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Nuclear energy is the short-term solution to the energy problem Gordon J. Aubrecht, II OSU PERG Context XIX http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-rifkin29sep29,0,1897167.story The Los Angeles Times Nuclear Energy: Still a Bad Idea
Gordon J. Aubrecht, II
The Los Angeles Times
Nuclear Energy: Still a Bad Idea
Solar power is a better investment than a dated technology that’s too expensive and dangerous.
By Jeremy Rifkin
JEREMY RIFKIN is the author of “The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the World Wide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth.”
September 29, 2006
SUDDENLY, NUCLEAR power is in vogue. ... Bush argues that the future energy security of the United States and the world will depend on increasing reliance on nuclear energy.
A technology that for years suffered ignominiously in scientific purgatory has been resurrected. ... Now, facing rising costs of oil on world markets and real-time global warming, nuclear technology has been given a public relations face-lift and is touted, by some, as the energy of choice in a post-oil era. ...
First, nuclear power is unaffordable. With a minimum price tag of $2 billion each, new-generation nuclear power plants are 50% more expensive than putting coal-fired power plants online, and they are far more expensive than new gas-fired power plants. The cost of doubling nuclear power’s share of U.S. electricity generation — which currently produces 20% of our electricity — could exceed half a trillion dollars. In a country facing record consumer and government debt, where is the money going to come from? Consumers would pay the price in terms of higher taxes to support government subsidies and higher electricity bills.
Second, 60 years into the nuclear era, our scientists still don’t know how to safely transport, dispose of or store nuclear waste. Spent nuclear rods are piling up all over the world. In the United States, the federal government spent more than $8 billion and 20 years building what was supposed to be an airtight, underground burial tomb dug deep into Yucca Mountain in Nevada to hold radioactive material. The vault was designed to be leak-free for 10,000 years. Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency concedes that the underground storage facility will leak.
Third, according to a study conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2001, known uranium resources could fail to meet demand, possibly as early as 2026. Of course, new deposits could be discovered, and it is possible that new technological breakthroughs could reduce uranium requirements, but that remains purely speculative.
Fourth, building hundreds of nuclear power plants in an era of spreading Islamic terrorism seems insane. On the one hand the United States, the European Union and much of the world is frightened by the mere possibility that just one country — Iran — might use enriched uranium from its nuclear power plants for a nuclear bomb. On the other hand, many of the same governments are eager to spread nuclear power plants around the world, placing them in every nook and cranny of the planet. This means uranium and spent nuclear waste in transit everywhere and piling up in makeshift facilities, often close to heavily populated urban areas.
Nuclear power plants are the ultimate soft target for terrorist attacks. On Nov. 8, 2005, the Australian government arrested 18 suspected Islamic terrorists who were allegedly plotting to blow up Australia’s only nuclear power plant. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that more than half of the nuclear power plants in this country failed to prevent a simulated attack on their facilities. We should all be very worried.
Finally, nuclear power represents the kind of highly centralized, clunky technology of a bygone era. In an age when distributed technologies are undermining hierarchies, decentralizing power and giving rise to networks and open-source economic models, nuclear power seems strangely old-fashioned and obsolete. To a great extent, nuclear power was a Cold War creation. It represented massive concentration of power and reflected the geopolitics of a post-World War II era. Today, however, new technologies are giving people the tools they need to become active participants in an interconnected world. Nuclear power, by contrast, is elite power, controlled by the few. Its resurrection would be a step backward.
Instead, we should pursue an aggressive effort to bring the full range of decentralized renewable technologies online: solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and biomass. And we should establish a hydrogen storage infrastructure to ensure a steady, uninterrupted supply of power for our electricity needs and for transportation.
Our common energy future lies with the sun, not with uranium.
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
• nuclear power is unaffordable
• scientists still don’t know how to safely transport, dispose of, or store nuclear waste
• known uranium resources could fail to meet demand, possibly as early as 2026
• building hundreds of nuclear power plants in an era of spreading Islamic terrorism seems insane
• nuclear power represents the kind of highly centralized, clunky technology of a bygone era
Ask yourself why nuclear energy is so expensive. It arises from two different causes—
Almost every nuclear plant is “one up”
Plants are heavily regulated by the NRC
While current nuclear plants are “one up,” the newest plants are modular, for example, at 1200 MW. Modular plants can be (mostly) built in a factory, and transported to the site. This reduces construction costs considerably.
The NRC is supposed to err on the side of caution. That by itself is not a problem. The problem is that nuclear electricity is not treated the same way as fossil fuel electricity as regards citizen risk from production of electricity.
If air pollution were to decrease to minimal levels, the premature death rate in the United States would be reduced by 38%.
The pernicious role of particulates was not fully recognized until the 1990s. In an experiment in Utah, C. Arden Pope checked hospital admissions before, during, and after a steel mill strike in Provo, Utah, and compared them to a measure of particulates, PM10 (the concentration of particles having diameters less than 10 m). Admissions to hospitals jumped 50% to 90% when PM10 was above 50 g/m3, which is below the legal limit. Pope found that the death rate increased by 16% per 50 g/m3 of PM10. Given this “smoking gun,” research went on to identify even smaller particulates, those with diameters less than 2.5 mm, PM2.5,as even more important to control. The EPA has responded by regulating PM2.5.
