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Tilting at Windmills

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April 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NUCLEAR ENERGY....Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace and a lifelong foe of nuclear energy, has changed his mind. Global warming is the underlying reason:

When I attended the Kyoto climate meeting in Montreal last December, I spoke to a packed house on the question of a sustainable energy future. I argued that the only way to reduce fossil fuel emissions from electrical production is through an aggressive program of renewable energy sources (hydroelectric, geothermal heat pumps, wind, etc.) plus nuclear.

....Here's why: Wind and solar power have their place, but because they are intermittent and unpredictable they simply can't replace big baseload plants such as coal, nuclear and hydroelectric. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is too expensive already, and its price is too volatile to risk building big baseload plants. Given that hydroelectric resources are built pretty much to capacity, nuclear is, by elimination, the only viable substitute for coal. It's that simple.

This is something that I've struggled with too, but Moore's case is persuasive. There aren't any other realistic alternatives for replacing coal-fired facilities, and the issues of safety, waste, and terrorism, though genuine, are manageable.

Read the whole thing and see if you agree.

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman agrees here. David Roberts of Grist disagrees here.

Kevin Drum 2:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (198)

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Comments

The case for nuclear generation has to be made convincingly... This can be a big winner for the Dems, we just have to get the NIMBY folks on board.

Posted by: heet on April 16, 2006 at 2:31 AM | PERMALINK

I don't expect any died "green" in the wool environmentalist will heed any message from a man the other Greenpeace leaders label as an Eco-Judas.

Moore did an admirable job in providing Bjorn Lomborg a forum in which to post his rebuttal to the Scientific American attack on him. That certainly didn't help his reputation with the environmentalist nutjobs, but for the rational conservationists it was interesting to read Lomborg's response and Moore's reports on why he took a different vector from his Greenpeace comrades.

Posted by: TangoMan on April 16, 2006 at 2:32 AM | PERMALINK

Is there a RATIONAL case against nuclear energy?

And no, that's not a rhetorical question.

Posted by: frankly0 on April 16, 2006 at 2:46 AM | PERMALINK

Nuclear is coming. So is additional build out of hydroelectric. So is wind, solar, hydrothermic, etc. When oil hits upwards of a hundred dollars a barrel, other alternatives will seem cheap by comparison.

We could make a good start by buying flexcars and dropping the $50 a barrel tariff that we have on Brazilian ethanol. We could also push hard for battery development instead of wasting time with the "Hydrogen economy".

Posted by: HankP on April 16, 2006 at 2:48 AM | PERMALINK

One hundred years ago, people accepted constantly blackened skies from coal smoke as the price of progress. We are rapidly reaching the point where the economic benefits of nuclear energy outweigh the health risks. It may well be that one hundred years from now, people will have accepted constant exposure to low levels of radiation as the price for continued economic growth.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on April 16, 2006 at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK

I suppose it's important when an opponent of nuclear power changes his mind and supports nuclear power. One more person in favor is to the good. But his isn't the most persuasive argument that has been written. Nuclear supporters here have provided plenty of links to better presentations.

Support for nuclear is in the president's energy package, passed in 2005. the real question is what policies are the best policies: direct subsidies? limits on torts? federal regulation overruling state regulation? earthquake resistance standards?

In sum, I am glad he can join us nuclear boosters. Maybe he'll persuade other Greenpeaceniks to join us.

Posted by: republicrat on April 16, 2006 at 3:07 AM | PERMALINK

I agree, but NIMBY.

Posted by: Uncle Bunny on April 16, 2006 at 3:15 AM | PERMALINK

I've agreed for years.

Posted by: Clave on April 16, 2006 at 3:26 AM | PERMALINK

There's ITER. Reading the criticism, it appears a wider debate on fusion might be in order.

It's odd that the sustainable energy discussion is relegated to the blogosphere and not a major agitprop metatheme dominating everything from Superbowl ads to corporate annual reports. Think Space Race on Steroids. As Ed Wilson wrote in The Future of Life:

Armageddon...is not the cosmic war an fiery collapse of mankind foretold in sacred scripture. It is the wreckage of the planet by an exuberantly plentiful and ingenious humanity. ...The race is now on between the technoscientific forces that are destroying the living environment and that that can be harnessed to save it. We are inside a bottleneck of overpopulation and wasteful consumption. If the race is won, humanity can emerge in a far better condition than when it entered, and with most of the diversity of life intact."

Posted by: kostya on April 16, 2006 at 3:40 AM | PERMALINK

How disappointing to see everyone here parroting this tired conventional wisdom. Nuclear seems to have become some kind of totem by which progressives prove themselves "reasonable." Aren't we sick of getting duped that way yet?

There are so many routes to the anti-nuclear argument, one hardly knows where to start.

How about here: The idea that wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro kinetic should, individually or collectively, "replace" coal is a straw man. What greens are proposing is a new paradigm, pairing aggressive energy efficiency and conservation (easily the cheapest "source" of energy) with distributed small-scale sources appropriate to regional context, and smart grids.

People say it will take too long to scale this up and implement appropriate policy. But a new generation of nuclear plants will take a minimum of 10 years to get going. What could efficiency + renewables do in 10 years, with comparable public subsidies and aggressive political support? We know they couldn't address the energy shortfall? How?

Let's ask the market. Investment money is streaming into small-scale, distributed power, but the nuclear industry is utterly moribund. If it were revived, it would be a Frankenstein, entirely sustained by government largess. Mining uranium is an environmental nightmare; building the plants is prohibitively costly; the risks are all but uninsurable. What we're talking about is creating a(another) huge, centralized, politically connected energy cartel forever seeking to increase its take from the public teat. We need more of those?

Do not accept the oft-repeated canard that we cannot fundamentally change our energy situation, that we must simply plug one massive, unsavory power cartel in to replace another. We can build better vehicles, better cities, better infrastructure. We can drive less, consume less, and change our food system to reduce freight distances. We can shift policy to internalize industry externalities. We can tax carbon. And we can lavish the same attention, subsidies, and tax breaks on renewables that we do now on oil, coal, and agribusiness.

Can clean energy fill the coal gap? It's got momentum, investment enthusiasm, and the arc of history on its side. Nuclear is the "least worst" option that everyone holds their nose to support. It feels wrong, because it is wrong, and a culture that remembered back when it used to have some fucking balls and ambition would throw itself behind what it knows is right.

Posted by: David Roberts on April 16, 2006 at 3:41 AM | PERMALINK

If the nation is going to be serious about nuclear power, we need to put the entire nation on one electrical grid (at long last) in order to allow us to build large numbers of plants in geographically isolated, safe areas (away from fault lines, out of range of hurricanes, far away from population centers, easy to protect, adjacent to disposal areas, etc.).

That will minimize the NIMBY concerns that would arise for each and every plant that would otherwise be placed near a population center, and allow a much larger/faster buildup of plants.

Posted by: Augustus on April 16, 2006 at 3:46 AM | PERMALINK

And by the way: Patrick Moore did not just now "change his mind" about nuclear. He's been advocating for it for years.

And describing him only as "one of the founders of Greenpeace" is extraordinarily misleading. He's a notorious crank and industry shill.

Posted by: David Roberts on April 16, 2006 at 3:49 AM | PERMALINK

As it just happens to be, I've been investigating and writing about this very topic for the past couple of months. And what I've found is that there isn't much reason to believe that Nuclear Energy is the solution to our problems.

Perhaps you are asking, why shouldn't we be promoting nuclear energy? The problem is two-fold: nuclear energy is a remarkably poor solution when thinking about the requirements for having a cheap and reliable source of power and also when considering our energy security needs.

When we look at our preparedness for handling national emergencies, one of the major problems we have is a very brittle energy infrastructure. The founder of Rocky Mountain Institute (a non-profit organization dedicated to finding efficient use of energy resources), Amory Lovins, pointed out in RMI's Spring 2006 newsletter that one of the most important aspects to deal with when thinking about national security is the resilience of our energy infrastructure. The August 2003 energy blackout experienced throughout the upper northeast was an explicit example of the problem with a large, centralized energy grid that is incapable of responding to a failure on the grid. In fact, the systems that were the most affected by that outage were the nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants do not like abrupt shutdowns and are very slow to bring back online after a shutdown. When that blackout happened, the nuclear plants took 5 days to get back to half power and over 8 days to get up to 90% output. This hardly makes them a flexible and dependable element in a robust power grid.

Furthermore, nuclear power stations are particularly dependent on water for cooling. In summer 2003, Europe was struck with the worst heat wave in its recorded history. A number of nuclear power stations had to be shut down because river levels fell so much they could no longer cool the plants. But that was precisely when the need for energy was greatest. We know that global warming will only make this problem worse.

Ask yourself: if nuclear energy was so cheap (as Patrick Moore claims), then why the hell do we have to subsidize it so much?

Even so, nuclear proponents continue to promote nuclear power as the answer to our future energy needs. The latest energy bill signed by Bush provided some astonishing incentives for the nuclear industry including 80 percent loan guarantees, $2 billion of public insurance against legal or regulatory delays, an additional 1.8 cent/kWh in operating subsidies, payment for late acceptance for hazardous waste, capping liability for mishaps, free offsite security and another $1.3 billion tax break for decommissioning funds. Under that bill all risk is absorbed by tax payers and the promoters don't even have to invest much of their own money. But as Lovins shows, even with all this largess, the market is far from interested in building new nuclear power stations because it is more risky, more expensive and vastly less attractive than other technologies.

What would be really smart is to invest LOTS in energy efficiency. But our current administration is freezing out energy efficiency so they can keep feeding the Nuclear industry. That's a bad tradeoff.

Posted by: Mary on April 16, 2006 at 4:06 AM | PERMALINK

No nuclear is not the answer.

Let's look at his arguments

>In 2004, the average cost of producing nuclear energy in the United States was less than two cents per kilowatt-hour, comparable with coal and hydroelectric.

Nonsense. This like saying the cost of driving you car is a bit more than a penny per mile, because that is what gas cost. You have to include amortized capital cost. Grids with large amounts of nuclear in the mix cost more than those without. The cost of light water nuclear electricity is usually estimated to average around 11 cents per kWh or higher

Moreover he is advocating breeder reactors as a way to get rid of nuclear waste, though he uses the term "recycling". There is good reason for this. Uranium is a fairly common element on this planet; but if you extracted the uranium from your back yard it would require more energy than you would produce. Uranium has to be mined from rich ore, and there are limited amounts of this. There is plenty to run our current levels of nuclear production, but if you greatly increased nuclear use (as you would if you expected nuclear energy to play a serious role in greenhouse gas emission reductions) then you would hit peak uranium in five to twenty five years. So any advocate of seriously increasing nuclear power use has to support breeder reactors - which are much more expensive than light water. (Every attempt at commercial breeder reactors to date have failed; either they end up being shut down or converted to light water; breeder reactors simply are not cost competitive.)

So are there alternatives? Once you understand that the cost comparison is not coal, but breeder reactors there certainly are. Solar thermal can provide electricity for 11 cents a kWh. High temperature heat is much less expensive to store than electricty. Molten salts can currently store solar heat for the equivalent of $40 a kWh. to make a solar thermal plant full dispatchable (as reliable as a coal or nuclear plant) molten salt storage adds 4-5 cents per kWh. So you can generate fully dispatchable solar thermal electricty for 15-16 cents a kWh - lower than breeder reactor costs. Of course we should avoid this high cost where possible. We can use variable sources for up to 20% of electricity within a grid without compromising reliability, probably more. Variable wind costs about 4 cents per kWh hour to produce; so this could greatly bring the average cost of renewable power down. Hydro has been developed to 2/3rds or more if potential worldwide - so we are not going to increase that a great deal; but existing dams do provide inexpensive dispatchable electricity. Economically feasible undeveloped geothermal electricity represents a tiny percentage of projected demand, but it is inexpensive, and even more reliable than hydro - so again helps bring down your cost average. Sustainable biomass that does not compete with food production is another limited but useful source that helps provide dispatchable power, lower average costs. Low temperature solar energy in buildings to provide space heating, space cooling, and hot water can again displace a percentage of other sources used for that purpose.

However whether we go the renewable path (which I favor) or the breeder reactor path, energy supply is going to cost a great deal more than at present. If we want to avoid serious economic problems from this, we are going to have to squeeze more GDP out of each unit of energy so that higher energy prices don't mean higher percent of our GDP is used to purchase energy. So the most important energy technology, regardless of source, willl be efficiency increases.

I'm not going to deal with questions of nuclear safety, except to note that the evaluation of Chernobyl and 3-Mile Island are from associations with promotion of nuclear energy as part of their mission statement, and have been questioned by very serious sources. Given that we have less expensive renewable alternatives, I don't think this has to be main focus of debate.


Posted by: Gar Lipow on April 16, 2006 at 4:06 AM | PERMALINK

The problem is not convincing NIMBYs and eco-idealists that we should switch to nuclear. The problem is saying that "nuclear should replace coal" when the entire nuclear industry is owned by coal-fired energy producers. Why is there no further investment in nuclear? There's your answer.

The political slogan, it seems to me, should be "even the French are doing it."

Posted by: skeptic on April 16, 2006 at 4:17 AM | PERMALINK

For sure we're going to build up our nuke base. But aren't we just trading peak-oil for peak-uranium? Nukes buy us a few years, along with a raft of new problems.

What about space-based solar power? Clean, reliable, abundant, and all the technology is available right now.

And really, shouldn't we be talking about the great human die-off? Has *that* tipping point passed us by?

Posted by: Dog on April 16, 2006 at 4:21 AM | PERMALINK

This is a seductive argument ... and I've been pulled in its direction just because of the stark realities of global warming and peak oil -- but it's a non-starter.

David Roberts, Mary and Gar Lipow all covered it. To sum up, there are two major drawbacks to light water nukes:

Energy throughput and waste storage.

The first big myth is that we get more energy out of nukes than we do out of oil. Wrong. It takes an amazing amount of energy to process uranium into nuke fuel. The fuel cycle yields less energy than oil refining.

Secondly, if we're going to start building nuke plants, we have to figure out a way to store the waste long-term -- because it's going to be highly radioactive for centuries.

Third, this is all about breeders. Breeders, however, are a nightmare. They're cooled by liquid sodium (which explodes on contact with air and water) and they produce more plutonium than they consume. A plutonium economy is a nuclear terrorist's wet dream.

Fourth, centralizing nuke power away from population centers is no solution. Electricity can only be carried so far by copper wire before heat loss makes it pointless. You couldn't run New York from nuke plants in the Utah desert -- unless you wanted to produce an order of magnitude more power than New York consumes.

We need to decentralize power production. Big Daddy corporations who we pay to provide us all our needs are the problem here, not the solution.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 5:04 AM | PERMALINK

Even assuming we continue to need a huge heat differential, boiler, turbine and condenser to generate electricity -- rather than reinventing the leaf or some other nanotech approach to moving electrons -- it always seems the plans focus on using a 'resource' because big players own it. Coal, uranium, have a market value because people expect to use them.

We have other heat differentials. We know know to drill very deep holes. It's hot down there, very hot. We know how to dive very deep. It's very cold down there, except where it's very hot.

There's no big push for technologies that don't require buying something some big player already owns.

Hell, why not just sell Big Coal the sun? You betcha we'd see solar power suddenly become commercially practical, if they could then sell sunlight to run the things.

The old nuclear plants got embrittled far faster than hoped and can't be fixed, even if we assume we know all their problems. Same problem that sank the Titanic, overly brittle metal cracking under thermal stress.

Posted by: hank on April 16, 2006 at 5:31 AM | PERMALINK

We know know to drill very deep holes.

Hank, if you really know something others don't, perhaps it's time to share. The consensus view is that deep drilling is really expensive and technically very challenging. The three most famous deep drilling exercises are probably Thomas Gold's 6km Siljan Ring hole in Sweden to look for trapped hydrocarbons deep in the earth, the ambitious US Mohole (never drilled), and the monumental Soviet Kola Hole (12km, possibly still open to 8km). More recent holes go to shallower depths; it is hard enough just to keep the hole open. Below certain depths the pressure crushes the casing before it can put it in place. I'm sure a lot of geophysicists and hard-rock drilling experts would appreciate your insights into this matter.

Posted by: kostya on April 16, 2006 at 5:54 AM | PERMALINK

E.F. Schumacher "Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered".

Posted by: NeoLotus on April 16, 2006 at 5:59 AM | PERMALINK

Every energy technology seems to have its drawbacks. Is there any technology fix for peak oil or is civilization just screwed?

