Monday, April 17, 2006
In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my compatriots. That's the conviction that inspired Greenpeace's first voyage up the spectacular rocky northwest coast to protest the testing of U.S. hydrogen bombs in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change.
Look at it this way: More than 600 coal-fired electric plants in the United States produce 36 percent of U.S. emissions -- or nearly 10 percent of global emissions -- of CO2, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power.
Agreed. So here are my questions:
Do Patrick Moore and other newly-minted nuclear greens wonder how much more carbon would have been pumped into the air in the last 35 years if they had been successful in their objective, which was to shut down the nuclear power industry entirely? Do they wonder if their intransigent opposition to the nuclear power industry was responsible, in whole or in part, for the fact that the last new nuclear power plant went on line ten years ago? And, finally, having once been so confident in the scientific arguments against nuclear power and yet ultimately having been wrong (at least in the larger cost/benefit sense), are they concerned that the scientific arguments against burning coal might also be wrong?
Of course not. All Liberals are right “Now”, despite the number of errors they may have made “Then”. And if you had talked to them back “Then”, they would have been just as confident about being right, because it would have been “Now”. This is why the neo-communists are so confident in their worldview, despite the bloody history of communism, why the modern Liberals are so confident they can “solve” the poverty problem despite their poor record, and why the peaceniks are so confident that Iran will take at least ten years to build The Bomb despite the fact no nuclear bomb test has ever failed to go “Bang”. (just some of them have not had quite the Bang anticipated)
History is the art of learning from other peoples mistakes. As much as I hate to admit it, we could learn a lot from France’s nuclear program.
Aside from the safety issue, nuclear power has one major drawback - radioactive waste. It isn't going to stop being radioactive for over ten thousand years.
That being said, a limited amount of nuclear power may help us to transition to more sustainable methods of energy production.
Ideally, we will get our energy from a great variety of sources: wind, water, solar, biofuels, oil (for plastics, not fuel), and small scale nuclear. Such a diversity keeps us from being held over a barrel, so to speak, by oil-rich nations.
I agree with Screwy about the nuclear waste issue. Anything that lethal and that long-lived is worrisome.
As to the nuclear plants themselves, it's my understanding that the designs have evolved significantly from the Three Mile Island days, and modern facilities shut themselves down when something goes wrong. But I claim no expertise on the subject.
(Just as an aside, I find it curious that the author of the piece claims Three Mile Island as a success story as if it might not just as easily been our Chernobyl. We were at least a little bit lucky things turned out as well as they did, and we shouldn't forget it.)
Aside from the fact that TMI shut-down worked as planned, you shold read about the reasons why Chernoble acted as it did.
Engineering wished to test the multiple levels of safety overides, so they shut down all but one (something like 13 other levels). That last safety measure did in fact work; unfortunately the reactor went critical in less than 30 microseconds, and there was nothing left to shut down.
That and the safety measures that were in place were largely ignored by the plant staff.
I have long been an advocate of nuclear power. The reasons why nuclear power has not been utilized more as of late in this country has less to do with actual rational arguments and more to do with paranoia and fear as a result of the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island incidents. This is in sharp contrast to the climatological arguments against using coal power plants, which are based on broad scientific consensus.
"what's wrong with coal and natural gas."
Coal is terrifically harmful to the environment at extraction, processing, and burning. Some power plants are using "clean coal" technology, but tell that to the mountains of West Virginia.
Natural gas has a lot of positives, but the supply, like oil, becomes more difficult to extract over time. Gas is a good one to conserve and have for a long time.
With technology improving at its current rate, a solution that kept radioactive waste out of our hair for 100 years - 200 to be cautious - should be more than sufficient.
Even if this were not the case, I don't think it is wise to project what we should be doing for mankind more than 200 years out. Why would we assume that they will be nice people we approve of running the world at that point? I am not advocating that we irresponsibly trash everything with no regard to the future, but I don't see that it's morally compelling that we preserve a certain tupe of physical environment for them. I am far more concerned with preserving certain ideas -- without them, what exactly will we be preserving?
“Aside from the safety issue, nuclear power has one major drawback - radioactive waste. It isn't going to stop being radioactive for over ten thousand years.
By Screwy Hoolie, at Mon Apr 17, 12:02:13 PM”
Radioactive decay rates are specific to each radionuclide. The most deadly have the shortest half-lives. They are self-destroyed in holding ponds right at the power plants.
The really long-lived radioisotopes are not a significant biological hazard. You have to ingest them by the kilogram to have an impact. While not recommended, you could actually survive swallowing a slug of plutonium 239.
The stuff that is of legitimate risk: iodine and cesium compounds that are in the mid-range. They are readily ingested by all organisms and yet are too hot to be endured.
The solution is reprocessing of radioactive wastes. The nasty stuff needs to be pulled out and isolated. The reprocessing should happen over and over and over as the ages go by.
Mankind has an excellent track record for hanging onto really valuable metals: Darius’ Persian gold is surely in the mix at Fort Knox. No matter the government, somehow the gold doesn’t get lost. It is always sequestered one way or another. The radioactive metals are fantastically more valuable than gold. Don’t even dream that that situation will ever be forgotten. Gold has maintained value for 10,000 years. Expect the same for nuclear explosive: Uranium and Plutonium.
As it stands, America – for political-religious reasons alone – refuses to reprocess nuclear ‘waste’. Folks it isn’t waste when it’s worth a fortune beyond gold.
We have staggering quantities of plutonium sitting all over America that can power us on and on. And no, it’s not bomb grade: it’s polluted with Pu 240 – okay to burn, can’t go boom.
Mass production of nuclear reactors – in the manner of jumbo jets – would permit standardized designs and the efficiencies of the production line.
We are not even remotely low on Uranium fuel.
All we have to do is establish the reprocessing tail of the cycle. Perpetual waste is a myth. Perpetual resource is truth. You can go back again and again and mine the nuclear ‘waste’ stockpile for goodies. Exploiting this resource is the way AWAY from war. It makes resource competition passe.