Skip to main content
Longboat Key Wednesday, May. 15, 2013 4 years ago

My View: Seniors oppose nuclear plants? Not so fast

by: Dr. David Rossin

Lately it seems every interest group and political candidate trying to win a public debate wants to claim that “senior citizens are on my side.”

As a senior, I’m flattered by this. But I’d rather these groups just stick to the facts and stop trying to exploit my advanced chronological status for their political gain.

Sometimes, I know a good bit about the subject from my own experience. If we seniors must be drawn into the debate as a demographic group, perhaps we should provide some adult input for the discussion.

An obvious case in point is the publicity about nuclear energy in Florida. It has ramped up recently, in part because of a well-managed campaign by out-of-town, anti-nuclear activists who have been trying to kill future nuclear plants by promoting legislation that would eliminate the current pay-as-you-go financing.

Duke Energy fanned the flames after it decided to retire the Crystal River Nuclear Plant after 29 years of operation — even though that decision had nothing to do with new nuclear plant development or the proposed legislation to repeal existing financing laws.

The nuclear opponents assume that senior citizens would support their cause. They figure that a typical elder Floridian would oppose new nuclear plants that do not generate electricity until eight to 10 years into the future, presumably beyond the point when this constituency is still alive.

That is a grim view of my life expectancy. It is also an insult to assume that all of us seniors assess the merits of public works solely through the selfish lens of our potential public use based upon a cold calculation of our life span.

If these nuclear opponents were correct, seniors would be opposing development of other infrastructure that takes years to plan, develop and build, such as elementary schools, colleges, hospitals, water and sewer treatment facilities, roads or airports.

These people are simply wrong about us. Our parents and grandparents invested in these necessary assets. We care about our children and grandchildren, whether they choose to live up the street or in a different state.

Look, seniors do care about the future. We do care about clean air. We can see that nuclear power provides the one form of large-scale, base-load electricity supply with none of the smoke or sulfur dioxide emitted by coal plants and none of the CO-2 coal or natural-gas plants emit. We understand that these clean-air benefits will disappear if the activists persuade politicians to repeal legislation that helps to bring online future nuclear plants for us and our children.

During my career, I have seen previous examples where pay-as-you-go financing for power plants was implemented, only to have opportunistic politicians lead repeals and cause their states to end up paying a steep price for years thereafter.

Most of us seniors are wise enough to figure out that the current pay-as-you-go financing — also known in Florida as “alternative cost recovery,” or paying as costs are incurred — has saved billions of dollars that we would have had to pay for fossil fuel necessary to power the alternatives. Nuclear opponents have tried to promote a contorted image that the current financing law is a “nuclear tax.” 

Not so fast. We seniors are smart enough to figure out that politicians who vote for the current repeal effort would be voting to eliminate real cost savings and that would be the real nuclear tax on us.

A single nuclear plant in Florida reduces CO-2 emissions by an estimated 255 million tons over the life of the plant. The activists have tried to ignore this. Not so fast. We seniors realize that politicians who vote for the current repeal effort would be voting for more air emissions, and that would be a tax on seniors’ health.
As a senior, I am not swayed by anti-nuclear campaigns or even misguided endorsements by the AARP or any other political group.

When you see further reporting by anti-nuclear activists, politicians and associations claiming that we elderly persons don’t care about the future, we don’t care about clean air, we don’t care about electric bill cost savings, and we support legislation that would eliminate these benefits we get from nuclear energy, tell them “not so fast.”

Dr. A. David Rossin is a retired engineer who lives in Sarasota. He is a recognized expert in the field of nuclear energy with degrees from Cornell and MIT. He holds a Ph.D. in metallurgy from Case Western. He formerly served as assistant secretary of energy (1986-87) and was president of the American Nuclear Society.

Related Stories