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 16, 2006 at 7:03 AM | PERMALINK

What are you going to do with all the spent fuel? It doesn't go away, pretty much ever in human terms. It's dangerous and will add up like compound interest over one, two, three, four, five generations. This is not about today, but about a long future.

Maybe I could be sold on nuclear, but I could be sold much easier on devices that actually shut off when you turn them off instead of sucking energy from the grid, or refrigerators that work at 90% the efficiency fo current ones, or florescent lights, or using sunlight to read by. We can reduce demand dramatically, which would lessen the need for new plants.

I could be sold much easier on distributed roof-top solar, which can produce half to 3/4 of an average home's power when conservation efforts are used even in the worst environments where it won't pay for itself but will make an ecological difference. In better environments it would produce energy that goes back to the grid. Government buildings, schools, etc with flat roofs should all have solar on them.

Maybe you can do nuclear a little, but a real effort at conservation and a distributed roof-top solar program connected to the grid (inertiae) should reduce the need for many new electric plants.

Posted by: NaR on April 16, 2006 at 7:07 AM | PERMALINK

Fuel: the use of glass matrix for nuclear fuel is coming. This approach ensures that the fuel does not easily get out and eroded, and thus can make the situation much less of a problem. Easier to handle as well.

For those still opposed to nuclear: you must not merely be opposed, but rather make a positive statement. Where will our power come from ?

Posted by: dataguy on April 16, 2006 at 7:55 AM | PERMALINK

Let the R's advocate for nuclear power--it is the ultimate big government enterprise, impossible without massive tax subsidies.
The cost of capital for any investment does not appear to be falling just now, this is a poor time to embark on a capital intensive energy development like nukes.
The nuclear fuel cycle in the US is largely fossil-fired, from mining and milling through separation and power plant construction, all otherwise avoidable greenhouse gas producing activities to get the "carbon free" power.
The US has always scoffed (remember Cheney's remarks?) at serious energy and power demand conservation, leaving immense savings available. Obtain those savings first, then worry about high cost alternative.

Posted by: neill on April 16, 2006 at 8:01 AM | PERMALINK

Where will our power come from ?

It's going to come from coal, with a steadily increasing percentage of wind. Those are the low investment and the quickest to build. They are what's being authorized right now. Unlike nukes, there is a fair amount of construction expertise in the above two in the U.S.

Posted by: TJ on April 16, 2006 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

Judging from the comments here, I've got some reading up to do on nuclear power. Just the 'peak uranium' discussion is enough to give me pause.

Besides that, Moore doesn't deal with the problems of transport of either live or spent uranium fuel, which was the one nuclear-power issue I was already concerned about. We transport all sorts of hazardous materials, willy-nilly, across this country, by rail and truck, and in an age of terrorism, that's freakin' crazy. We've got to come up with a better system, and AFAICT, nobody's even thinking about this issue.

At any rate, in solving both our energy problems and our greenhouse gas generation problems, conservation and energy efficiency is still the low-hanging fruit. Any serious approach to these problems starts there, then moves on to alternative fuels.

Posted by: RT on April 16, 2006 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

It is easy to cry "conservation" and no doubt conservation will happen as prices go up, but conservation alone doesn't get it done as folks across the planet demand improved living standards. How does the world meet world wide demands without doing unacceptable damage to the environment.

The big problem is everybody seems willing to point out the failings of the "bad" technology, which can loosely be defined as the technology the other guy is promoting, without feeling the smallest need to solve the looming world wide crisis caused by the increased demands of the Indians, Chinese and others.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 16, 2006 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

This reminds me of the emergence of the automobile.

What was one of the problems of city life with horse drawn carriages?

Tons of horse shit....everywhere.

Alas....here comes the automobile! No more horse shit!

The street are clean again!

Problem solved with no problem remaining.

Oh...wait a sec.....

Posted by: caleb on April 16, 2006 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

There aren't any other realistic alternatives for replacing coal-fired facilities, and the issues of safety, waste, and terrorism, though genuine, are manageable.

Not so fast, Kevin. I agree that issues like safety and terrorism are manageable, but I have yet to see a realistic plan for managing the nuclear waste we have on hand right now, let alone the greater quantities of waste produced by a quantum expansion of nuclear power plants. I'll admit I'm now a convert on the safety issue, but the problem of nuclear waste is the deal-breaker for me.

Posted by: Gregory on April 16, 2006 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

I absolutely agree. We need to do what France has done and have a standard design. Cut out the delay time. Global warming is an overwhelming issue, and turning coal into gasoline, or burning it for electricity will just make the problem worse.

Posted by: judy from nj on April 16, 2006 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Given the problems raised with nuclear energy, the question that comes to my mind is, how does France deal with these issues? How and where does it dispose with its nuclear wastes? How does it transport them? Why does it not seem to perceive these issues to be problems (so far as I know)?

Posted by: frankly0 on April 16, 2006 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

Well, face it- the Baby Boomers were raised with the expectation that electricity would be "too cheap to meter" thanks to Mr. A-bomb. Expecting this lump in our demographic curve to come up with an alternate solution probably isn't realistic.

Fortunately, there are other people in the world who weren't brainwashed from birth by the automobile and suburban home-building industries. And there's plenty of free energy out there if you know where to look for it.

For example, if you ride a bicycle to work as a life strategy, you will not only save all the energy associated with a car, but additionally avoid many long hours in the hospital because you will be more pysically fit.

As for nuclear power, it ain't gonna fly- that's the short form. Yeah, I know- we built hundreds of Liberty ships during WW II. Well, some of them broke in half when they met a big wave.

Conservation is already cheaper than nuclear. Nuclear takes a lot of energy to build, and as oil prices rise it will become even less competitive.

This may not make a lot of difference in the U.S., which currently is operating as a sort of National Socialist state, but it does mean we will become even less competitive if we go down a nuclear path while the rest of the world focuses on conservation and sustainable energy.

Hopefully, the new educational standards will make it possible for more people to do the math, and figure out that nuclear is not the answer.

Posted by: serial catowner on April 16, 2006 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

serial catowner

Your solution is for everybody to ride a bicycle to work? That's it? That is your solution to the energy crisis? I bet the people in India who have been dying to stop riding bicycles to work will just love your solution. No doubt conservation is a big component of any solution, doing more with less is always smart, but somehow I don't think that is going to do much to help lift the standard of living of the average Mexican or Chinese.

We have to find ways to give everybody a chance to improve, not lower, their standard of living. Otherwise we are all off to the resource wars.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 16, 2006 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Hank, when you speak of embrittlement, I assume you are speaking of neutron embrittlement of the reactor vessel? There's actually a fix for that. In-situ annealing. The Russians pioneered it and I believe it's been successfully done in the US. Restores ductility to the vessel.

Posted by: tim on April 16, 2006 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

The only sensible objection to ramping up nuclear power is the wsste disposal problem, and although I am not an engineer, from what I've read that seems to be more of a political problem than an engineering problem.

All the "scale back, use less power, grow food locally" folks - well, go right ahead if that turns you on, but there is not a snowball's chance in hell that the American people are going to decide collectively to lower their standard of living for some Earth Mother worshipper's wet dream. The history of the last couple of hundred years demonstrates conclusively that higher energy use is one of the keys to mass properity (the other is capitalism). I don't think the American people want to return to a day when only a few rich people could travel and eat fresh food.

Posted by: DBL on April 16, 2006 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

Folks, for a write-up on the PHYSICS limitations of renewable energy sources, please refer to the article by University of Maine professor Richard C. Hill. It's available at and he's got a lot more similar writing out there. He puts a sense of reality on the numbers. We use coal and oil because they are insanely efficient sources of energy. And we need to replace them, too. Wind, solar, and water just aren't going to make it. Sorry, but that's the plain truth.

Just thought everyone should mention, you know, FACTS. I understand the politics, but we've had enough politics without facts, haven't we?

Me, I favor mini-nukes, many of them on a standard design, housed in facilities like the indestructible AA towers that still dot Vienna and other European cities. But that's not the point of this posting...

Posted by: mc on April 16, 2006 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

I would like to contribute a few things to this thread.

First, besides our coal use, other countries, especially China, need to build many more power plants. China is working on cutting edge pebble bed reactor designs (pioneered by Germany). These are "walk away safe" designs, so if everyone leaves there can be no damage to the power plant nor to the surrounding area.

Second, as for the quibbling over cost per kWh, you do need to be competitive with oil to be economical, but with peak oil coming this decade the cost of oil will steadily increase. So the answer is to subsidize alternatives now and remove the subsides later as oil costs rise (an economic certainty). This is not to push out other alternatives (wind farms / solar panels & plants / hydro-electric), but in additional to other subsidized sources.

Third, conservation helps but only slows down the growth curve by a couple of years as industrialization and poplution growth continues. We want efficiency and conservation, but they are not, in themselves, sources of power.

Fourth, sourcing of nuclear material can be done a few breeder reactors (it does not take converting all of them); transport of nuclear material has never caused a problem so I think the associated risk is acceptable (keep in mind the 38000 auto accident deaths in America per year!); centralized storage is huge NIMBY policital problem that may need to be overcome.

Posted by: No One Of Consequence on April 16, 2006 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

From this Science article (and I'm sorry, but it may be behind a subscription wall), and I can't confirm or deny it, but if it's anywhere close to the truth, then nuclear, even neglecting the centralization of power, is not the way to go:

To replace fossil fuel-generated power with nuclear power would require the opening of one nuclear power plant every other day for the next 50 years.

The US has not opened a new nuclear power plant since 1973.

From the same article, some factoids which I imagine are correct, but would love corrections:

Our current civilization uses 13 trillion watts (terawatts) of power to run it. That figure is projected to be 43 terawatts by 2050. Burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) currently supplies about 80% of this; as a consequence of burning fossil fuels, carbon dioxide is produced.

Placing solar panels on the roofs of all 70 million detached homes in the US would produce 0.25 terawatts of power.

To harvest 20 terawatts of power with 10% efficient solar panels would require covering 0.16% of the earths land surface with solar panels.

I've no dog in this fight, other than the clear need to find some solution.

Posted by: Wayne on April 16, 2006 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

When and if the economic benefits of nuclear outweigh the environmental and health costs, we will have nuclear. That's simply how the game called capitalism works.

Nevertheless, nuclear is but another short-term fix. The real problem, as everybody knows and nobody is willing to admit, is that homosapien has been taking more out of the ecosystem than it has put back in for centuries now, and the bill is about to come due. (The other problem is that nobody can say with any certainty when that bill will come due, and people have been preaching about the end of the world for almost as long as there has been civilization.)

I have a co-worker who insists that science is on the verge of rearranging molecules into any substance we want. He says that 100 years from now we'll have Star Trek-like replicators that will turn clods of dirt into barrels of oil, or gold ingots, or T-bone steaks if you want. Others think we'll be mining the rest of the solar system for raw materials. Tinfoil hat as it may sound, that's the kind of breakthrough
necessary to sustain the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed in the last century.

Of course, none of this matters to evangelical Christians, who believe that they will all be raptured off the planet by then.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on April 16, 2006 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Just thought everyone should mention, you know, FACTS. I understand the politics, but we've had enough politics without facts, haven't we?

The fact is that you can build a natural gas turbine power plant in 2 years, a steam coal-fired power plant in 3-4 years, a wind farm in 2-3 years, and a nuke in 7-8 years (assuming anyone in the U.S. still remembers how to do it). The nuke has the highest investment costs by far, and the spread will only increase as materials costs go up (commodity prices have doubled or tripled in the last year). There are several nuke plants proposed in the U.S., but none have been funded to my knowledge. Installed wind power, on the other hand, increased 40% in 2005.

A big clue would be that none of the reactor vendors will actually spend their own money to build a nuke and sell the power. The nuke boat has sailed while we were waving from the dock.

Posted by: TJ on April 16, 2006 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

"We need to decentralize power production. Big Daddy corporations who we pay to provide us all our needs are the problem here, not the solution."

Bob - this strikes home..

I live in a state (Wis) with big rivers...
I recall (a number of years back)a study carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers which concluded that the state could be, for the most part, energy independent. It was a matter of harnessing the hydroelectric potential to benefit LOCAL cities and towns. Of course this is not how things have worked out - a lot of the power production from the LOCAL hydro-electric plants is put on the 'Grid' for sale in other states.
Hydro Electric power production was 'privatized' a long time ago. This in affect has Centralized power production in the hands of a few big companys. To hear the businesses tell the tale Wisconsin's hydro electric is not enough to maintain the demand - we need coal fired / nuclear plants to supplement hydro electric..
Of course what they really mean is that THEY need the coal fired and nuclear facilities to maintain their business which only indirectly has to do with providing the people and businesses of Wisconsin with the energy production necessary.
I personally think that energy production should be 'de-privatized' (de-centralized) and possibly be returned to individual state/city local control.

Posted by: tank man on April 16, 2006 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin

Another lib flip flopper

you libs are so silly

The fact remains that oil is not in danger of running out, and we should forge ahead with it because our economic growth and hence standard of living depend on it.

Besides, I haven't seen anything that proves man is creating global warming, and even if we are, who cares? Do you want a job or do you want polar bears?

Posted by: egbert on April 16, 2006 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Ron byers: I"s there any technology fix for peak oil or is civilization just screwed?"

Desperate times demand desperate measures. Coal is not a viable substitute for oil because of global climate change: We need to replace carbon-based fossil fuels as our energy source. In that context, nuclear power, in terms of bang for buck, seems more attractive than wind or solar.

So, are we proposing that every nation in the world should develop nuclear power plants so they too can enjoy the blessings of prosperity? I'm sure that will turn out well.

Our alternative is to figure out how to live within the limitations of renewable energy sources, like solar and wind. Limiting population growth or even negative population growth would be a good idea, as well. Reduce demand rather than figure out how to double energy usage again.

Meanwhile, does anyone know if there is a way to create energy from melting ice caps and glaciers, hurricanes and drought?

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 16, 2006 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

You almost have to love the the florid delusions of the Baby-Boomer Cargo Cult.

Take DBL, above, who says Americans won't go back to the days when only the rich could eat fresh food. What does he mean by 'fresh food'? Well, that would be food that has been bred so it can be transported thousands of miles and stored for months and still look good.

As for food that is really fresh, as in, picked only a day or so before you eat it, this very same DBL describes that as a "Mother-Earth worshipper's wet dream". And, of course, that can never happen, because, as we all know, nothing will ever change. All Americans will always want to drive to the BurgerKing and everyone else in the world will envy us, and we must do whatever it takes to make this so.

Even if we have to live with more radiation that makes us all die of leukemia in childhood.

And this is all supposed to be the 'hard-nosed analysis' that 'proves' nuclear power will miraculously be the solution.

Sounds like Death of a Salesman to me.

Posted by: serial catowner on April 16, 2006 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

Nuclear energy is immoral. It is immoral for this civilization to produce nuclear junk that will be on this earth for millions of years. It's a morale and values issue. Until we develop fusion or come up with a credible and reasoned way to deal with nuclear waste nuclear power should not ever be considered.

Posted by: phastphil on April 16, 2006 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile, does anyone know if there is a way to create energy from melting ice caps and glaciers, hurricanes and drought?

Yeah. They're called wind turbines.

Posted by: TJ on April 16, 2006 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

For those looking for factual information on a way that nuclear electrical production might be accomplished more safely and economically, there was an excellent article in the December issue of Scientific American. Unfortunately you have to pay to get the full article (or you could go to your public library and read it for free), but here is an excerpt:

http://makeashorterlink.com/?W25A227FC

[quote]

Rising electricity prices and last summer's rolling blackouts in California have focused fresh attention on nuclear power's key role in keeping America's lights on. Today 103 nuclear plants crank out a fifth of the nation's total electrical output. And despite residual public misgivings over Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the industry has learned its lessons and established a solid safety record during the past decade. Meanwhile the efficiency and reliability of nuclear plants have climbed to record levels. Now with the ongoing debate about reducing greenhouse gases to avoid the potential onset of global warming, more people are recognizing that nuclear reactors produce electricity without discharging into the air carbon dioxide or pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and smog-causing sulfur compounds. The world demand for energy is projected to rise by about 50 percent by 2030 and to nearly double by 2050. Clearly, the time seems right to reconsider the future of nuclear power [see "The Case for Nuclear Power," on page 76].

No new nuclear plant has been ordered in the U.S. since 1978, nor has a plant been finished since 1995. Resumption of large-scale nuclear plant construction requires that challenging questions be addressed regarding the achievement of economic viability, improved operating safety, efficient waste management and resource utilization, as well as weapons nonproliferation, all of which are influenced by the design of the nuclear reactor system that is chosen.

