Response to Guy Page on BLS study: April 4, 2012

This was written as a response to a Guy Page op-ed in Vermont Digger.  To see the op-ed and the other comments, please go to:  vtdigger.org/2012/04/03/page-state-trying-to-punish-vermont-yankee/#comment-32595.

First, thanks to those who have already commented, and who have covered a number of the points I would otherwise have made.

Three additional points merit discussion.

First, I took the time to follow the link Mr. Page provided. Three points drew my attention:

1) The definition. The report says: “The BLS output definition of GGS employment does not include workers from all industries. BLS identified 333 industries …. These 333 industries, the GGS scope, consist of industries that may produce green goods and services…. The GGS scope was identified by BLS after consultations with industry groups, government agencies, stakeholders, and the public….” It’s not clear in this case who the “stakeholders” and “public” are (I wasn’t consulted, were you?). But it IS perfectly clear what industry and DOE think about nuclear power. My simple point is that the term “green jobs,” as used in this report gives no environmental imprimatur from BLS. It is merely the result of advocacy, and does not represent any attempt at scientific rigor or even impartiality. Reading Mr. Page’s analysis, however, one would never know that.

2) A more important problem stems from Mr. Page’s use of the data. First, his statement that “The BLS report found that nuclear power generation topped the list of energy industries in terms of “green goods and services” employment …” is based on a category — “energy industries” — not used in the report. The report DOES include “utility” industries, which certainly qualify as “energy” industries, but it also includes “electrical equipment and appliance manufacturing,” which represents more jobs than nuclear and, in my mind at least, would also fall under this newly created heading of “energy industries” that Mr. Page created. In other words, Mr. Page has molded the study results to fit his own rhetorical needs.

3) Far more important, however, is the fact that Mr. Page is simply wrong when he concludes: “Vermont’s top ranking is in part due to the approximately 600 jobs at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.” Mr. Page is clearly basing this “top ranking” on Table 4, which shows Vermont as having the highest percentage of “green” jobs to total jobs (not, as Mr. Page erroneously reports, jobs per capita). But the job totals used in Table 4 are then broken down by industry on Table 6. There, under Vermont utility jobs, a footnote indicates “Data do not meet BLS disclosure standards.” In other words, Vermont’s top ranking quite clearly EXCLUDES Vermont Yankee jobs.

Just as Mr. Page skews the definitions and data in the BLS study to fit the needs of his argument, so too he skews his brief glance at the realities of nuclear power. First, he argues: “A well-run nuclear plant is an environmentally low-impact power producer ….” Many would not concede that VY is well-run, but in any case, the fact of the matter is that running a nuclear reactor is only one of the stages in the nuclear fuel cycle. Without fuel, for example, the plant won’t run at all, yet the fuel must be mined, milled, and enriched before it can be used, and those are all processes which are anything but green.

Similarly, his statement that “instead of emitting spent fuel into the atmosphere, as occurs in the production of fossil-fuel power, nuclear plants’ emissions are safely stored, and the public is protected from contamination” must be read with more than a grain of added salt. Nuclear waste will remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. Even if again, for the sake of argument, we assume that spent fuel pools (Fukushima #4 anyone?) and dry casks constitute “safe” storage, it is simply not the case that this storage will “protect” the public for the hundreds of thousands of years needed. Spent fuel pools are meant to store fuel only while operations continue (and conceivably during a SAFSTOR period of up to 60 years). Dry casks are considered safe for a century or two at the outside. Neither comes anywhere close to the millennia required and, despite over half a century of methodical and costly searching, no country on the planet has found a way to permanently dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

Finally, it’s quite a leap for Mr. Page to suggest that a tax increase on ONE particular generator demonstrates to ALL other businesses that Vermont is “making a public spectacle of itself as ferociously anti-business.” Perhaps, the State is merely suggesting that it has no taste for liars and cheats.

 

JG

Clairifying the problems of Nuclear Power in the Green Mountain State and beyond