Putting pollution control devices on fossil fuel electricity is expensive. If we asked for a death rate for coal guaranteed to be comparable to nuclear electricity, it would cost utilities much more than current coal plants (or even nuclear ploants). (And think about how the utilities bought off new source review, which would enforce much milder standards.)
Enough said … Rifkin’s first objection is specious.
Transportation containers have safely withstood collisions at 100 km/h with concrete walls. Each state EMA has to have a tested plan for road and rail transport of nuclear waste.
Every nuclear plant has a spent fuel pool and some have dry cask storage. These storage modes modes work much better than would have been thought. There have been no safety issues involving either of these. (You could ask me about the dry cask weld problem.)
There are several storage possibilities. WIPP stores high-level defense wastes in New Mexico. No problems have been encountered yet.
The controversy swirls about the disposal site in Yucca Mountain, Nevada (now envisioned for 2017 commissioning). The plan is to sequester the wastes for 10,000 to 100,000 years, at which time they are essentially less radioactive than the surroundings.
Could water infiltrate? What would happen to future populations? What about groundwater contamination? Etc.
I think the concerns are specious. There are two possibilities: civilization has ended, or NOT.
If civilization’s ended, there will be essentially no people and so no problem.
If civilization continues, we may expect technology to continue to advance.
The important advance to look for is the ability to drill into and seal a path between the lithosphere and its underlying magma ocean.
My guess is that this will be feasible in under 50 years. Certainly, it should be feasible in under 200 years. Let’s be pessimistic and say it’s a 1000 year feasibility.
In this case, we can dispose of the wastes into the magma. This would cleanse the surface and the magma (which is highly radioactive).
So, looked at from this perspective,it’s not really a 100,000 year problem (all that groundwater concern, flooding worries, etc.).
It’s a 1000 year worry.
So I think Rifkin’s second objection is essentially specious.
Assuming that discovery and mining proceeds as in the past, Rifkin would be correct. However, since the fall of the USSR the US has bought and brought here uranium and plutonium from many former Soviet weapons.
This can be used to make metal oxide (MOX) fuel for reactors. Depending on whether we begin decommissioning our own weapons as well, this can extend fuel resources at least several decades.
Actually, countering my own argument here, Rifkin should have focused on the mining process. Mining of any material produces a lot of waste (for example, it takes 10 t of bauxite at 10% concentration top make 1 t of aluminum, 50 t of iron ore to make 1 t of steel, etc.
It takes 10 t of low-grade uranium ore to make 1 t of uranium (a lot less than with high-grade ore). That’s a lot of radioactive mine tailings, and these tailings must be treated carefully to make sure they don’t contaminate the environment.
So, overall, Rifkin’s third argument is somewhat suspect, and would have been far stronger should he have focused on mining wastes rather than a lack of resource because of large amounts of high-level supplies from weapons that could be diluted into usable fuel.
In addition, were breeder reactors built, these supplies could be extended indefinitely.
So I think Rifkin’s third objection is also essentially specious.
Well, we must give Rifkin’s fourth argument credit. Nuclear energy is problematic from this point of view.
The problem is that so is the entire chemical industrial infrastructure of the nation. And it is virtually impossible to penetrate a nuclear energy facility (except with inside help), while it is very easy to penetrate a chemical facility or to cause disaster from outside (virtually impossible for nuclear energy—except for nuclear plants that must cope with detonation of a nuclear weapon on top of the plant!).
Attacks on these unprotected chemical plants could well kill millions of people virtually immeditely.
In addition, as former Secretary of State Powell’s (overall incorrect) testimony to the United Nations about Iraq showed, farm implements such as portable fertilizer installations could be used to brew truly dangerous biological weapons that could kill also kill people virtually immediately—certainly a lot faster than cancers from fallout from destruction of a nuclear energy plant.
So, while Rifkin is technically correct, there are truly much more dangerous risks than civilian nuclear energy from conventional chemical and biological attacks.
I find Rifkin’s fourth argument essentially specious.
Rifkin’s’s partly correct and partly wrong. It is true that generation has become more decentralized (at least partly due to PURPA and other government programs).
However, large-scale generating plants are not dying soon.
If nuclear energy plants are not built, coal-fired plants will be built with all their deleterious consequences for health.
Rifkin’s’s argument is totally misleading when applied to the short run.
Again, this final argument by Rifkin is specious.
Let me deal with the “short term” part of the answer first.
Nuclear energy is thermal energy—as with fossil fuels, too. Thermal systems work by taking thermal energy from a high temperature reservoir and expelling thermal energy at a low temperature reservoir.
The energy expelled is known as waste heat.
Waste heat is energy released to the environment. It goes into the environment and stays there, raising the local temperature … and so the globe.
This is global warming of a sort much more dangerous than “conventional” global warming.
Stop release of greenhouse gases, and “conventional” global warming ceases.
You can’t ever stop releasing thermal energy from thermal engines! Thermal engines mean waste heat.
In the long run, we MUST use solar energy from some source.
Energy from the Sun will fall on Earth no matter whether it’s used to generate energy or not. We may redistribute where it is absorbed to the environment, but it does not add thermal energy.
The future—in the long run—has to be electricity supplied by renewable energy. So ultimately I agree with Rifkin’s argument that in the end electricity must be from renewables. “Our common energy future lies with the sun, not with uranium”
Again, in the long run, we MUST use solar energy from some source.
We need to preserve our species and the environment in which we can flourish.
We need to stop releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
No other currently feasible thermal system can do this.
That’s all folks
… the end …