[unquote]

And from a bullet in the "Overview" section:

"The utilization of new, much more efficient nuclear fuel cycle - one based on precessing fast neutron reactors and the recycling of spent fuel by pyrometallurgical processing - would allow vastly more of the energy in the earth's readily available uranium ore to be used to produce electricity. Such a cycle would greatly reduce the creation of long-lived reactor waste and could support nuclear energy power generation indefinitely."

It is definitely worth a read if you are genuinely interested in the question of whether or not there is a more ecologically friendly way to use nuclear energy. I don't know if this is the panacea that the authors suggest it is, but up until I read this article I was sure nuclear energy was not the way to go and the authors convinced me that the approach they suggest is worth serious consideration. Unfortunately, the leadership we would need to give this technology a good honest look, and a solid plan for implementation if it were found to live up to its billing, is not likely to come from the Bush administration. Cheney and Bush would surely find a way to get their oil buddies involved and screw the whole thing up. Perhaps, as another poster suggested, this is an issue the Democrats can "scoop" the Republicans on - they could advocate the creation of a truly open minded panel made of experts representing a broad spectrum of interests to look into this technology. Or if the Democrats were to win control of the House of Representatives they could have the chairman of the Energy Committee have hearings into the desirability and feasibility of this technology.

Posted by: TK on April 16, 2006 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

It's not like we have a choice. The first world economies of the 23rd century will be nuclear.

Posted by: toast on April 16, 2006 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

>The consensus view is that deep drilling is really expensive and technically very challenging.

Unlike breeder reactors, which anybody can rig up in their back yard with some stuff from Ace Hardware.

Look guys, all the good arguments against nuclear have been made already so I won't bother repeating. I've made approx. 1/3 of my income from nuke power over the past 15 years and I'm here to tell you that it is so *not* the future.

I'll find another income stream. It's not a choice between polar bears and jobs, we will always have jobs.

You guys with your "what shall we do" arguments don't deserve an answer, eitehr. You are falling into the same trap that, alas, many of you were smart enough to avoid when the warbloggers were steamed up about Saddam: doing nothing more than waiting for another alternative is better than doing something unrevokably stupid. Always.

Those Indians aren't DYING to drive cars, for chrissake. We are dying because every minute we're in a car we aren't getting exercise.

There ARE alternatives, why the quit? Why the "we can't do anything different" wailing?

God this is like the Pittsburgh casino arguments. Somebody offers something "totally free" and everybody just falls for it.

Posted by: doesn't matter on April 16, 2006 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

My great apologies! I gave a link and quoted an earlier article in Scientific American (though he bullet quote is correct) . The article on the technology is in the December issue of Scientific American, but the link I provided is not correct.

Please ignore the link I posted - but a look at the December article, "Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste" is worth reading.

Posted by: TK on April 16, 2006 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

OK,OK I know it is off topic, but I am stepping oh a little to the socialist position. Yes, if we require automobile insurance, then we can more easily justify some limited mandatory health insurace.

Posted by: Matt on April 16, 2006 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

The simple fact is that riding a bicycle is not a solution to the energy crisis- it is a solution to your energy crisis.

It is something you can do without waiting for the government to tell you to do it. You don't need to fill out forms or apply for a grant. It provides fast fast fast relief from rising gas prices and worries about the mideast.

And, you can bet, when the inevitable nuclear boondoggle goes into effect, it will be financed in part by high taxes on gasoline. Taxes you won't be paying if you're riding a bike.

A word, to the wise, will be sufficient.

Posted by: serial catowner on April 16, 2006 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

I finally found the proper link to the article I mentioned in an earlier post:

http://makeashorterlink.com/?T2D73415C

[quote]

Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste

Fast-neutron reactors could extract much more energy from recycled nuclear fuel, minimize the risks of weapons proliferation and markedly reduce the time nuclear waste must be isolated
By William H. Hannum, Gerald E. Marsh and George S. Stanford

Despite long-standing public concern about the safety of nuclear energy, more and more people are realizing that it may be the most environmentally friendly way to generate large amounts of electricity. Several nations, including Brazil, China, Egypt, Finland, India, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea and Vietnam, are building or planning nuclear plants. But this global trend has not as yet extended to the U.S., where work on the last such facility began some 30 years ago.

If developed sensibly, nuclear power could be truly sustainable and essentially inexhaustible and could operate without contributing to climate change. In particular, a relatively new form of nuclear technology could overcome the principal drawbacks of current methods--;namely, worries about reactor accidents, the potential for diversion of nuclear fuel into highly destructive weapons, the management of dangerous, long-lived radioactive waste, and the depletion of global reserves of economically available uranium. This nuclear fuel cycle would combine two innovations: pyrometallurgical processing (a high-temperature method of recycling reactor waste into fuel) and advanced fast-neutron reactors capable of burning that fuel. With this approach, the radioactivity from the generated waste could drop to safe levels in a few hundred years, thereby eliminating the need to segregate waste for tens of thousands of years....

[unquote]

Posted by: TK on April 16, 2006 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

BWAHAHAHA!

Posted by: Nuclear Genie on April 16, 2006 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, and BTW, it's not that hard to find heat in the earth. Coal mines spend money keeping cool.

You can even find it in your backyard if you have a half acre and a backhoe. You can build a heat exchanger that helps heat your house in winter and cool it in summer. Elaine Supkis at Culture of Life has blogged about this, I think she even has one.

Posted by: serial catowner on April 16, 2006 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

We do not take in to account all of the costs of our energy system now when comparing sources. Not just direct costs, but indirect such as bases in the Mid East, oh and the Iraq War, let alone the externalities of pollution and Global warming.

We need conservation and smart development. Large boxes far from each other is not a smart way to live.

We also need a tax system that takes indirect costs and externalities into account and benefits sources of energy that has lesser external costs.

Here is an example of an idea that needs support

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2006-01-10-algae-powerplants_x.htm

Posted by: AJS on April 16, 2006 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

There's another fundamental reason why nuclear power is a good idea: desalination. The most efficient desalination facilities would be nuclear powered. As the world runs out of drinking water, desalination is set to become a primary problem in the next two decades.

I could even take it a step further: as ocean levels rise, we need to find something to do with the excess water. I think we should desalinate it and pump it into desert regions and simply destroy the deserts.

There are a lot of people who think about teraforming Mars, but we should practice before we try something like that. Let's teraform the Sahara, from Morocco to India, the desert regions of the US and Mexico. If we propose an international plan like that, will anyone really object?

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

Only a few here actually 'get it'.

Number of humans X current western lifestyle = disaster.

Wattage is just the tip of a huge iceberg.

It doesn't matter what sort of power source you have. There's much more to the environmental equation than just wattage. Water, food, factories, consumable resources, loss of arable land... (yada).

No matter how effecient you make the machinery of 'civilization', the increasing population will overwhelm the planet. Simple laws of physics and biology.

Promoting the two child family should be our number 1 priority... above energy, above global warming... above everything.

Alas, the defective genetic programming that gives religon a stranglehold on humanity will be the end of it all. Shame, that.

I do not share Zarathustra's sin.

Posted by: Buford on April 16, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

The first world economies of the 23rd century will be nuclear.


No, really, they won't be! After everything else, one of the best arguments in favor of nuclear power is that it only has to last a century or so. The way our technology is developing within that time we will all but certainly discover a much improved source of power, the like of which I'm sure I can't imagine.

And we will also, all but inevitably, find a way to deactivate nuclear waste.

So nuclear is something we need to fill the specific gap of the next century or so.

And conservation will work only if your house has a meter that shuts it off after you've reached your monthly limit.

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Will electricity finally be "too cheap to meter?"

Or is it that massive government subsidy (the Price-Anderson Nuclear Subsidies Act) that freemarket libertarians are so willing to shove in their pockets?

Posted by: Lee A. Arnold on April 16, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Wayne on April 16, 2006 at 9:26 AM, I don't have access to Science right now either (also, your link doesn't work), but you appear to be citing Nathan Lewis from Caltech. Scroll down for pdf and powerpoint. For example:

"To produce 10 TW of power would require construction of 10,000 new nuclear power plants over the next 50 years, i.e., one every other day somewhere in the world for the next 50 years"


Posted by: The Mask of Zero on April 16, 2006 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Lots of people here talking about distributed generation as a solution, without addressing what kind of fuel they are going to use. All you are doing is moving the problem around - in fact, making it worse by distributing fuel consumption and pollution generation directly into neighborhoods.

An NO, solar is not an answer. Nothing comes close to nukes for satisfying base loads.

Posted by: xyz on April 16, 2006 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Buford

From what I have read all over the world first world countries are witnessing population slowing or decline. The only reason it hasn't been more noticable is that first world life expectencies are still increasing. If we didn't have significant immigration, the United States would be witnessing the same population slowing or decline. As first world life expectencies stabilize the real decline will begin.

Second and third world countries are witnessing rapid population growth. I suspect there are good sociological reasons for the decline. Probably having something to do with retirement planning and the need of parents to breed little farm workers. I am sure somebody has done studies, but sociology isn't really a science anymore.

I do not believe lowering living standards to 2nd world levels will result in lowering demand or populations. The long term solution to Earth's human exess problem is probably going to be solved by raising living standards. While famine, war and disease might seem to be alternative solutions, given the way people breed, I suspect they are not going to do the job. Anyway, I don't think that the profound misery that comes from war, famine and disease is anything anybody wants to see.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 16, 2006 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

When private industry is willing to underwrite the insurance necessary for a nuclear power plant, the technology will be economically sustainable. Until then, it's just an economic black hole for taxpayer money.

Posted by: Jason on April 16, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Nuclear waste will be dangerous for thousands of years. Within 40 years, used fuel has less than one-thousandth of the radioactivity it had when it was removed from the reactor.

What Moore isn't telling you is that it is still quite "hot" and will be for tens of thousands of years. Ten thousand years ago, people were hunter-gatherers Tens of thousands of years is effectively forever. Burdening future generations with waste problems that we don't know how to deal with (think: climate change and nuclear reactor waste disposal) is irresponsible.

Having said that, we are going to leave future generations with both, to some extent. But pretending that the problem doesn't exist is just stupid.

Posted by: Gen. Jack D. Ripper on April 16, 2006 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

One of the above posters repeats a common falsehood in saying backyard uranium would cost more to extract than it would yield. Extraction from today's very concentrated deposits is exceedingly inexpensive, on the order of a dime per barrel-of-oil-equivalent, and hardly any of that dime is for extraction energy; so today's commercial uranium-raising operations have net energy fractions much closer to 1 than to 0.999.

So it's reasonable to think ores 100,000 times leaner, i.e. "country rock", or backyard rock, might be extractable at an energy profit too; and for a large fraction of backyards this turns out to be true. Not at a cash profit, to be sure, because you couldn't compete with large mines mining very high-grade stuff.

University of Melbourne physicists, despite their ties to the Australian government and its fossil fuel revenue, have not kept silent on this; they predict that 0.001-percent ores, only four times richer than country rock, will still have a high net energy fraction.

And one can confirm that this is reasonable two ways: by reference to the Alberta oilsands operations, which get two-thirds net energy from sands whose six percent oil content is thermally equivalent to 0.0004 percent U content, and by comparing the energy cost of crushing hard rock. It turns out that with today's reactors, a rock that is only rich enough to crush itself is 0.00005 percent, five times poorer than average.

So if, many centuries or millennia from now, our descendants have used up every uranium ore richer than ordinary rock, they'll still have access to abundant nuclear fuel for ordinary reactors like today's.

--- Graham Cowan, former hydrogen fan
B: internal combustion, nuclear cachet
---

Posted by: G. R. L. Cowan on April 16, 2006 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Here is a link to a site ttp://www.overpopulation.org/older.html

It notes that a major looming first world problem is the graying of the population as there are fewer young people to support the increasing numbers of elderly. Here are some European Fertility Rate numbers:

Spain 1.15
Latvia 1.16
Czech Republic 1.18
Bulgaria 1.24
Italy 1.24

the Number represents the average number of children would have in her lifetime if the current birth rate remained constant.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 16, 2006 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps a way will be found to deactivate nuclear waste, but it isn't necessary. It will be easy enough to bury it a few hundred metres deep in sturdy containers.

The often-expressed worry that it might make its way back up can then to be seen to be insincere in the following way: if, despite the containers, it can do that, then why can't the much large amount of natural radioactivity that is at lesser depth, and uncontained, do likewise?

Posted by: G. R. L. Cowan on April 16, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Good information!

Posted by: dfg on April 16, 2006 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

If we are going to keep wasting energy at our current levels we are going need many nuclear power plants.

1)Are we going to keep wasting energy at our current levels?

Yes.

2)Are we going to need many nuclear power plants?

You'd better believe it.

[All other arguments for and against nuclear energy don't really matter. Questions 1 & 2 capture the essence of what matters.]

Posted by: koreyel on April 16, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

"To produce 10 TW of power would require construction of 10,000 new nuclear power plants over the next 50 years, i.e., one every other day somewhere in the world for the next 50 years"

Or double that number for the number of large natural gas plants required. Or times 100 for the number of cogens.

Nobody is saying that conservation shouldn't also be part of the solution.

Posted by: xyz on April 16, 2006 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

The choice of Yucca Flats, Nevada as a nuclear waste burial site proved to me that nuclear is not an option. There are lots of tectonically stagnant places, well below the waterline, that could have been chosen. Instead, they chose one, in tectonically shakin'-and-bakin' Nevada, because it has fewer electoral votes. The decision was NOT made by serious people who have our welfare at heart. With all the money at stake, who is going to make these kinds of electorally unpopular decisions?

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 16, 2006 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: There aren't any other realistic alternatives for replacing coal-fired facilities ...

Nuclear power is not a "realistic alternative for replacing coal-fired facilities".

Kevin continues: ... and the issues of safety, waste, and terrorism, though genuine, are manageable.

No, they are not, no matter how many times nuclear power supporters repeat this empty and demonstrably false assertion.

There is not one single nuclear power plant that has ever been constructed anywhere on Earth without massive taxpayer subsidies and taxpayer assumption of all the risks (e.g. disaster insurance). Private industry (a.k.a. the "free market") voted NO on nuclear power a long, long time ago because it is an economic failure -- as someone once put it, "the most expensive method of boiling water ever invented."

And to this day, private industry will not touch nuclear power unless the taxpayers absorb all the costs and all the risks. That is in fact what the nuclear so-called "industry" in the USA is clamoring for through this propaganda campaign: billions and billions of dollars in public money.

Nuclear power is NOT a solution or even particularly helpful in addressing the problem of anthropogenic global warming. When the entire nuclear fuel cycle is considered, from mining uranium to disposal of waste, it is arguable that nuclear power is a net contributor to AGW, not a mitigator.

Arguments such as those offered by Moore routinely exaggerate the supposed disadvantages and limitations of wind and solar (and often reveal ignorance of what is going on today with these technologies in the real world) and blithely sweep away the very severe dangers, risks, costs and drawbacks of nuclear power.

It is a thoroughly dishonest propaganda campaign run by those in the nuclear so-called "industry" who hope to enrich themselves on public money, and it is a damned shame to see so-called "environmentalists" buying into this scam.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 16, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

I'm hoping someone else has more information at their fingertips, but I seem to recall that the biggest problem with the nuclear industry in the U.S. was that each reactor built was, essentially, a custom reactor. Canada, by contrast, standardized the design of reactors. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.) A standardized design reduces costs and makes it possible to quickly implement effective remedies if a design problem arises.

We can do this sensibly and safely.

Posted by: Jim Meyer on April 16, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

The argument FOR nuclear power is based on the belief that we only need a couple more years (say, 50) to develop the small energy technologies that will make large energy technologies un-necessary.
That's the sum of it: we should invest brazillians of dollars now in large technologies to tide us over until the small technologies become useful.

Have I distorted anything?

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 16, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

France uses nuclear energy on a large scale. Likewise Japan, I believe, and perhaps Scandinavian countries.

Could someone please explain to me why our problems with it should be far worse than theirs? Or have they been having problems I don't know about?

Posted by: frankly0 on April 16, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Is American fear of nuclear power pretty much the same as European fear of irradiating food? That is, most likely little more than the stylish local hysteria?

Posted by: frankly0 on April 16, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Nuclear power is no panacea - there is Peak Uranium as well as Peak Oil. Standardization can reduce risks - but that requires govt regulations - which the energy industry will not accept without a long fight. France can work that way, but we won't.

The most energy efficient way of living is in cities - we need to reurbanize and reduce our energy cost of living. Good luck.

