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December 14, 2008

Nuclear Power

-- by Dave Johnson

We may be approaching climate change tipping points, where the amount of warming to date causes increases in warming that can't be stopped. For example, Arctic ice reflects sunlight back into space. But as that ice melts the sunlight is not reflected, which further warms the planet, melting even more ice. As Siberian temperatures warm CO2 is released from the permafrost, which increases the warming.

One alternative to carbon-based fossil fuels is nuclear power. We can close coal plants that put CO2 in the air by opening nuclear power plants. But nuclear power plants create very dangerous waste, and we don't know how to safely store it. So it is possible that one day this waste might cause very serious problems. We can temporarily store it today, but it is possible that this waste can one way or another escape storage and harm people.

But here's the thing. The waste from burning fossil fuels is literally destroying the planet's climate today. We are simply putting it in the air, not safely storing it.

So the question is, do we offset waste that we are putting in the air today, that is destroying the climate today, with the potential future problems of waste from nuclear power plants?

Of course we need to be doing everything we can with wind, solar and other alternatives. But I believe that it is imperative that we stop climate change and we should be building nuclear plants as well.

Posted by Dave Johnson at December 14, 2008 6:46 PM


Comments

We know how to safely store spent nuclear fuel and we are currently doing it. Someday we will close the nuclear fuel cycle and it will then again be utilized much more efficiently.

Posted by: Phil at December 14, 2008 9:16 PM

We know how to safely store spent nuclear fuel and we are currently doing it. Someday we will close the nuclear fuel cycle and it will then again be utilized much more efficiently.

Posted by: Phil at December 14, 2008 9:17 PM

There is a marvelous new book The Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy by Gwyneth Cravens a novelist who had a long history as an active opponent to Nuclear Power until she met Rip Anderson a scientist and an expert in risk analysis and nuclear power. His patient step-by-step explanation of the truth about nuclear power overcoming every objection became the basis for the book. It is a must read. For example you will learn that Coal fired power plants release significant amounts of radioactivity to the environment while nuclear plants do not. The problem of effective waste disposal has been solved. There is a functioning nuclear waste disposal facility in New Mexico. Electric cars coupled with nuclear energy and other renewables could provide the path to saving our economy, environment and greatly reduce the political instability and vulnerability resulting on our dependence on foreign energy sources from fossil fuels.


Posted by: John Shelley at December 15, 2008 9:59 AM

Nuclear power will never be safe and there are already too many accidents. And the world is running out of uranium anyway.

Posted by: Jimbo at December 15, 2008 10:30 AM

Beware of simple solutions to complex problems. Americans love such things but they rarely pan out and often make the problem worse. For example:

One recent study by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that "even under the most optimistic cost projections for future nuclear electricity, efficiency is found to be 2.5 to 10 times more cost effective for CO2-abatement. Thus, to the extent that investments in nuclear power divert funds away from efficiency, the pursuit of a nuclear response to global warming would effectively exacerbate the problem."

More at
http://www.counterpunch.org/nukes.html

Nuclear is NOT a silver bullet. There is none. Im not saying nuclear can never help, but right now it's just not there and we have to be very careful not to make the problem worse while adding a legacy of radioactive contamination to the future. Besides, nuclear power also depends on the use of fossil fuels in the construction of plants and in the mining of materials. Uranium has a peak curve like any other resource.

Abating coal use combined with generating carbon-sequestering forests (old growth!!!) and soil (organic farming !!!) is the most important strategy; combine that with efficiency, conservation, and a green energy portfolio, and we have a viable strategy - the only other thing needed is political will.

Posted by: shredder at December 15, 2008 12:13 PM

With nukes we will trade the oil barons for the uranium barons. The new boss may be the same as the old boss, but hey, Japan is 80% nuke energy so it must be efficient. Renewables are the only long term solution for energy. Ironically, solar is not really a renewable, except from our ethnocentric, short-lived point of view. But by the time our star dies, we won't care. 3/4ths of nuclear waste is military that needs substantial downsizing. Bribing indians to locate a waste facility in their water table is not a storage solution. How about digging storage into subduction zones so that it is on a conveyor belt for recycling under the crust over geologic time?

Posted by: RichardfromHB [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 16, 2008 8:23 AM

All of the concerns expressed above are valid. But here is the thing -- climate change is happening NOW and it is MORE SERIOUS than the potential problems, even the worst-case scenarios, of using nuclear power UNTIL we can get the other alternatives in place. So we need it and we need it now.

Posted by: Dave Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 16, 2008 9:17 AM

Also remember that 3000 people die per year right now from coal mining and use. Thats 3 with 3 zeroes.

0 People per year die from nuclear power and nuclear waste. Thats 0 with a 0 after it.

The fact is that nuclear waste is only dangerous if your next to it, and that would only happen if waste sites got busted.

So basically, the anti nuclear crowd would rather send thousands to their deaths right now and fry the planet in the near future just to prevent the infitesimal danger of a nuclear worker getting lethally contaminated from a waste leak.

Remember, 0 with a 0 after it.

Posted by: Mick at December 16, 2008 2:23 PM

Umm, Chernobyl, anyone?
And several people died in the Manhattan Project, at Los Alamos later on, as well as at Hanford from cancer due to exposure and at least one death from a nuclear accident there (though this hasn't been noted in the press I don't think, a personal friend was working there at the time).

"there is the September 2004 study, “Chernobyl on the Hudson? The Health and Economic Impacts of a Terrorist Attack at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant,” by Dr. Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which, using the NRC’s own analysis method, found that a worst-case accident or attack at the Indian Point nuclear plant 35 miles north of New York City could cause up to 43,700 immediate fatalities and up to 518,000 long-term cancer deaths. Such a release could cost up to $2.1 trillion, and would force the permanent relocation of 11.1 million people."

Try doing that with conservation and solar roof collectors.

Posted by: Elliot Lake at December 17, 2008 6:12 PM

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