Abandoning nuclear power is a bad idea for any state

One of California's well-known anti-nuke activists is trying to shut down that state's last two nuclear power plants.

Ben Davis Jr. was successful a couple of decades ago when he went after (and closed) the state's other two reactors.

It was a bad idea then and even worse now.

We think California, and other states, would be wise to consider more nuclear plants, not close down their current ones.

Although the Davis' initiative would take California a step in the wrong direction, we have to admit that it raises a legitimate issue.

The initiative would decommission San Onofre and Diablo Canyon reactors until the federal government provides a permanent storage site for the waste.

Whether the waste storage is Davis' real concern or just a useful argument in a broader anti-nuclear campaign isn't clear, but it wouldn't be the first time the waste issue was exploited by opponents of the technology.

Based on the government's performance, binding nuclear power production to waste disposal is a promising strategy for the anti-nuclear crowd.

With the Obama administration's decision to drop Yucca Mountain from consideration as a permanent waste repository, the nation's nuclear utilities are left without a long-term storage solution.

One positive result that might come out of the California initiative. If voters approve the measure, it would put pressure on the federal government to get serious about solving the waste problem, especially if other states threatened to follow suit.

But history doesn't suggest that would translate into action.

After all, it's been 22 years since the last time California voters shut down a reactor. And the last 22 years haven't done much for bringing a storage solution.

Why should we care what goes on the California ballot?

For one thing, the resulting power shortage will affect our market. When Californians behave foolishly on energy issues, we bear part of the cost.

If you need a real-world example, type "Enron" into your internet browser.

Californians ought to be even more worried about this initiative. We can think of about 4 billion reasons why -- all of them dollars.

These last two reactors provide about 15 percent of California's total power.

In addition to rolling blackouts, other side effects would include increased cost to ratepayers and being forced to buy clean, but expensive, wind and solar power, possibly from their good neighbors in Washington.

Competition for scarce resources might be good for suppliers. Not so much for consumers.

Certainly, there are people who would like to see nuclear power off the table permanently. It might even be possible, provided that we're willing to switch to carbon-spewing coal-fired plants.

If there's any hope of reducing the nation's carbon footprint and still provide affordable, reliable electric energy, then nuclear must be included.

To the initiative's credit, we do need an adequate solution to waste disposal. But creating an artificial energy crisis is the wrong way to get there.