Posted by: pebird on April 16, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Let's buy French technology. Don't waste what lttle money we have on pork barrel, absurdly cutting edge design projects that take 30 years to build and dont work.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on April 16, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

"To produce 10 TW of power would require construction of 10,000 new nuclear power plants over the next 50 years, i.e., one every other day somewhere in the world for the next 50 years"


So that's 180 units a year. What's the big deal? We produce millions of motor vehicles, hundres of jumbo airliners, build about 2 million new houses per year, just in the U. S. Am I supposed to believe that the combined industrial might of the world can't produce 180 units a year?

Posted by: Ken Hirsch on April 16, 2006 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Up in North London old Karl Marx must be smiling. The range of answers on this thread exposes many of the contradictions within our Capitalist system which if left to fester will lead to our downfall.

What we cannot seem to protect is the "common good" or the center of a society.
The left hypes individual rights which result in NYMBE. This has all but strangled infrastructure growth. I guess animal over human rights belongs about here

On the right is the corporate governmental and scientific governmental combines which stifles innovation.

Many of the energy plans mentioned above will make some inroads into the coming disaster. Everybody must lose something.
Some ideas in no order.
1. Subduction-zone burial of long-life waste.
2. Much home heating can be taken care of with subsurface heat exchangers. All new single home construction should have them.
3. Divide energy costs into domestic and imported sections. 10 cents/KW of imported oil and 10 cents of wind driven power are not equivalent.
4. Federal floor under oil prices. This would entail the government buying and reselling oil with the emergency reserve as a buffer. This would be the reverse of the sale of treasury notes which works well. This might extend to a floor under all energy sources.
5. Individual energy credit card based on a total energy credit per person. Easily bought and sold.
6. Energy design competitions to get new ideas into play.
7.Infrastructure "masters" who could cut through red tape and court suits to actually get things built.

Posted by: aeolius on April 16, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

California Energy Blackmail, Tax Cuts, Energy Policy, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Katrina....

Yeah, I think we should all get behind President Bush as nuclear energy expands. I think that putting a group of enormous corporations and their lobbyists behind this is a sensible plan.

No, I will be for nuclear energy when it can be placed in the hands of an industry neutral, bipartisan, citizen controlled consortium.

Posted by: jerry on April 16, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Fission based power is horribly expensive. It's a non-starter.

Get back to me when they bring fusion based power out of development.
.

Posted by: VJ on April 16, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Consider this too, Palo Verde, the largest nuke plant in the US and online since 1988 seems to be more down than up these days.

So the nuke industry clearly needs better designs, and don't believe any shit they tell you about reliability, safety and COSTS because as any honest engineer will tell you, all of that is bullshit until you have built and operated a real and not a virtual plant.

Posted by: jerry on April 16, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

'frankly0' : this industry site says 17 countries get a quarter or more of their electricity from nuclear. That doesn't include the USA, still the biggest producer in absolute terms. All have had troubles, but they're always minor in comparison to what equal fossil-fired generation does.

Jeffrey Davis: it is a distortion to expect nuclear power to go away after 50 years, or 500. The waste is short-term but not the resource. There's nothing particularly to be preferred about small-scale power sources over large. We don't insist on boutique steel-making.

Posted by: G. R. L. Cowan on April 16, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Who ever thought a nuclear reactor could be so complicated?

And Lord, we are especially thankful for nuclear power, the cleanest, safest energy source there is. Except for solar, which is just a pipe dream.

You can never add too much water to a nuclear reactor.

Well you know boys, a nuclear reactor is a lot like women. You just have to read the manual and press the right button.

And thank you most of all for nuclear power, which is yet to cause a single proven fatality, at least in this country

Posted by: homer simpson on April 16, 2006 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, meltdown. It's one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an unrequested fission surplus.

Posted by: C. Montgomery Burns on April 16, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the question I have asked the pro-nukers for the past 35 years, and have yet to EVER get an answer on:

What do you do with the garbage???

The half-life of Plutonium - during which time it is the deadliest poison we know of - is 35,000 years, which is over three times longer than the entire agricultural period in human history, and a good five or six times longer than the entire time of recorded human history. So far, every time the nukers come up with a place to store the waste, they run into the problem that they are dealing with the geological time scale, and that they know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about how to forecast ABSOLUTE SAFETY for even 1 percent of that time.

Not to mention, nuclear energy has to be operated with a ONE HUNDRED PERCENT FAILURE-FREE system. Does anyone remember Three Mile Island? Does anyone remember Chernobyl? Chernobyl was a MINOR ACCIDENT and it poisoned an area slighly smaller than the state of Connecticut.

But then, putting off the consequences of our actions and the payment for the injuries caused by them to generations as far beyond us as we are beyond Cro-Magnon Man is pretty typical for Industrial Revolution White Boys - it just takes Bush's economic theories and multiplies them a thousand-fold.

Patrick Moore is a moron. Sign that boy up in George Bush's Hallelujah Chorus.

Posted by: TCinLA on April 16, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

In terms of cost of nuclear. France pays more per kWh for electricity than surrounding nations. Also, there was a scandal in France when it came out that these thing are not being done as cheaply as everyone thought. There is no significant environmentalist anti-nuke movement in France, but there are people who are not thrilled with the cost. In terms of cost of breeder. No one has built one cheaply yet. One indication that it won't be easy is the pebble bed reactor in South Africa. Pebble bed reactors have been touted for years as the path to cheap decentralized nuclear electricity. Only it turns ou the the current project cost of the South African one is $8000+ per KW of capaicity and rising.

In terms of world energy demand and "conservation". First unlike some of the bicycle riders here, I favor efficiency over conservation. Conservation is turning down your thermostat.Efficiency is insulating you attic.


And the point of efficiency is not to lower energy use in absolute terms. There is sufficient potential to do that in rich nations like the U.S., but China is still poor per capita, does not want to stay poor per capita and is going to increase energy consumption in absolute terms, as will any other poor nations thtat can manage it. With really effective efficiency measure though, world energy consumption can be 22 TW in 2050 instead of 42.

So why is efficiency important? In part of course it is a question of picking the low hanging fruit. But other reason is that *all* alternatives to coal are expensive (including "clean" decarbonized coal - which is a nightmare in terms of water use). But if can squeeze more GDP out of a unit of energy then we can use more expensive sources, whether we increase or decrease energy use, and still keep total energy costs at the same percent of world GDP (or less) than it is now.

And the only energy source that there is plenty of is solar energy.

Mind you wind, geothermal, wave power, hydroelectric, biomass and so forth will all play and important part. But about a quarter to a third of energy consumption worldwide is low temperature heat - space heating, space cooling hot water heating and so on. We could provide that with low temperature thermal solar panels and store it (seasonally if needed) in low temperature zeolites. With modern evacated tube collectors this possible even in cloudy and rainy climates, in fact where 99%+ of humans live. While such low temp solar is competive with fossil fuels now when providing 65%+ of needs, once you add the storage and extra panels to provide all or most, it is more expensive per unit of energy than coal or natural gas. But that is why you need the kind of efficiencies (and in new buildings passive solar) the Amory Lovins has described. Let efficiency and passive solar cheaply reduce your need for sources, and you can afford to buy slightly more expensive sources.

Ok, what about electricity? This is where I move away from the "small is beautiful" crowd. Wind, geothermal, hydroelectric power can all provide a portion of our needs. But we do need more, and currently PV cannot do it. But commerical solar thermal plants provide electricity at 11 cents per kWh now. And heat, unlike electricity is something we know how to store comparatively cheaply. Solar thermal with molten salt storage cost 15 cents per kWh - and at that price is 100% dispatchable. That is about the same price as non-dispatchable PV power, and cheaper than breeder and other heavy water reactors. It would take about two percent of desert land world-wide - something I'm not happy about, but am happier about that than massive coal and uranium mining, the building of tens of thousands of breeder reactors. I'm happier about solar thermal than than using biomass beyond the point where it is sustainable - to the point where energy competes with food for land, or youu convert the rain forest to palm trees for biodiesel.

Photovoltatic is still too expensive even with efficiency, especially when you add storage. (There are exceptions, but PV at current prices is not going provide more than a percent or two of consumption.) But if that were solved, the land use objection is a red herring. You don't have to confine PV deployment to buildings, though it is a good start. You can put in on highway walls, roof over parking lots and if need be roads, In short the human race as paved over enough land one way or another that we could generate all our electricity needs from land we humans have already covered with stone and asphalt. So research on PV and electricity storage should be a priority. Because if costs can be lowered, that really is a much more desirable and attractive way to produce electricity. Because you can deploy PV it dual use configurations - on buildings and parking lots and highway walls and roads, if the costs were reasonable it would be the lowest footprint energy source - period.

Until then, efficiency combined with low and high temp solar will remain the best choices, with wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, sustainable biomass, and various minor sources playing important roles in lowering average cost of power, and improving reliability.

The nuclear option is a fuzzy headed attempt to avoid making hard choices; efficiency and solar supplemented by other renewable sources is the realistic option.

Posted by: Gar Lipow on April 16, 2006 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

The initial purpose of domestic nuclear power production was to provide a friendly use of nukes, thus giving cover to the nuclear weapons development. This propaganda ploy required massive subsidies that have skewed the cost estimates since the program's inception. Counting the necessary costs of regulation and waste disposal, the true cost of this 'cheap' energy source remains unknown.

Today, the argument is used as cover by the leader of Iran. That alone is a huge reason not to promote nuclear energy. It still provides cover for the ulterior motive of weapons development.

Conservation remains the best, most cost-effective approach to meeting energy demands for years to come. Other technologies, including tidal, can be simultaneously developed. Will nuclear ever become necessary? Only if progress in the other technologies continue to be impeded and delayed.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden on April 16, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

The link posted by The Mask of Zero, about a presentation by Nathan Lewis from Caltech, has excellent information. I just finished looking throught the PowerPoint presentation and listening to the RealAudio recording. In my humble opinion, anyone who is serious about getting a wholistic view of the possible solutions to limiting the increase of carbon in the atmosphere should listen to the presentation.

The Mask of Zero pulled this quote out of the presentation:

"To produce 10 TW of power would require construction of 10,000 new nuclear power plants over the next 50 years, i.e., one every other day somewhere in the world for the next 50 years"

In isolation this might leave the impression that Nathan Lewis does not think that nuclear power is a viable way to deal with the energy and ecological issues we face, but that is not a proper impression. He says in his presentation that he is agnostic about whether or not building large numbers of nuclear plants (and he acknowledges that the number may be closer to one tenth of the number in that quote - still very a very large number) is a good approach, but he says it is technically feasible and in the final analysis may be one of the preferable options.

Lewis was careful in his presentation to not to try to portray what he was saying as being advocacy of one type of approach over another. But, I think it is evident from the facts he presents that, by and large, the best solution involves as much conservation as possible (though that will not be nearly sufficient to ameliorate the problem), and take advantage of the strengths of each of the other options - the full gamut of renewable and non-renewable energy resources. In essence, creating a solution from a large blend of technologies, using each how and where it makes most sense to use them. In certain key areas, like individualized personal transport, there may have to be some homogeneity in the choice of energy, but over all the solution is likely to involve a mix of a great many sources and technologies.

Posted by: TK on April 16, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, so the nuclear electricity plants of 1941 were cover for the preparations to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Interesting theory.

Posted by: G. R. L. Cowan on April 16, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's time to put NAFTA to work for us, instead of against us. Let's send the nuclear waste to Canada! They mine much of the original ore anyway, so we might as well send it back.

Actually, if my memory is correct, the Laurentian Shield is one of the oldest, stable geological formations on the planet and it lies in Canada. It's the basis around which the rest of North America ultimately formed. It doesn't sit on a geologic hot spot, so it's not likely to break up anytime soon. It doesn't impinge on an underthrust crustal plate, so it's not likely to become volcanically active anytime soon. It's a big slab of relatively inert rock which could house virtually anything for a very long time. So, I say, northwar ho.

Unless you want to throw the waste into the abyss around an underthrust belt to have it sucked down into the earth's crust. That's one way of sending it back to where it originally formed.

Posted by: PrahaPartizan on April 16, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty much with jerry on this; the problem with nuclear power is the nuclear power industry. In theory, I think nuclear power is a good substitute, especially the modern default-to-off type, but I have absolutely no trust that the the US power industry will do anything but fuck it up, as they have a history of.

Waste is a secondary issue; it's not irrelevant, even the French have had trouble finding a long term repository that doesn't piss off the locals, but given the problem of possibly leaking radioactives 10,000 years from now and the problem of massive climate change right not, I shrug.

But simple to say -- unless there's a nearly as cheap substitute for the coal, it *will* be burned.

Posted by: tavella on April 16, 2006 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Much home heating can be taken care of with subsurface heat exchangers. All new single home construction should have them.


If every house in a suburb had these things would it exhaust the available heat?

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Why bomb Iran? Looks like they are the road to unilaterally assured self-destruction.

Posted by: G. Rantos on April 16, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

"how does France deal with these issues? How and where does it dispose with its nuclear wastes?"

They dump it in the ocean, that's what the bombing of that Greenpeace ship by french government agents was over. Greenpeace was interfering with the nuclear waste dumping.

Bottomline on nukes? They pose an uninsurable risk. No investors would touch them without the pass on liability given away for free (well not counting the bribes) by congress.

Why the NIMBY attitude? Because anyone who buys a home or business anywhere near a nuclear facility knows that no one will reimburse them for there investment should even one more nuclear disaster occur, and not just in their backyard, but anywhere.

The market value of property near nukes evaporates when any accident occurs anywhere on earth (like Chernobyl for instance). Why would anyone pay the going market price for real estate that is at uninsurable nuclear risk? They won't.

Short of the police state mandating no objections or lawsuits against new nuclear plants, no where near the hundreds of plants necessary to even dent global climate disaster from greenhouse gases will ever be built in the US.

Distributed solar, water, and wind power are a practical solution to enerfy related problems along with electric powered transportation and geothermal heat pumps.

BTW all you renewable energy critics: Dubya has solar panels and a geothermal heat pump geating/cooling system at his "ranch" in crawdad. hehey.

And to further add insult to your injury? Elerctric power consumers in Texas now have to enter a raffle to buy wind powered electricity since it has become the cheapest, most-in-demand source now in sgort supply. Orders for new utility scale wind machines are backed up years in advance.

Sorry to laugh at you all, but your nonsense is just so pathetic.

Posted by: amazingdrx on April 16, 2006 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Wind power can be made fully dispatchable using shaping from hydro (and, in areas isolated from efficient grid access, pumped hydro storage) for what amounts to a 20% premium, which still leaves wind the least expensive form of new power generation.

Posted by: JamesP on April 16, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

re: Canadian nuclear industry.

The only province that uses a lot of nuclear power is Ontario (where I live) and yes, the design is standard. It has NOT, however, kept prices down or improved the maintenance record. The last attempt to have a big nuclear build-out was about a decade ago, and failed because the projected costs were still (optimistically) way higher than taxpayers were willing to pay.

Meanwhile, the Darlington plant that was the last one completed in Ontario was still 2X over the projected costs, at about $4,000/kw. This is well above the price of wind today, even taking in to account intermittency.

The entire pro-nuclear argument boils down to this:

1) Ignore the 30-year trend of declining prices for solar.

2) Ignore the 20-year trend of declining prices for wind.

3) Ignore the 40-year trend of cost overruns and price gouging by the nuclear industry.

4) Ignore the problems of waste disposal entirely.

5) Ta-daa! Nuclear power is clean and cheap!

Posted by: dwjohn on April 16, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is that the question you are asking has two parts:

1) Would you support more nuclear energy if it was run on the Navy model, where there is a zero tolerance for errors, and workers are disciplined for every mistake as if it had caused an accident?

2) Would you support more nuclear energy built by Bechtel Parsons (they of the leaky Central Artery in Boston), the current coal producers (mining disasters galore), and/or the folks who built the New Orleans levees?

Agreeing that more nukes might help (but the peak uranium problem does exist) does not make the first outcome above any more likely.

Posted by: NotThatMo on April 16, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

They dump it in the ocean, that's what the bombing of that Greenpeace ship by french government agents was over. Greenpeace was interfering with the nuclear waste dumping.

Sheesh. Talk about ignorance. The Rainbow Warrior was protesting french nuclear testing.

The French have much the same issues with disposal of high level wastes as we do. They made plans to pick a spot in the geologically stable massif region, the likely towns all protested hard. They pulled back, rethought, and last I heard the plan is to package the waste disposal site with a laboratory to research reusing and recycling the materials. This seemed to be attracting cautious interest among the more job-hungry likely spots, but I do not think any permanent site has been chosen.

