain toxic metals. Of course, it’s easy to exclude the inconvenient costs by quietly dumping them overseas and hiding the costs in the average consumer electric bill.

I wish I could join the wind and solar evangelists and nobly get arrested with you and Greta Thornburg, but wind and solar are NOT the one and only true solution. Wind and solar are not reliable enough to feed the grid, and the hidden costs tell the true expenses, especially of exorbitant offshore wind construction, which may be prone to hurricane damage.

Recently, you’ve begun to acknowledge the benefits of nuclear power, even at risk of alienating your base, which typically is rabidly anti-nuclear. Most people don’t realize that the New England regional electrical grid relies on 20 percent of its power from the nuclear plants — NextERA Energy in Seabrook, New Hampshire, and Dominion in Millstone, Connecticut. They have no idea of the disruption, risk of blackouts, and higher consumer costs caused by new legislation to first use wind and solar sources until the sun and wind change, then ramp up the backup, typically gas plants.

I listened and fretted when you sounded the alarm in 1989. I beg you to get up to speed on the safety record of existing nuclear plants, and modern fail-safe nuclear fission technology. Fusion is still a unicorn under development. Fission is a zero-carbon, dependable, dispatchable, affordable source of power that uses a miniscule footprint of land, available now.

Please, Bill, use your reach to educate your impressive world-wide base of activists on the benefits of new nuclear power to stop the overheating of the planet. You’ve been inching toward it in the past year.

Take a giant leap and write a book on the benefits of nuclear energy and dispel the myths and misinformation perpetuated by the media. More than 60 percent of Americans already support nuclear power, especially upon learning it is a clean energy source to replace fossil fuels. Unfortunately, it’s a core group of third-act die-hard wind/solar evangelists who protest loudly against nuclear and nobly get arrested for the sake of the environment.

Use your megaphone of fame to increase public awareness and acceptance of zero-emissions modern nuclear power before the climate crisis lands in our backyards and can no longer be ignored. Listen to what you’ve been preaching for 24 years — we can’t afford to wait any longer.

We all need to remember the words of Thomas Sowell, “There are no solutions, only tradeoffs.”

Susan Tordella is a resident of Ayer.