Who has the power in the power industry?

Minority communities for years have seen large industrial facilities as environmental justice issues, says CASEnergy’s Patrick Moore, with high-impact plants built in their midst because they’re powerless to stop it, but he insists nuclear is different.

Moore told Breaking Energy that he is reaching out to African-American and Hispanic business and labor groups, telling them that nuclear plants, in contrast to projects like coal plants, are long-term community assets.

Patrick Moore, an early Greenpeace activist and co-founder of CASEnergy who now supports nuclear as the largest non-polluting electricity source available, says nuclear not only needs thousands of skilled workers when plants are built new but generations of skilled workers to keep the units running for 60 or more years.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is just beginning to consider what safety standards are needed to extend US plants licenses from 60 to 80 years.

African-American and Hispanic advocacy groups have historically been focused on civil rights, but they’re “morphing into economic development,” Moore said, and looking at energy policy for the first time.

Unlike many other big industrial facilities, he noted, polls show nuclear power plants have increasing popular support the closer people live to them. Nuclear plants are “wealth creating machines,” Moore said, with no pollution, better roads and schools financed by the plants’ property taxes, and large payrolls.

Moore said he has had positive reception from minority business leaders, and said he is urging minority business groups to “stream their members into training” for nuclear industry jobs. “Even if no new plants are built, the nuclear work force is aging,” he said, echoing an issue discussed by both the NRC and the industry in recent years. “Over half the workforce is retiring in the next few years.”

Moore said that, despite the Fukushima disaster, he sees less controversy worldwide about nuclear power now than there was five years ago, in part as other countries see the increasing pollution and fossil fuel costs borne by Japan and Germany in the wake of politically forced nuclear shutdowns.

Breaking Energy covered the anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in detail with analysis of impacts for regulators, investors, the industry and suppliers. See that coverage here.

Japan in April reported a $55 billion trade deficit for the fiscal year since Fukushima, due to lower exports from quake-affected industries and higher fuel imports. It was Japan’s first deficit in three decades.

On safety, Moore said, a key factor leading to the Fukushima events was the lack of an independent regulator in Japan, and that’s not an issue for the US. “The regulatory authority was controlled by industry,” he said. “In the US, the NRC is at arms’ length, there is true independent oversight every day.”

CASEnergy is a coalition of business and advocacy groups, and Moore acknowledged that, with natural gas prices so low and supply so ample, it’s hard to justify the expense of nuclear building unless a business can take a long view.

Gas prices are historically volatile, he noted, but with so many utilities and merchant generators turning to cheap gas, “it will flip to a seller’s market” in a few years, he argued, and “nuclear will start looking good again.”

Moore doesn’t see why small modular reactors – the latest focus of industry and NRC attention – shouldn’t be deployed to islands like Hawaii and Puerto Rico and isolated towns in Alaska to provide heat and power now supplied only by petroleum.

“We already have 100 of them working in the Nuclear Navy,” he said, noting Naval reactors predate the land-based ones. “For years we’ve had sailors living right next door to them.”