Posted by: tavella on April 16, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

egbert:

(My sister had a cat named Egbert when we were kids, btw.
We thought it had brain damage; it used to walk into walls.)

> Besides, I haven't seen anything that proves man is creating global
> warming, and even if we are, who cares? Do you want a job or do you
> want polar bears?

I want a job converting *you* into biomass fuel.

Bit by bloody, shredded bit :)

G. R. L. Cowan:

> We don't insist on boutique steel-making.

Which is *precisely* how we lost our dominance in
steelmaking, when Germany and Japan developed an oxygen
pressure-fed process that allowed the production of
small batches for a just-in-time inventory system.

Sometimes small isn't just beautiful -- it's more economical, too.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

No one has mentioned nuclear reactors that use mined thorium. See http://cavendishscience.org/bks/nuc/thrupdat.htm for one view about why a thorium-based nuclear reactor should be preferable to conventional ones.

Posted by: Rob on April 16, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

The entire anti-nuclear argument boils down to this:

1) Ignore the land-use requirements of solar and wind.

2) Ignore the scale of energy our society needs and the speed at which it's increasing.

3) Ignore global warming, rising sea levels and the increasing scarcity of fresh water.

4) Ignore the speed of our technological development and any reasonable projection of that over the next century.

5) Ignore the fact that bureaucratic problems can be overcome (what would they say if we didn't have the Tennessee Valley Authority and that system were proposed today?).

6) Nuclear power is sufficiently clean and safe, and, most importantly, it's fast.

Posted by: afigbee on April 16, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Where to begin? Many of you already have pointed out the need to use energy more wisely. The other main point that appears to be overlooked in these debates is that solar and wind sources of energy blend nicely with fuel cells, flywheel storage and microdistribution of power. Geez the Japanese are even fairly far along in turning Carbon Dioxide into hydrocarbons using novel catalysts and hydrogen. (Captured CO2 is recycled)

What ever happened to good ol Yankee ingenuity ? It still exists but you'd never know it because we keep repeating these old mantras about "what do you do when the wind doesn't blow or the sun don't shine ?" How about let's repeat the story line that when God invented the elements and he came to Uranium, he realized just how dangerous it was so he hid it away in caves and at the bottom of the ocean thinking that would keep it safely away from humans.

Posted by: steve on April 16, 2006 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

tavella:

Do you have any info on the French breeder project? Last I heard it has shut down permanently over technical issues.

(One of) the most brain-dead thing(s) Bush ever did was signing that nuclear pact with India, which allowed for the production of nearly a dozen breeder plants -- when (IIRC) there isn't a single breeder in commercial operation anywhere in the world.

But what would Bush care? They're just Indians -- and they're so *many* of 'em! They seemed to have recovered quite nicely from the Union Carbide Bhopal chemical plant atrocity ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

This is flat out wrong. And it has nothing to do with NIMBYism. It is market economics. If nuclear is made safe today and wastes are taken care of tomorrow, it simply becomes unaffordable in the market place. You will not find a single utility company willing to make such a bad investment. Unless we are stupid enough to provide massive government subsidies. We spent tens of billions subsidizing nuclear since Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program. And not a single new plant has been built since the 70s. Furthermore, it must be understood that nuclear energy offers little or no reduction in US reliance on imported oil. Petroleum is not currently used to generate electricity. The only way that nuclear could make a difference in petroleum dependency is if we made a massive investment in shifting the US fleet to electric cars. And no one is proposing that. It all comes down to this simple question: What energy investments will provide the best return per dollar invested? Hands down, efficiency wins by a long shot every time. In terms of new production, when all costs are internalized, nuclear cannot compete with renewable sources of energy.

Posted by: Spike on April 16, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

It's disappointing to see so much fuzzy thinking from the normally solid reality-based community. I've done a lot of reading on the issue and I am simply not convinced by the anti-nuclear arguments. Most of them make the elementary mistake of tabulating nuclear power's costs and sins while not adequately doing the same for the other sources of power that inevitably will be used if nuclear is not. Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that Canada, France, and Japan all extensively use nuclear power, and this hasn't resulted in the end of the world.

In fact, Canada has come up with some excellent, extremely safe reactor designs in recent years.

As to some of the objections raised in this thread:

Nuclear waste disposal is an insoluble problem: No, it isn't. The waste should first be reprocessed to extract the usable fuel remaining therein. This drastically reduces the volume, while also creating more reactor fuel, thus reducing the need for additional uranium mining. The remaining wastes can then be vitrified (preserved within glass), and stored in a geologically stable underground location. The problems here are all political, not technological.

Nuclear power is subsidized, so it's economically inefficient: I'm a liberal, not a laissez-faire dogmatist, so this holds no weight with me. Market failures exist, and large-scale energy source decisions should be decided rationally, not based on the whims of the marketplace. So what if private insurance companies won't cover it? Private insurance also has been a spectacular flop in providing health coverage to Americans. Private insurance sucks. And do you really think that nuclear is the only form of power generation that receives subsidies?

We should conserve more energy instead: Yes, we should, but it still won't be enough. Ultimately, an advanced industrial nation like the US needs power, and LOTS of it. For the most part, the question is whether we want it to come from coal (50% of current US power generation) and oil, or from nuclear. Because of CO2 emissions and general safety reasons, I'd far prefer the latter. And many of the *extreme* conservationst arguments on this thread are laughably politically tone-deaf. Americans are simply not going to give up their cars and rely upon local agriculture. It's not going to happen. Let's focus on realistic solutions.

Three Mile Island and Chernobyl prove nuclear power is unsafe: Chernobyl proves that Soviet nuclear power is unsafe. The RBMK reactor design was a "dual use" reactor, optimized for weapon production, not civilian safety. Among other flaws, it had a "positive void coefficient", meaning that steam buildup could easily cause the chain reaction to get out of control. Western reactors work the opposite way, where such buildup would slow the reaction rather than accelerate it. Also, Chernobyl had a half-assed containment building, in contrast to US designs that are designed to withstand the impact of a fully loaded 747. Chernobyl means we need to focus on safety, not that nuclear is inherently evil. The Soviets did a lot of environmental fuckups. As for Three Mile Island, the safety systems worked, and there was no meltdown. Again, compare not to some hypothetical ideal, but to real-world substitutes like coal and oil, which kill a lot more people.

Peak uranium means it won't be a long-term solution: That's what reprocessing is for. You know, that evil thing Iran is doing?

The fuel cycle is prone to terrorism: First, should we really rule out an otherwise workable method of energy generation because of fears of terrorists? Secondly, we already have excellent security on nuclear shipments. The casks that hold nuclear fuel can survive a head-on train collision. If we want more security, there are plenty of Americans who would be happy to take those jobs if they could get decent wages for it.

Again: 50 PERCENT of the energy generated by US powerplants currently comes from COAL. That is about the dirtiest and most dangerous energy source imaginable, and HORRIBLE in terms of global warming. Compare nuclear to that, not to your hypothetical ideal.

Posted by: Firebug on April 16, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

No one has mentioned nuclear reactors that use mined thorium.

Unless you can point to an actual operating reactor that uses thorium they're irrelevant for the next 15 years. At a minimum that's how long it would take to get into full-scale production.

Posted by: Tim on April 16, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

It is easy to cry "conservation" and no doubt conservation will happen as prices go up, but conservation alone doesn't get it done as folks across the planet demand improved living standards. How does the world meet world wide demands without doing unacceptable damage to the environment.

Well, isn't that the point? Nobody goes around saying, "I want to burn X kilowatts of electricity next month." They say, "I want a house that's warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and I want juice to run my TV and computer and iPod and all."

Similarly, offices and factories need to be heated and cooled, machines need to be powered, and so forth.

The first goal should be to figure out how to do all these things with less juice than we're now using. Much of that work has already been done; it's largely a question of implementation. That's gonna mean government mandates.

Will that make the problem go away? Of course not. Will it make the problem a lot more manageable? You betcha. If world electricity demand is 25-30 terawatts rather than 43 terawatts in 2050, simply because we're getting more use from each watt, then we've got a smaller problem to solve over the next 40+ years in terms of power generation.

Posted by: RT on April 16, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1, they still have their small research breeder reactor, but the big production one was shut down years ago. I seem to recall something about a next generation breeder reactor to go with the French next generation power plant idea, but I don't know if it will ever be built; breeder reactors have such a horrible safety record.

Posted by: tavella on April 16, 2006 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Another argument put forward above was that the US electric grid is privately held and therefore nuclear power plants have to be placed in areas where they are not wanted, not in strategically practical, or far-away, places.

Well. Is that not a great argument for nationalizing the US power grid?

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Firebug (nice handle for a pro-nuker, no? :):

You are so fucking wrong I don't know where to begin ...

First, Iran isn't *reprocessing* anything. It's processing UF6 gas into U235 for first-generation usage in a reactor.

Second, if reprocessing is such a nifty solution -- why do we have tons and tons of highly radioactive waste building up at every nuke plant in the country? We're one of the only countries that still operates the types of reactors (all out of the DOD mainly for weapons production) that could reprocess nuclear fuel. Answer: Because nuclear fuel reprocessing produces *plutonium* and other trans-uranic elements that are too goddamned hot for light-water reactors.

Third, you're not a free market fundamentalist. That's groovy. It'd be even groovier if you weren't a godforsaken *corporate statist*. Why do you insist on totally centralized power production doled out to us poor, benighted, ignorant consumers in little buckets that we should be so *lucky* to even have -- but only insofar as this is a secondary byproduct of our Wise, Corporate Fathers making obscene profits on a captive market?

California power deregulation mean anything to you?

The more consumers can take their own energy needs into their own hands, the more *local* the solutions developed -- the better off everyone will be.

Economies of scale = obscene profits in a captive market. Oil prices are through the roof and Exxon couldn't be happier, as their profits are off the flippin' scale ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Jeffrey Davis: it is a distortion to expect nuclear power to go away after 50 years, or 500. The waste is short-term but not the resource. There's nothing particularly to be preferred about small-scale power sources over large. We don't insist on boutique steel-making.

A) Are you saying that the people who are talking about "peak Uranium" are making stuff up?

B) We don't insist on people growing their own food, but some people do and that's an additional bit of food available.

You appear to be saying that you don't ever envision small technology energy replacing big technology energy.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 16, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Manageable? Kevin, I don't think so. Replacing oil/nat. gas with nuclear is like curing flesh-eating bacteria with gangrene. Is someone joking here? The nation whose most recent crowning achievements are Iraq and Katrina is about to embark on a mega-massive construction of nuke plants that will dwarf anything previously imaginable? Assuming it's a good idea--which as commenters above have ably debunked-- do we have one tenth of the will, the expertise, the capital to do this? Remember how they had to make some changes on the Diablo Canyon nuke plant (near San Luis, CA) because they had designed it backwards?! (Not a joke--it happened.) And that was 30 years ago when Americans could still do things.

In the real world ahead, we can't and won't get much out of more nuclear plants. (Maybe a few will be built). But where we ARE going--stupidly, blindly, and temporarily until it runs out-- is coal. The US is already mining/using more coal than ever and it's only going to get worse. Enjoying the warm weather I hope.

But neither will coal + all the worthy alternatives (wind, solar, etc.) fill the huge energy vacuum left by Peak Oil. Overshoot and collapse is an old human story that Jared Diamond has traced quite well. And now it's coming to your neighborhood. 6.6 billion on a planet that MAYBE can sustain 1 billion. As the many societies Diamond discusses, we are using up a declining resource base to ramp up population. As a food scientist recently noted, "land is place where oil is turned into food." We can feed MAYBE a billion without oil--tops.

The only thing that can save us now is something like a planetary epidemic of avian flu. If it could quickly eliminate 5/6 of us, you and I could get on with building a sustainable civilization. But if we're not so lucky, we'll continue down the path of secular Armageddon as oil-burning armies battle for the last of the dwindling Middle Eastern oil fields.

As a gourmet cook, I wonder what I'll be able to do with barbecued rat and a salad of baby weeds.

Posted by: geo on April 16, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

"We Almost Lost Detroit" by John G. Fuller is a fascinating, non-fictional account of the Detroit Edison, Enrico Fermi, full scale, commercial reactor built on the shores of Lake Michigan which had a core meltdown in 1966.

During the Three Mile Island Disaster and the Chernobyl Disaster, this Lake Michigan plant disaster was not mentioned once. Talk about media amnesia.

If you read the nuclear industry accident reports, you will not be so forgiving of the technology and the hazards involved.

Radiation causes cancer and birth defects. Pregnant women are NOT X-rayed for this reason.

Solar thermal, solar electric and wind generators are commercially viable, proven technologies without any of the long term risks and costs of nuclear energy.

Denmark gets 19% percent of its electricity from wind turbines according to the National Geographic Society Magazine.

Wind turbines in Texas and California produce as much electricity as a nuclear reactor. The wind will blow and the sun will shine long after the supply of oil, coal and uranium run short. Use our limited, "easy" oil and natural gas to build a solar and wind based world economy.

Otherwise, War and Civil Strife will result from trying to obtain and defend scare energy resources. Iraq may be the example.

Posted by: deejaays on April 16, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1: Iran isn't *reprocessing* anything. It's processing UF6 gas into U235 for first-generation usage in a reactor.

Iran has announced their intention to "complete the nuclear fuel cycle", which would include reprocessing. They have not reached that stage yet. Anyway, that was simply an aside, not the main point of my post.

rmck1: if reprocessing is such a nifty solution -- why do we have tons and tons of highly radioactive waste building up at every nuke plant in the country?

Because we made a decision in the late 1970s not to do reprocessing. This was a mistake.

rmck1: Answer: Because nuclear fuel reprocessing produces *plutonium* and other trans-uranic elements that are too goddamned hot for light-water reactors.

But there *are* reactor types that can use these fuels. Plutonium is dangerous and toxic, but it can still be used productively with the proper safety precautions.

rmck1: Why do you insist on totally centralized power production doled out to us poor, benighted, ignorant consumers in little buckets that we should be so *lucky* to even have -- but only insofar as this is a secondary byproduct of our Wise, Corporate Fathers making obscene profits on a captive market?

Actually, it would be fine with me if the plants were run by the government. Alternatively, we could go back to the old-style public utility, before all of the "deregulation" crap.

rmck1: The more consumers can take their own energy needs into their own hands, the more *local* the solutions developed -- the better off everyone will be.

Unrealistic and asinine. That's like saying we should all build our own cars by hand. Or run steel furnaces in the back yard...

rmck1: Economies of scale = obscene profits in a captive market. Oil prices are through the roof and Exxon couldn't be happier, as their profits are off the flippin' scale ...

Yes. Our government has abdicated its responsibility to regulate markets in the public interest. Time to throw the Republican bums out.

But this has *nothing* to do with the safety of nuclear power. Republicans can fuck *anything* up. I wouldn't trust these losers to even strike a match.

Posted by: Firebug on April 16, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Wind turbines in Texas and California produce as much electricity as a nuclear reactor.


But how much space do they occupy? Can you site them wherever you need them?

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

>But neither will coal + all the worthy alternatives (wind, solar, etc.) fill the huge energy vacuum left by Peak Oil.

Excluding coal for environmental reasons, why not?

There is not reason a combination of efficiency increases and the building or renewable energy sources should not phase out fossil fuels over the course of 30 years. Remember, peak oil does not mean there is magically zero oil. It means you have a little less each. Efficiency increases combine with building renewable sources can replace fossil fuels faster than oil will run out; phasing out fossil fuels over the course of thirty years may even be fast enough to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Posted by: Gar Lipow on April 16, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

deejaays:

I've read We Almost Lost Detroit way back in the Pliestocene. IIRC, the Fermi II plant was also a breeder, with a primary cooling loop of liquid sodium ... although it's also possible that my middle-aged memory is playing tricks on me ...

If that were the case and the containment vessel were breached -- the entire installation would have blown up in a sodium explosion.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

The melting poles will release enormous quantities of methane into the atmosphere - something that is going to happen whether we like it or not. Before we go nuclear, shouldn't we capitalize on this resource instead? Many of the same methods used for oil and gas extraction could be used for methane hydrate, so the start-up costs could be easily absorbed (perhaps with a little tax incentive).

Posted by: Barfly on April 16, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

cld:

Nuclear plants require secure sites with cooling water sources. These are large complexes.

Mining and refining and disposing of mine tailings require large areas. Past behavior in this area has cost many billions in cleanup costs.

For a chilling review of the costs of cleaning up, check out the Fernald uranium processing site located on the Miami River in Ohio. I think we have spent $4 billion to "reclaim" the land.

