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Renewables 100 Policy Institute calls for ban on nuclear power

Renewables 100 Policy Institute calls for ban on nuclear power—and a commitment to shift to 100% renewable energy sources.

LOS ANGELES, CA -- The Renewables 100 Policy Institute Board's sorrow and compassion are with the people of Japan in the wake of the earthquake that ravaged the Sendai Coast on March 11, which triggered the ensuing tsunami and nuclear devastation. The calamitous loss of life, home, and health are tragic blows dealt by nature—and also, to borrow from Einstein, appalling results of technology exceeding humanity.

In California where we sit, Japan's wrenching misfortune is a cautionary tale. Experts continuously remind us here that a massive earthquake in our backyard is only a matter of time; and two aging nuclear power plants sit on the coast near some of the world's most valuable real estate and agricultural land, not to mention millions of people.

Industry leaders assure us that the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo, CA and the San Onofre, CA plant are safe and built to withstand the worst disasters. But the fact is, the human imagination is incapable of predicting the worst in its infinite forms, as was starkly illuminated when Ray Golden, Edison's spokesman for San Onofre, admitted in 2001 that “the plant was never designed for the impact from a commercial airplane.”

No matter how small the risk of nuclear catastrophe may be, history has proven that it does happen even when industry promises us it will not, and the consequences are beyond what is conscionable for anyone to have to bear. Five workers have already died at Japan's Fukushima nuclear site, dozens more have been injured, and an unknown number of people have been exposed to toxic radiation. Children and pregnant women will be the most at risk for cancer. And contaminated food and water resources, along with disrupted energy supplies, will compound the suffering in the quake and flood damaged region.

Several firms have already projected that in addition to the priceless loss of lives and wellbeing, Japan's disaster could be the most monetarily expensive in history, a sad prospect that will be severely exacerbated by the nuclear meltdown that the public will have to pay for because nuclear power plants are uninsurable. If a crisis similar to Japan's were to hit the multimillion dollar home communities and enormous industry base of Southern California, the price tag would be staggering.

Japan's horror story is especially tragic because safer, cost effective, more resilient alternatives to nuclear power exist. In 2003, members of the Renewables 100 Policy Institute team contributed to a Greenpeace commissioned study that detailed how Japan could supply 100% of its energy needs with all or largely domestic renewable sources. In Germany, utility companies have finally acknowledged that if Germany shut down all of its 17 nuclear plants today, there would be no disruption in electricity supply. This is with only just over 17% renewable electricity installed, although Germany aims to increase this amount to 35% by 2020 and 80-100% by 2050.

California is getting on average around 18% of its electricity from renewable sources, according to the California Public Utilities Commission, with a mandate to achieve a 20% target immediately (last year actually) and an executive order to increase the amount to 33% by 2020. If Germany can go without its far larger nuclear power supply than our two generating sites, certainly California can do the same.

California is moreover blessed with of an abundant supply of renewable energy sources -- from powerful solar irradiation, to enviable wind resources, as well as an ample geothermal and biomass base.  With even bolder, more effective policies to develop our own renewable energy supply, combined with conservation and efficiency provisions and cutting edge energy storage, we can meet a growing portion of our energy demand with renewables and indeed set 100% as an ultimate target.  This will not only help avert catastrophe, but also boost the economy, create jobs for Californians, and encourage technologies we can export worldwide.

California should and can reclaim its industrial and moral position as a global renewable energy leader.  Simultaneously, the state ought to have the foresight to shut its remaining nuclear power plants down instead of having to use hindsight in the aftermath of disaster. Let's not find, as the Japanese proverb warns, that as we consider when to begin, it has become too late.