The contaminated remains are being hauled to a poor West Texas county for burial at additional cost.

Nuclear is very expensive and has a vast support structure with many unadvertised costs.

"Breeder" reactors generate tons of radioactive isotopes that cannot be released into the biosphere without consequence. They do not convert their fuel to benign byproducts.

Seven and Seventy generations hence, what would you use to eliminate the drudgery of human labor without renewable energy sources to replace the fossil and uranium fuel you used up in this century.

Posted by: deejaays on April 16, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

firebug:

> rmck1: Iran isn't *reprocessing* anything. It's processing UF6
> gas into U235 for first-generation usage in a reactor.

> Iran has announced their intention to "complete the nuclear
> fuel cycle", which would include reprocessing. They have
> not reached that stage yet.

Iran has also announced their intention to wipe Israel
off the map. Not very likely they'll manage to do that.

> Anyway, that was simply an aside, not the main point of my post.

No, it is a central pillar in your argument for
why reprocessing is such a nifty thing (look,
even Iran is doing it) -- and factually incorrect.

> rmck1: if reprocessing is such a nifty solution -- why
> do we have tons and tons of highly radioactive waste
> building up at every nuke plant in the country?

> Because we made a decision in the late 1970s not to
> do reprocessing. This was a mistake.

Do you know *why* we made that decision? Does the phrase
"Clinch River Breeder Reactor" mean anything to you?
No? How about "liquid sodium primary cooling loop."

> rmck1: Answer: Because nuclear fuel reprocessing produces
> *plutonium* and other trans-uranic elements that are too
> goddamned hot for light-water reactors.

> But there *are* reactor types that can use these fuels.
> Plutonium is dangerous and toxic, but it can still be
> used productively with the proper safety precautions.

I just *knew* this was a backdoor argument for breeder reactors,
because light-water reactors simply don't produce the energy
throughput to anywhere near match the efficiency of coal. Breeders
also serve as their own fuel reprocessing plants -- but they need a
cooling medium that transfers a lotta neutrons, hence liquid sodium.

If you're proposing some third solution -- say, a reactor design that
can burn plutonium without producing it (with a safer cooling medium
than liquid sodium, which explodes on contact with air or water) --
then you're talking about cranking up an entirely secondary set of
reactors that don't produce power but *can* process spent nuclear
fuel into plutonium -- which would be even *less* efficient than
light water reactors using conventionally processed uranium ore.

> rmck1: Why do you insist on totally centralized power production
> doled out to us poor, benighted, ignorant consumers in little
> buckets that we should be so *lucky* to even have -- but only
> insofar as this is a secondary byproduct of our Wise, Corporate
> Fathers making obscene profits on a captive market?

> Actually, it would be fine with me if the plants were run
> by the government. Alternatively, we could go back to the
> old-style public utility, before all of the "deregulation" crap.

Which is still ducking the question. Why do you favor centralized
power production when it's simply less efficient in terms of heat
loss through high-tension transmission than regional or local grids?

> rmck1: The more consumers can take their own energy needs
> into their own hands, the more *local* the solutions
> developed -- the better off everyone will be.

> Unrealistic and asinine. That's like saying we should all build
> our own cars by hand. Or run steel furnaces in the back yard...

Tell it to George Bush, whose ranch has both passive and active
solar panels, and an underground heat pump for hot water.

> rmck1: Economies of scale = obscene profits in a captive
> market. Oil prices are through the roof and Exxon couldn't
> be happier, as their profits are off the flippin' scale ...

> Yes. Our government has abdicated its responsibility to regulate
> markets in the public interest. Time to throw the Republican bums out.

No argument there.

> But this has *nothing* to do with the safety of nuclear power.

It does, because when you talk nukes, you talk investment and
amortization to cover long-term risk, and only private entities
have that kind of capital. Otherwise, we'd need an urgent
public consensus in favor of nuclear power -- and that's just
not tenable give the effects of nuke plants on property values.

> Republicans can fuck *anything* up. I wouldn't
> trust these losers to even strike a match.

Then don't trust the kind of Republican-backed
corporate entities who would be building the
power you advocate -- because there's no other way.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

deejays: Nuclear plants require secure sites with cooling water sources. These are large complexes.


Which is why they would make such an excellent power source for desalination facilities, something we will need increasingly.

And there is the rising sea level. Global warming isn't going away, and we will we will plainly be doing nothing to reverse the problem, even if 'reversing' would work. So, while we're getting screwed, we should put the screwing to some use and create facilities large enough to simply pump excess sea water into the desert.

I want to turn the Sahara into a rain forest.


Mining and refining and disposing of mine tailings require large areas. Past behavior in this area has cost many billions in cleanup costs.


Yes, this is what happens when you allow social conservatives to be in charge of anything.

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

cld & firebug:

Why do you guys seem to think that technocracy (and its attendant insane levels of hubris: "I want to turn the Sahara into a rainforest") can somehow be separated from Republicanism?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

firebug & cld:

The world already tried technocracy in the name of the State.

It was called the Soviet Union.

And it produced the ugliest and most long-term environmental disasters on the planet. China, too.

Centralized planning and environmental sensitivity seem to be mutually exclusive.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Because Republicans are parasites who have nothing to do with technocracy. They'd be just as happy, indeed, I imagine, a lot more happy, in a theocracy, or any other situation that can guarantee their societal hegemony.

How many Nobel Prize winners are conservatives? 5% ?

I often congratulate myself on the practicality of my insane level of hubris, which is only reasonable.

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

cld:

The Nobel Prize in economics is *dominated* by conservatives -- usually Chicago-school libertarians.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

And, otherwise, what is there to do about the rising sea level, except to put the water to use somewhere? Pumping it underground to raise the coastal land levels and teraforming the deserts seems to only politically possible solution.

Will anyone in the deserts object to it?

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

The Nobel Prize in economics is *dominated* by conservatives


Luckily that's the dismal science, not science.

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

cld:

You should read a book called The Arrogance of Humanism by Rutgers environmental science professor David Eherenfeld.

Looking at environmental problems on a blackboard and proposing blackboard solutions (as if the environment were, like a machine, a closed system) only produces more problems through the Law of Unintended Consequences.

When you try to account for that using fault-tree analysis, the trees multiply exponentially ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, but we're not going to do anything about global warming, global warming is only going to increase, the sea level is only going to continue rising.

I'm not interfering with the system, just focusing it. Pumping the water inland is the only way around it, the method of doing that also produces excess electricity. The people in the poorest, driest regions will have their lives improved. Everybody wins.

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

A Finnish opinion.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4245298.stm

Posted by: republicrat on April 16, 2006 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a thought: the nuclear energy debate has been throughly taken up in this thread, but what has really irked me all along this comment page is the NIMBY references. My solution:

Everyone who says "NIMBY" gets a nuclear plant, gas turbine, windmill or whatever right outside their bedroom window.

Posted by: Jim on April 16, 2006 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

It may well be that one hundred years from now, people will have accepted constant exposure to low levels of radiation as the price for continued economic growth.

As we accept the risk of death from automobiles and alcohol.

Posted by: republicrat on April 16, 2006 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

To sum up, there are two major drawbacks to light water nukes:

true, but those are not the only nukes.

Posted by: republicrat on April 16, 2006 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

I could be sold much easier on distributed roof-top solar, which can produce half to 3/4 of an average home's power when conservation efforts are used even in the worst environments where it won't pay for itself but will make an ecological difference.

There are problems with solar (all that toxic waste is actually more per KWH than nuclear, but not radioactive), but I think it will be cost-competitive soon enough. But we neet all technologies, as well as conservation. Nuclear belongs in the mix.

Posted by: republicrat on April 16, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Jim:

I'd fucking *love* to live right next door to a high-tech wind turbine. I'd sure I'd get used to the ambient noise -- especially if I *also* knew that I'd be getting 100% of my energy needs from it (and from fuel cells/storage batteries it charged up on windless days).

In fact, I think it'd make me as happily and as smugly eco-superior as SecularAnimist :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

republicrat:

Thanks for quoting me out of context. The problems of breeder reactors -- the original "promise of nuclear energy" -- are far *far* worse. You can cite my previous posts on that if you'd like to dispute it.

Oh, and automobiles and alcohol are risks we assume with our behavior.

Entirely unlike across-the-board increased cancer rates which may come from, say, a plutonium economy.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 16, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Burdening future generations with waste problems that we don't know how to deal with (think: climate change and nuclear reactor waste disposal) is irresponsible.

glassified spent nuclear fuel can be buried in the ground where the fuel was mined in the first place. There is little or no net increase in risk, compared to leaving it in the ground in the first place. The fuel-handling and transportation infrastructure is already in place.


Somebody wrote that "solar is NOT the answer". that's true but irrelevant, becuase there is no ONE answer. "The" answer will be a mixture of all kinds of energy production and conservation.

Posted by: republicrat on April 16, 2006 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

I also agree, but with one condition. The safety regulations must be Bushproof. No future Bush will be allowed to ease safety regulations to help a large contributor make a larger profit.

Ron

Posted by: Ron on April 16, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

steve: Geez the Japanese are even fairly far along in turning Carbon Dioxide into hydrocarbons using novel catalysts and hydrogen.

I am glad that you mentioned that. There must be a dozen nations that do that sort of thing in the lab. When electricity and H2 are cheap enough, that will be part of the solution to CO2 buildup. Meanwhile, we mostly do it by growing green plants.

Posted by: republicrat on April 16, 2006 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK
For those still opposed to nuclear: you must not merely be opposed, but rather make a positive statement. Where will our power come from ?

We're either going to figure out a way to live withing renewable, or at least long-term sustainable (fusion is the latter though not the former), energy supplies or we're going to die.

Thermal fission reactors aren't a viable source of large-scale production in any but the shortest term; they are viable now because nuclear doesn't have enough penetration to consume the available fuel fast enough to cause supply problems, widescale switch to nuclear would change that.

Breeder reactors are sustainable in a longer term, but if large scale use of them is part of the solution to be pursued to the global energy supply problem, some kind of control regime is needed, since they multiply the anti-proliferation challenges.

Mostly, though we need to start being realistic and working on living within our (energy) means: determining what, with available technology, we can safely sustain and working to conserve to keep use within those parameters.

Arguing that we must go for nuclear despite the known harms and the risks merely because nothing else immediately available will support the energy consumption pattern we are used to is like losing your job in a broad economic downturn and, seeing the labor market tightening, arguing that you have to start robbing banks, because nothing else available in the current environment will provide you the income to maintain the lifestyle you got used to during boom times.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 16, 2006 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

FYI: Stewart Brand, the founder of "The Whole Earth Catalog" mentioned in Mr. Moore's article, has also endorsed my thriller novel of nuclear power as a way for the lay person to learn the good and the bad of this energy source.

"Rad Decision" is available online at no cost to readers at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com - - and they seem to like it, judging from the reviews they're leaving at the homepage. There's nothing else like it out there.

Regards,

James Aach
20+ years in the nuclear industry.


"I'd like to see Rad Decision widely read." - Stewart Brand.

"Very nice, good pace. The tech was good but not overwhelming." - a reader.

"I started reading Rad Decision because of my interest in nuclear power -- then found I could not put it down! -- another reader.

Posted by: James Aach on April 16, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

'Is there a RATIONAL case against nuclear energy?
--frankly0

Here's two: (1) Nuclear energy requires massive government subsidies to be profitable. Pour the same amount into solar, wind and geotherm, as well as incentives for smart buildings, strict conservation and mass transit and you get a lot more bang for your buck. (2) Plutonium and enriched uranium are deadly poisonous for tens of thousands of years.

Case closed. Nuclear is foolish and unnecessary.

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on April 16, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Texas wind farms have a total capacity of about 1,390 megawatts (MW), enough energy to run 396,000 households, according to the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association. That places Texas behind only California in wind production. Total U.S. capacity was about 6,400 MW last year." --Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Proven, non-polluting technology that does not have a a cancer-causing, waste stream lastings millenia. 1390 Megawatts is more than a nuclear reactor produces.

No waste heat is injected into the biosphere. Existing wind is simple used and some of its energy is extracted.

Cypress Semiconductor has a 20% efficient solar cell in production. See last week's NYTimes.

You don't need nuclear for power generation.

Posted by: deejaays on April 16, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Kevin pretty much gave away the show when he tried to wrap Moore in Greenpeace robes. In reality, Moore switched sides 20 years ago, and a more accurate description of him would be "industry flack" and "fish-farming polluter".

Of course, that wouldn't be quite as attractive a way to market nuclear power, because in the past twenty years Greenpeace has continued to appear wiser than the polluting industries. And with good reason, as we watch the industries renew their efforts to poison us in their neverending quest to award lardbutt CEOs grotesquely outsized paychecks.

So, do the short form- would you rather pay taxes so Halliburton can build nukes (their specialty, dontcha know), or would you rather spend your money insulating your house and installing solar and passive heat exchangers?

That shouldn't really be a difficult question to answer.

Posted by: serial catowner on April 16, 2006 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

Cartoon sums it up neatly,

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/opinions/cartoonsandvideos/toles_main.html?name=Toles&date=04042006

Posted by: cld on April 16, 2006 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

The issue here is less nuclear waste and safety than the preservation of corporate power, and the extension of the police state.

The light waste remains volatile and truly dangerous for only a few hundred years, and the heavy waste can be recycled and reused (if not transported into orbit by a space elevator, and then launched at the sun), but the dramatic expansion of nuclear power will become a pretext for the preservation of the new police and security state. Even if the specific threat of Islamic terrorism diminishes, the general threat of apocalyptic terrorism is unlikely to diminish in the emerging multicultural age. There will always be Timothy McVeighs and Dylan Klebolds with crazy fantasies, and nuclear power plants will remain perennial targets.

The energy barons want to expand the use of nuclear power because it is centralized, and preserves their control over the sector, and the profits that control brings. Their worst nightmare is some kind of solid state, decentralized energy generation system (as in highly efficient, inexpensive solar cells coupled with stationary hydrogen fuel cells).

These are the grounds on which we should oppose nuclear power.

Posted by: The Blue Nomad on April 16, 2006 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

Purely out of curiosity, on the issue of waste disposal, has there been any serious discussion about disposing of it in the sun? A working space elevator probably isn't all that far off, giving us safe access to geosynchronus orbit. Then just boost it into solar orbit and slap a solar ion engine on the payload and burn retrograde for the next million years or so... I'm no rocket scientist, but is something like that feasible?

Posted by: Mark on April 16, 2006 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Besides, I haven't seen anything that proves man is creating global warming, and even if we are, who cares? Do you want a job or do you want polar bears?"

You, egbert, are as tragically ignorant as Bjorn Lomborg. It's not a question of jobs or bears. It's a question of jobs doing things we shouldn't be allowing in the first place or having something to eat. It's about food.

In 2002, Lomborg was saying that we should forget about global warming and just get everyone fresh water. Problem is, these are contradictory directives. With the melting of glacial ice packs and increased temperatures, the amount of fresh water that is preserved on land in forms that are available when water isn't just falling out of the sky is reduced. This, as underground aquifers are being drained faster than their natural replenishment rates.

You warm the earth, you have less water. You have less arable land and need more irrigation water to produce the same amount of food. This goes doubly when corporate-bribed governments decide that everyone must have an export agricultural model and grow crops that require more inputs than locally adapted foods. When you do grow crops in warmer climates than they're suited to, they can start losing too much carbon to respiration, decreasing the amount they can turn into food that you, me and the tasty, little cows eat. When you muck around with climate, you muck around with where your dinner comes from, and that is just all kinds of godawful stupid.

Don't think of it as changing the climate. Think of it as changing the overall conditions in which human beings are optimally adapted to survive.

And here's the simplest way on the planet to save energy for other uses: buy more locally grown food that didn't have to be flown, barged or long-hauled from furthest Timbuktu. The typical grocery store item traveled 1500 miles to get to you, while the typical 'local' or in-state produced item traveled 43.

Lastly, I live in WA, where the Hanford nuclear facility cleanup persists in being an enormous financial boondoggle and political football. No one can even get a straight answer about the amount of contamination. And you people want to replicate this same white elephant problem all over the country? Ye're frakkin' nuts. There isn't any kind of sensible way set up to handle it and no one, but no one, wants to pay for the aftereffects. It works in France only because they have centralized planning and a single design for every plant, and this institutional approach isn't a side issue but the whole issues. If you think structural and management conditions for nuclear power will improve in the US just because it would be the sensible thing to do, that all the competing corporate welfare cases will just go with the program for the good of the country, I have to wonder which country you've been living in for the last few decades.

Posted by: natasha on April 16, 2006 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

If we do go big nuclear, we should consider the safer thorium process: c.f. the venerable CANDU process of Canada. We still have to find a way to get rid of waste and keep it relatively safe - is vitrification still as good as it sounds?

Also, the nuke industry must be carefully watched. No Republican style nonregulation or dysregulation - good argument for good Democrats to be in power, so to speak.

Posted by: Neil' on April 16, 2006 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

David Roberts, I believe, says that: "We can build better vehicles, better cities, better infrastructure. We can drive less, consume less, and change our food system to reduce freight distances. We can shift policy to internalize industry externalities. We can tax carbon. And we can lavish the same attention, subsidies, and tax breaks on renewables that we do now on oil, coal, and agribusiness."

And we can do all those things, and I wish we would -- but you must realize that we almost certainly won't. The problem with the conservation approach is that it assumes human beings are motivated by reason and a desire for the common good, and that if they understand the damage they're doing they'll stop; unfortunately, it's really far more likely that they'll either refuse to believe you in the first place, or that they'll agree, feel guilty about their bad behavior, realize that actually doing anything about it will inconvenience them, tell themselves they'll just put off change till a better time, and keep on just as they are. Most people don't want to conserve -- it's as selfish and as simple as that -- and short of *making* them, short of legal sanction and the threat of force, I don't think you *can* implement the changes which we would both like to see. I'm not saying we shouldn't try to get people to conserve, we have to try; I just don't feel it would be wise to base a plan around it. (Hope: not a plan!)

Anyway, if conservation isn't going to happen -- regardless of the fact that it should -- something else has to be done instead. I don't know anything about the technological issues being debated here, so I can't say whether nuclear would be workable or not. I can only guess that conservation is probably not the most likely outcome.

Shoshana

Posted by: Shoshana on April 16, 2006 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

PS - Can anyone here make a credible pitch for at least considering cold fusion or some analog thereof (whatever it really is)? Like, do Patterson cells really work, now that we've had time I suppose to play with them enough to know? etc.

Posted by: Neil' on April 16, 2006 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

anyone favoring nuclear power is a homicidal, suicidal maniac.

and an erstwhile totalitarian.

if you don't know the site, you might find the recent programs aired at TUCRADIO.ORG quite educational. they are available for free download.

helen caldicott has her say. but the most interesting broadcast was by david freeman, former head of the TVA.

listen to those essays, interviews, come back and tell us if you still like the idea of nuclear power plants?

Posted by: albertchampion on April 16, 2006 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

If cold fusion (other than muon-catalysed fusion) were real, it could be considered an analogue of cold fission. It's useful, of course, for a nuclear energy system not to remain cold, but to heat itself, at least a little. (The fission-retarding effect of increasing heat is probably what Fermi was referring to when he said the natives were very friendly.)

With regard to dropping nuclear waste in the sun, this would definitely be gilding the lily, but if done would most likely be done by throwing it near Jupiter. The recent New Horizons launch, and that of Cassini in 1997, can shed some light on this. Neither carried any nuclear waste, but they did, respectively, carry
11 kg and 33 kg of plutonium-238 dioxide.

This substance is made on purpose because its radioactivity is exceptionally intense and long-lasting: 403 thermal watts per kilogram, declining 0.79 percent per year. So now that Cassini is at Saturn, its radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs), initially running on 13,182 W of heat, still have 12,340 watts.

The radioactivity of spent nuclear fuel drops below 400 W/kg, below the specific power of the ceramic in RTGs, before the end of its third hour of retirement.

After 25 years it's below 1.2 watts per kg, cf. table 7 in this NRC document, so the New Horizons launch was equivalent to launching 3.7 tonnes of 25-years-cooled spent fuel. I don't know how much a cask is supposed to hold, suspect it's fairly close to this.

But why heroically launch man-made megawatts of long-lived radioactivity when there are natural hundreds of megawatts of it at easily diggable depth. Burying the stuff below those natural watts of beta and gamma power not only will be completely safe and effective, it will be seen to be so because the overlying natural radioactivity will be much greater in amount, not carefully contained, and, of course, not so deep.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
B: internal combustion, nuclear cachet

Posted by: G. R. L. Cowan on April 16, 2006 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

Amory Lovins, whose original article on soft versus hard energy paths has proved extremely prophetic, believes that nuclear will be outclassed by the herd of mice, small-scale, decentralized, efficient, renewable sources.

http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid171.php#E05-15
E05-15, Mighty Mice (PDF-595k)
The most powerful force resisting new nuclear may be a legion of small, fast and simple microgeneration and efficiency projects. In this guest article in the UK-published Nuclear Engineering International, Amory Lovins explains to the industry who its most formidable competitors are: not central coal- or gas-fired power plants, but micropower and efficient use. These are already adding more than ten times as much global capacity per year, and, being much cheaper, provide more climate solution per dollar and per year. (29 December 2005).

Posted by: gmoke on April 16, 2006 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Are you saying that the people who are talking about "peak Uranium" are making stuff up?"

Most likely. Oil and gas bring in a lot of tax money, money that fattens the cheques they live off, but they're not going to say that.

Hubbert, of peak-oil fame, shows a Hubbert plateau for uranium, not a Hubbert peak. He thought breeders would be necessary before the 100th century, indeed within a few years of when he wrote, but some of the links I linked above should show this is fanciful, even if a very large terrestrial population relies exclusively on nuclear for a very long time.

(There's also this, which interestingly reviews geological knowledge to the effect that most of the Earth's uranium is proportionally as near its surface as the skin of an apple.)


--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
B: internal combustion, nuclear cachet

Posted by: G. R. L. Cowan on April 16, 2006 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

Paul Tsongas made this point 25 years ago when looking at the damage acid rain was doing to New England -- and he got killed by the liberals. Same story, new day, same facts, ...

Posted by: andy on April 16, 2006 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

I'm just kind of curious--why has there not ever been a profitable nuclear power plant? Why have they all been run by the state?

Posted by: kokblok on April 16, 2006 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

kokblok;

I am pretty sure that the Wolf Creek facility in Burlington, Kansas (SW from KC, NE from Wichita) was construced and is operated by Kansas Gas and Electric Co. I could be wrong, this is strictly an "iirc" comment, but I believe it to be true very strongly for some reason...

Posted by: Global Citizen on April 17, 2006 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

Natural radioactive materials are not as concentrated as waste. When they get into spring water it is at relatively low levels. I have a friend who has measured uranium in bottled water produced by various companies. You cant taste it but it is there in measurable amounts.

I would be more inclined to accept some nuclear power if it was built with no government subsidies including the use of private insurance.

If you estimate that a nuclear plant takes up about two square miles of land (including cooling towers and security buffers) and if we estimate another two square miles for the mine, tailings and processing plant (just a guess) then the total solar power falling on that land is about 10,000 megawatts.

Cheap solar cells now run at 21% efficiency (Sunpower in Silicon Valley per todays Chronicle). Sun is available about 6 hours out of 24. From this crude calculation the same land used to host a 1,000MW nuclear plant (a large one) could produce 500MW of solar power.

My point is that talk about there not being enough space for solar power is a red herring. Nuclear power takes roughly the same space as solar power.

Triple junction cells run at 40% efficiency but are too costly. However, they might be made cost effective combined with solar concentrators. Quantum dot cells are still in R&D but promise 60% efficiency. Id rather see the money spent developing these than nuclear power.

Nuclear, solar, wind, bio-fuel. There is nothing as cheap and easy to use as oil. As oil production tapers off we will be faced with hard choices and if we dont make them they will be made for us.

Simply banning (or heavily taxing) the sale of incandescent light bulbs to encourage the use of highly efficient fluorescent bulbs would put a huge dent in our electric power needs. Raising the CAFE standards by 10MPG (including SUVs and light trucks) would put a huge dent in our oil imports and help our trade deficit as well.

Lifting nuclear waste off of the planet requires huge amounts of energy which requires more nuclear plants which generate more waste...

Cold fusion is fascinating but hasn't been proven let alone commercialized.

Thorium reactors are interesting and there is lots of Th around but these are still in R&D.

Posted by: JohnK on April 17, 2006 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

Cold fusion is proven, but proven to be so weak that commercialization is essentialy impossible.

Posted by: JamesP on April 17, 2006 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

"Talk about ignorance"

Well exscuuuse me!

http://archive.greenpeace.org/comms/rw/pkhist.html
"July 10th - The Rainbow Warrior prepares to lead a peace flotilla of ships from New Zealand to Moruroa to peacefully protest against French nuclear testing. Three days after arrival in Auckland, French agents bomb and sink the Rainbow Warrior in the harbour, killing Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira."

How exactly does that make nuclear power any better you flaming POS?

I guess I was thinking of these protests?

"Nuclear Campaign The Rainbow Warrior intercepts the British nuclear waste ship GEM trying to dump 5000 barrels of radioactive waste. One of the 600 lb steel barrels, crashes onto a Greenpeace inflatable, narrowly missing its crew. Protests against a shipment of Japanese spent fuel carried by the Pacific Fisher to Barrow in Cumbria."

"1980 - Nuclear Campaign Sails into the French port of Cherbourg to oppose ships delivering nuclear waste from Japan for reprocessing. Rammed by a French naval ship."

"1983 - Nuclear Campaign Campaigns against off-shore oil and gas development off the California coast, and against the US Navy's plan to dispose of ageing nuclear submarines by dumping them at sea."

Eat nuclear waste and glow wing nut!

Posted by: amazingdrx on April 17, 2006 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

And furthermore:

http://www.freepress.org/Backup/UnixBackup/pubhtml/c-pro/france.html

"France has all of the U.S. problems associated with radioactive waste. French nuclear waste has been dumped into the ocean, into the sewer system which flows into the Seine, and into various rivers and streams. The groundwater under many nuclear facilities is contaminated. Untreated nuclear waste has been dumped into unlined trenches. Contaminated metals have entered the civilian 'recycling' sector. Incineration is one of the major ways of disposing of nuclear waste."

Posted by: amazingdrx on April 17, 2006 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

http://www.commondreams.org/pressreleases/june99/060199d.htm

"French Police Forcibly Remove Greenpeace Protestors After 20-Hour Action Against Cogema's Nuclear Waste Dumping Into The Ocean"

"CHERBOURG, FRANCE - June 1 - French police this morning forcibly removed Greenpeace protesters after a 20- hour action where the environmental organization attempted to return 1,000 liters of radioactive liquid waste to the French government. The state-owned nuclear reprocessing company Cogema routinely dumps radioactive waste into the sea from its discharge pipe at La Hague, on the Normandy coast."

This is alarming!

Posted by: amazingdrx on April 17, 2006 at 3:12 AM | PERMALINK

Hubbert, of peak-oil fame, shows a Hubbert plateau for uranium, not a Hubbert peak. He thought breeders would be necessary before the 100th century, indeed within a few years of when he wrote, but some of the links I linked above should show this is fanciful, even if a very large terrestrial population relies exclusively on nuclear for a very long time.

You avoided direct statement, but it sounds like you believe that there's essentially an infinite amount of uranium available. Well, sort of. If we had sprites waltzing through the earth's crust collecting it in bags for our use. Unfortunately, we have to actually mine it. Mining it at a couple thousand tons to the oz. is a waste of energy. Economics demands that it be recoverable at concentrations around 2 orders of magnitude greater.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 17, 2006 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

How about making an argument for global population control?

Nah.... that is way too sensible.

Posted by: Clem on April 17, 2006 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

How about making an argument for global population control?

Nah.... that is way too sensible.

Posted by: Clem on April 17, 2006 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

Good point Jeff! According to the latest wall street weasel tout email spam, nuclear fuel is expected to be a big bonanza for the inside trading crowd.

But didn't that all end when they busted the insider trading kingpin, Martha Stewart? Hehehehehey. Nice job voting bushco fans.

Sign up your kid to ride a nuclear bunker buster, Slim Pickens style, into Iran today you meatheads!! Neeeehhaaaawwww!!!

Posted by: amazingdrx on April 17, 2006 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

A few comments on previous posts:

Chernobyl is not relevant. It was a graphite moderated reactor that could never have been licensed in the U.S. The only comparable U.S. plant was N Plant at Hanford which was operated by the government to produce power and plutonium. It was shut down because the government didnt want to operate it anymore, and the private utility (the infamous WHPPS) who owned the turbines and generators could not be licensed to operate it.

Likewise the Fermi plant was a small privately funded breeder reactor that was grossly underdeveloped and under tested. Exactly the way not to do nuclear energy.

Three Mile Island was a melt down. The core did melt and pool in the bottom of the pressure chamber. Three Miles Island can be viewed as a worst case pressurized light water reactor accident. Equipment failure compounded with bad decision making (i.e. the decision to turn off the emergency core cooling), all in a plant located in a relatively populated area. Still, the actual radiation release was minimal.

It does make sense to cluster nuclear plants together in unpopulated areas. Power can be shipped efficiently long distances using DC transmission lines. The Pacific Northwest has interchanged power with LA for years (power for heat and light comes north during the winter when stream flows are down, hydroelectric power goes south for air conditioning in the summer.) Clustering plants reduces cost and improves fuel cycle security.

A large part of the problems with nuclear energy came because the operating philosophy of the original plants was modeled on coal plants, while nuclear is far more demanding. Most U.S. plants were manufactured by GE (boiling water reactors) and Westinghouse (pressurized water reactors). Within each line there was a lot of commonality, but each reactor was essentially custom. A lot of problems resulted when smaller 300 Megawatt designs that ran reliably were quickly scaled up to 1000 Megawatts in an effort to reduce operating costs. Still, utilities that bit the bullet and built up in-house expertise often achieve load factors over 80%. Too many utilities originally depended on GE, Westinghouse and third part consultants and ended up with plants that cost 2 or 3 times the estimated costs and ran at load factors under 25%.

It is worth noting the US Navy has operated dozens of sophisticated reactors under trying circumstances with a good safety record (unlike the Soviet Navy). The level of manpower and training the Navy commits to operating its reactors is probably beyond what most private utilities would commit to.

Posted by: fafner1 on April 17, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who spent decades opposing nuclear power without presenting any real alternatives(they dont exist), has no credibilty. I consider myself a liberal, but I never bought the antinuke kool-aid because all they had to were offer Luddite back to nature fantasies that never address the world as it really is.

True liberalism(FDR style) is being smothered by sellout moderates on the right and pie-eyed idealists on the left.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on April 17, 2006 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Two thousand tons to the ounce? I think that may be a strawman. Four million pounds ... 64 million ounces ... yes it is: 15.625 parts per billion is a much lower U concentration than that of the Earth's crust. Maybe if it were still in its primordial state, with the U not having mostly come to the surface.

But it has; and this has accomplished all of the two-orders-of-magnitude concentration Jeffrey Davis says is necessary.

I don't think I avoided any direct statement ...

--- Graham Cowan, former hydrogen fan
B: internal combustion, nuclear cachet

Posted by: G. R. L. Cowan on April 17, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Well I suppose if it came down to I'd support the nukes over levelling all US mountain ranges to get every last ounce of coal out of there.

Plus, at least the dangers associated with nuclear power are interesting and exciting.

But why has nuclear power never been profitable? I don't think this is much of a strike against it (in fact, it's sort of cool to think that the govt would run our power plants)...

Posted by: kokblok on April 17, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

>And we can do all those things, and I wish we would -- but you must realize that we almost certainly won't. The problem with the conservation approach is that it assumes human beings are motivated by reason and a desire for the common good, and that if they understand the damage they're doing they'll stop..

Look you DO NOT GET NUCLEAR WITHOUT GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIES, SO WHY NOT PROVIDE EQUIVALENT SUBSIDIES FOR EFFICIENCY? In other words you do not leave the decision of whether or not to run a nuclear power plant to individual virtue. Why do that for efficiency.

Again my emphasis is efficiency; if you don't have efficiency you end up with conservation. If you simply substitute more expensive nuclear power one for one for fossil fuel electric sources, then more of the GDP will be devoted to electricity production. That leaves less for everything else. Invest in efficiency. (Yeah, the government will have to do much it; contra Dick Cheney, efficiency is not a matter only of individual virtue.)That lets you squeeze more GDP out of a unit of energy; so even with more expensive energy your GDP does not have to go down.

And once you make the decision to use more expensive energy - something that has to be decide socially, cause markets will choose coal - then you can combine inexpensive variable sources such as wind with expensive sources such as solar thermal with storage at a lower cost than nukes. Even if we turn out to have more cheap uranium that most experts believe, light water uranium reactors still run around $4,000 dollars per kWh, and have at least 2 cents per kWh operating costs besides.

Incidentally the argument for Peak Uranium seems a little stronger than it is given credit for:

http://afr.com/articles/2005/06/23/1119321845502.html

Posted by: Gar Lipow on April 17, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

The author of this "changed my mind piece" is not just an ordinary shill - He is a PROFESSIONAL shill.

Patrick Moore makes a professional living writing anti-environmentalist hit piece op-eds on demand on whatever anti-environmental topic is asked of him.

He has a company set up with the specialty of running anti-environmentalist PR campaigns. See its website: http://www.greenspiritstrategies.com
[Hunder over with the Kossacks goes deeper than my personal research: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/4/16/183226/505

In my town Moore recently got the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to publish an opinion piece attacking the Washingont movement to limit flame retardants using poly-bromide compounds. He even got the PI to put a picture of a firefighting fighting a fire next to the piece even though no firefighting organizations are against the bill being offered in the State legislature. The only people strongly opposing it are big chemical industry through their bromide producing subsidiaries.

We can have more debate about nuke power, but dont take anyone's "rational consideration" supporting it at face value. Personally, I'm still thinking about it, but there is soo much money to be made here that I'll bet a large number of the supporters posting here are industry shills, perhaps engaged in professional PR campaigning for Patrick Moore's Greenspirit Strategies Ltd.

Posted by: ChetBob on April 17, 2006 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

> Breeder reactors are sustainable in a longer term, but if large
> scale use of them is part of the solution to be pursued to the
> global energy supply problem, some kind of control regime is
> needed, since they multiply the anti-proliferation challenges.

No, Chris -- the problems of breeders are much more systemic than
even the very real proliferation threat from a plutonium economy.

Breeders work by facilitating an extra-strong nuclear reaction. This
is why they insist on a liquid metal core immersion; metal ionizes
and facilitates rapid neutron emission, hence "fast breeder reactor."
The only type of core I know of ever proposed for breeders is liquid
sodium -- and liquid sodium explodes on contact with air or water.
This means that the tiniest breach in the primary cooling loop would
likely cause the entire core to explode. Think of the margins of
saftey involved for operating a plant like this for decades.

Breeders are also the only way that nuclear power would ever have a
chance of being profitable, because of the energies required to mine
and process uranium. I've never heard of a thorium fission cycle,
but Canada's CANDU plants have the estimable advantage of being able
to directly use yellowcake ore (U307), which is fairly common. This
is because they use heavy water as a mediator. I'm not aware of the
challenges with heavy water; I think CANDU has a good safety record.

We're not, of course, talking about building either
breeders or heavy water reactors in America ...

In America, we lost the Fermi II breeder reactor with a partial core
meltdown ("We Almost Lost Detroit") and we discontinued building the
Clinch River Breeder Reactor when it was nearly completed. France has
shut down its large-scale commercial breeder, and as far as I know, no
breeder reactor operates anywhere in the world for power generation.
Fuel reprocessing reactors are small-scale and have low electricty
yields, but they're a type of breeder and the DOD operates a few of
them to create plutonium for weapons and space probe electricity.

To think that Bush blithely allowed India to create a dozen or so
untested commercial breeders is simply flabbergasting. This is
the country that lost literally thousands of people in the Union
Carbide chemical plant explosion in Bhopal in a way comparable in
its hideous effects to a small nuclear bomb or poison gas attack.

Shoshana;

> Anyway, if conservation isn't going to happen -- regardless
> of the fact that it should -- something else has to be done
> instead. I don't know anything about the technological issues
> being debated here, so I can't say whether nuclear would be
> workable or not. I can only guess that conservation is
> probably not the most likely outcome.

You know, Shoshana, this is interesting because the last time you and
I debated it was in an abortion thread. And as a pro-choicer, I feel
pretty much the same way about celibacy and proper birth control use
that you feel about conservation :) It's a high-minded ideal, but it's
also contrary to human nature that we'll live up to it at all times.
And that's precisely why I support the abortion option for women.

Of course, I also feel that properly operating a nuclear power plant
also requires hewing to a high ideal of human behavior -- which is
one of the reasons I oppose building new nuclear power plants ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 17, 2006 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Look you DO NOT GET NUCLEAR WITHOUT GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIES, SO WHY NOT PROVIDE EQUIVALENT SUBSIDIES FOR EFFICIENCY?

I installed a geothermal heat pump system, which appears to have more than halved my winter electric bill. One of the motivators was the recent energy bill. From the geoexchange web page...

It is also important to note that the section covering renewable energy security offers a 25 percent rebate, up to $3,000, for renewable energy systems. Although this sections language now includes geothermal heat pumps as an eligible system, this rebate has not been funded yet and until such appropriations are made, no financial incentives are available through this section.

Bummer.

Posted by: Red State Mike on April 17, 2006 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Two comments.

First, nuclear power will do nothing to address the problem of anthropogenic global warming on any time scale that matters. We have perhaps ten years to dramatically reduce (by 80% or more) our production of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels if we hope to avert irreversible catastrophic climate change (if it is not already inevitable and irreversible). The scenarios of a taxpayer-funded nuclear power buildup now being put forward by the nuclear industry and its promoters will not make a significant contribution to accomplishing that. So whatever else may be said about nuclear power, the premise that nuclear power is a "solution" to the global warming problem is just plain false.

Second, look up Patrick Moore in Wikipedia. He is a professional public relations man for the energy and natural resource extraction industries and has been for a long time. The idea that he is a "green" who, because of global warming, "changed his mind" to support nuclear power is false. I am disappointed that Kevin would uncritically accept the assertions of an individual who is effectively on the payroll of the energy industry and who has a long and public track record of shilling for that industry, and would quote and endorse this man's assertions without doing the very, very easy and light work of looking up his real history and sharing that info with readers of this site.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 17, 2006 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

rnck1 -

Sodium does not "explode" upon contact with air or water. Sodium does react violently upon exposure to water. The difference is that when sodium leaks into water or vice versa there will be a nasty reaction where the two meet, but the whole core will not "explode" like dynamite. The French Phoenix and Superphoenix and the U.S. FFTF had issues with sodium leaks, but the result was equipment damage and lots of downtime, not a core explosion. You are right that breeder reactors run directly on fast neutrons and hence cannot use water as coolant, as water acts as a moderator to slow neutrons.

One advantage of the CANDU reactor is that it can use "natural" uranium with no enrichment. This means there is no need for centrifuges or gas diffusion plants which can be diverted to producing bomb fuel. There is no special issue with heavy water, other than it is fairly expensive.

The advantage of the

Posted by: fafner1 on April 17, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Fafner:

From Wiki:

> Sodium's powdered form is highly explosive in water and is a poison
> when combined or uncombined with many other elements. This metal
> should be handled carefully at all times. Sodium must be stored
> either in an inert atmosphere, or under a liquid hydrocarbon such
> as mineral oil or kerosene.

> Like the other alkali metals, sodium metal is a soft, light-weight,
> silvery white, reactive metal. Owing to its extreme reactivity, in
> nature it occurs only combined into compounds, and never as a pure
> elemental metal. Sodium metal floats on water, and reacts violently
> with it releasing heat, flammable hydrogen gas and caustic sodium
> hydroxide solution.

Sodium itself may not explode when mixed with
water (or the water vapor in air), but the resultant
heat and free hydrogen is an explosive combination.

Combine that with the sodium hydroxide (lye --
the most reactive base) byproduct and you wouldn't
want to be anywhere near a sodium and water mixture.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 17, 2006 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

"We have perhaps ten years to dramatically reduce (by 80% or more) our production of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels if we hope to avert irreversible catastrophic climate change (if it is not already inevitable and irreversible)"

I love the "perhaps." Yes, perhaps we only have ten years.....and perhaps we have a lot longer than that.

Posted by: nucular on April 17, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

nucular: Yes, perhaps we only have ten years.....and perhaps we have a lot longer than that.

Yes, and perhaps it is already too late; perhaps the "tipping points" and the self-reinforcing global warming feedbacks that we have already triggered have already locked in inevitable and irreversible catastrophic climate change.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 17, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

"Yes, and perhaps it is already too late; perhaps the "tipping points" and the self-reinforcing global warming feedbacks that we have already triggered have already locked in inevitable and irreversible catastrophic climate change."

Yes, and perhaps a giant meteor will hit the earth next week and wipe out our civilization.

Perhaps is such a useful word, isn't it?

Posted by: nucular on April 17, 2006 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

Nuclear has been helpful in keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere so far; 6,000 electrical gigawatt-years that would otherwise have been produced by burning ten gigatonnes of oil, 30 gigatonnes of CO2, a 2-ppm difference if half of it would have stayed, as I think has been observed for the emissions that did happen.

One of the more foolish posters was talking about plutonium. An illuminating question: how would plutonium-dial watches and compasses differ from the radium ones many of us still have?

Interesting how many of the pro-nuclear posters here don't seem to be aware of the long-term viability of ordinary burner reactors, and feel they have to defend breeders. Certainly breeders are defensible, but they haven't taken a couple trillion dollars out of big oil-and-oil-tax's lunch the way more established kinds of reactor have.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
B: internal combustion, nuclear cachet

Posted by: G. R. L. Cowan on April 17, 2006 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

GRL Cowan:

1) As usual with nuke boosters, you simply ignore the energy inputs involved in both mining and refining uranium into useful reactor fuel. How many gig-years of fossil consumption were required to run the heavy mining machinery and the electrical power to separate the ore and run the centrifuges -- not to mention store and process the waste?

If you don't consider the entire fuel cycle, you're either uninformed or a mere enthusiast.

2) Plutonium, unlike radium, is only an alpha emitter. It doesn't glow (radium emits alpha, beta and gamma particles, plus neutrons), so your comparison is pointless. Nobody makes radium dials anymore (bone cancer risk), rather they use tritium for those remaining applications which decays into helium, not radon.

But if plutonium *did* glow -- would you want your watch parts to come from the DOD -- the only source of plutonium (an artificial element) being their reprocessing reactors?

3) The "long term viability" of conventional reactors is a *joke*. Nobody had much insight into metal fatigue caused by sustained neutron bombardment, and many American reactors had to mothball years before their design hours were up. New designs (pebble bed reactors, etc.) might obviate such a fate -- but the current crop of operating nukes are all saddled with the problem of premature obsolescence.

4) Breeder reactors are not defensible, period. Liquid sodium is an extraordinarily hazardous and tricky material to use to encase a reactor core, which is doubtless why there are so few operating breeders in the world (let alone the proliferation issues).

5) Nuclear power is developed by consortiums of power utilities and private industry which aren't any friendlier to consumers than the oil industry. Considering the massive federal subsidies for development and insurance underwriting, the nuke industry is one of the more grotesque examples of corporate welfare out there, and actually make the oil industry look good (or at least self-supporting) by comparison.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 17, 2006 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

I am informed about the energy costs of mining and, where necessary, enriching uranium. I don't mention them because they are an insignificantly small fraction of the yield. All those who insist on raising this phony issue, and then doing the sums wrong, are, I predict, funded from oil and gas taxes. Or maybe private fossil revenue, but somehow one doesn't think of a J.R. Ewing stooping that low, and anyway, public oil profits are much greater.

Bob is right in saying disintegrating radium nuclei are more likely to emit gamma rays than disintegrating plutonium ones, but actually it is the alpha rays they both emit that effectively excite the zinc sulphide phosphor on those watch dials. Gamma rays, with their long range, would need a lump of phosphor a foot or two large, probably too big to let the light out.


--- G.R.L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
B: internal combustion, nuclear cachet

Posted by: G.R.L. Cowan on April 17, 2006 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

5) Nuclear power is developed by consortiums of power utilities and private industry which aren't any friendlier to consumers than the oil industry.

So buy some stock. These companies are publicly owned, and you can own a piece too. Same thing for oil companies.

Considering the massive federal subsidies for development and insurance underwriting, the nuke industry is one of the more grotesque examples of corporate welfare out there, and actually make the oil industry look good (or at least self-supporting) by comparison.

Not an expert on this, but I would guess it is also a heavily regulated one.

Posted by: Red State Mike on April 17, 2006 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Re: A Finnish opinion.

Republicrat,

You point to a statement by Finnish MP Mikko Elo (social democrat), who has decided to leave parliament due to some self-enrichment issues. Not the best reference on the matter. On the other hand, the history of Finland's nuclear power program, particularly in the 1960s, is REALLY interesting. See e.g. the works of Finnish technology historians Kalle Mickelson and Tuomo Srkikoski on the subject.

Posted by: kostya on April 18, 2006 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

fafner1, "It is worth noting the US Navy has operated dozens of sophisticated reactors under trying circumstances with a good safety record (unlike the Soviet Navy). The level of manpower and training the Navy commits to operating its reactors is probably beyond what most private utilities would commit to."


Why involve private industry at all? Why not just let the Navy do it?


But why has nuclear power never been profitable?

I'm not sure I know why it needs to be profitable at all, in the direct way. Is the interstate highway system 'profitable'?


First, nuclear power will do nothing to address the problem of anthropogenic global warming on any time scale that matters.

And neither will anything else. We will never do anything that might seriously affect global warming. Nothing at all. Never. The only thing we can do is make the best of it.

Posted by: cld on April 18, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

That's uninsightful. Governments like their fossil fuel sin tax, so are reluctant to let nuclear power into the fuel-making business, but this reluctance will be overcome.

When it is overcome, quickly ramping up hundreds of millions of barrels per day of climate-neutral nuclear-generated motor fuel will be just a technical problem; hard, but minor compared to that of getting civil servants with a conflict of interest to do the right thing for us -- build many nukes much larger each than today's -- rather than the thing that maximizes their own long-term fossil fuel revenue expectation.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
B: internal combustion, nuclear cachet

Posted by: G.R.L. Cowan on April 18, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

My views have gone in exactly the opposite direction. I was a reactor operator in the Navy and worked briefly at a civilian nuclear plant. I used to be very pro-nuclear power. I am not any more. What I would like to see is a dramatic increase in the use of photovoltaics to produce electricity from the sun. However, this should be done primarily for individual homes and businesses, rather than by large utilities. By tying these homes into the power grid, they can be used to supply power to the grid when they are producing a surplus of power and, in turn, receive power from the grid when demand exceeds the ability of the photovoltaics to supply power. There have been some major breakthroughs in photovoltaic technology in recent years that make them cheaper to produce and more reliable.

Posted by: Squid696 on April 18, 2006 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Earlier on rmck1 wrote, "The more consumers can take their own energy needs into their own hands, the more *local* the solutions developed -- the better off everyone will be.

Economies of scale = obscene profits in a captive market. Oil prices are through the roof and Exxon couldn't be happier, as their profits are off the flippin' scale ..."

Oil prices are through the roof, in part because of supply and demand issues. We could find solutions if we had a comprehensive energy policy. We should apply your idea of localization to getting some access to domestic sources of energy, and we need some alternative fuels. Couldn't nuclear be a part of the solution?

Posted by: smithr on April 18, 2006 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

smithr:

I'm not completely opposed to CANDU-type heavy water plants that can burn unprocessed uranium. They're safer than pressurized light water reactors, and the energy-intensive cost of refining uranium into fuel is mostly obviated.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 18, 2006 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with smithr It's time to stop finger pointing and start talking about a sensible, comprensive energy policy that reduces our dependence on foreign oil.

Posted by: Kat on April 18, 2006 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kat. Complaining and finger pointing do no good. Otherwise our legislators would have heard our complaints by now and drafted this much needed sensible energy policy. In the meantime the only way I know how to reduce my gas bill is to use less. I guess that falls in line with what smithr said about supply and demand. If I demand less I'll pay less.

Posted by: sundevil on April 18, 2006 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

I like a lot of the ideas above like photovoltaics and more (specific) nuclear energy. The problem is the regulations and special interests that stand in the way. Not only do they take certain energy prodction options off the table (ANWR anyone?) for "environmental reasons" but they also adopt an "our way or no way" attitude. It's either/or and never both.

We need to open up our energy policy to allow for lots of different energy options so that the best can rise to the top. Open up ANWR, reduce regulations on some other industries, provide incentives for solar and ethanol. Go ahead and increase the penalties for accidents and other lapses, but at least let us try more things.

Posted by: inxs on April 19, 2006 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

inxs--you're right, we shouldn't take anything off the table at this point. We need to come together and build a policy with substance and teeth. Opening up ANWR seems like a good idea--especially since the folks in Alaska overwhelmingly support it. How about nuclear?

Posted by: cluck on April 19, 2006 at 6:50 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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