The Case Aganist Nuclear Energy

Over at Red County, State Rep. Chuck DeVore is shilling nuclear power as the cure for California’s energy demand.  I still have a serious probem with how and where do we dispose of waste that might be radioactive long after Armageddon.

The Internet is a wonderful thing; here’s what the smart people  at the Harvard International Review think about it:

Combating Global Climate Change
The Case against Nuclear Power

Michele Boyd is the legislative director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Public Citizen is a 35-year-old public interest organization with more than 100,000 members nationwide.

Climate change is undeniably the most urgent problem facing the world today. The future effects of global warming depend largely upon the energy path we take now. In a last ditch effort, the declining nuclear industry has seized on the public’s legitimate concerns about climate change, deteriorating air quality, and dependence on foreign oil, claiming that nuclear power must be “part of the mix” for solving these serious environmental, public health, and security problems. But as its history has shown, nuclear power is not a solution.

Currently, about 440 nuclear plants are operating worldwide. Experts estimate that about 800 large reactors would have to be built around the world by 2050 just to achieve a significant reduction in the expected increase in carbon dioxide emissions. This would require building as many as one reactor every 18 days for 40 years. Building new reactors requires massive public subsidies, polluting uranium mining, as well as increased proliferation, accident, and terrorism risks. Adding so many new reactors would mean generating five times more highly radioactive nuclear waste than is being generated today, which would require a waste dump the size of the proposed site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada to be created somewhere on earth every three to four years.

 

Building more nuclear plants will not reduce our dependence on oil or foreign fuel. Less than three percent of oil consumed in the United States is used to fuel electric power plants; the rest is used in the transportation, home heating oil, and industrial manufacturing sectors. Nuclear power is used to produce electricity, but we do not plug our automobiles into the electricity grid. Nuclear power also does not alleviate our dependence on foreign sources of energy, because most of the uranium used to run our nuclear reactors is imported from foreign countries. Moreover, the United States cannot become self-dependent in the future, with only the eighth largest recoverable uranium reserves in the world and increasing local opposition to mining activities.

No country in the world has found a solution for the cost, waste and security problems associated with nuclear power. In contrast, renewable energy sources and efficiency measures are faster, cleaner, and cheaper solutions to climate change that do not entail these burdens.

Nuclear Power is Too Expensive

Nuclear power is actually draining resources away from real solutions to climate change. According to a 2000 study by the Renewable Energy Policy Project, from 1947 through 1999, the nuclear industry received more than US$115 billion in direct taxpayer subsidies. This does not include costs related to pollution from uranium mining, risks from nuclear weapons proliferation, or the management of radioactive waste. During this same period, federal subsidies for wind and solar power combined totaled a mere $5.7 billion.

No new nuclear power plants have been licensed in the United States in more than 30 years. The nuclear industry claims it only needs help for the “first several plants”—the same claim that it made fifty years ago. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT), which President Bush signed into law in August last year, authorizes another US$13 billion in “cradle-to-grave” subsidies and tax breaks, as well as other incentives, for the mature and very wealthy nuclear industry. In comparison, EPACT allocates US$3.2 billion for renewable energy tax breaks and US$2.1 billion for energy efficiency vehicles.

Is EPACT Enough to Resuscitate Nuclear Power?

Historically, nuclear construction cost estimates in the United States have been notoriously inaccurate. As the Energy Information Administration reports, the estimated construction costs for existing nuclear reactors were frequently wrong by a factor of two or more.

The same is happening again with plants being built in Europe and Asia. The French government-owned company Areva is currently building a 1600 MW reactor in Finland, the same reactor design that the US utility Constellation is considering building in Maryland. Plant construction, which was started in April 2005, is already 18 months behind schedule and has cost the company US$922 million thus far.

To mitigate these high upfront costs, EPACT authorizes “such sums as necessary” for taxpayer-backed loan guarantees covering up to 80 percent of the cost of a range of energy projects, including new reactors. Public Citizen calculated that an 80 percent loan guarantee for six reactors could potentially cost taxpayers US$6 billion, assuming at 50 percent default rate (as the Congressional Budget office has estimated) and an unrealistically low construction cost of US$2.5 billion. EPACT also authorizes US$2 billion in “standby support,” also called “risk insurance,” which pays the industry for delays in construction and operation licensing for six reactors due to the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) or to litigation. No other source of energy enjoys this magnitude of risk transfer to US taxpayers.

The Price-Anderson Act, which was originally enacted in 1957 as a temporary 10-year measure to support the fledgling nuclear industry, limits the amount of primary insurance that nuclear operators must carry and caps the total liability of nuclear operators in the event of a serious accident or attack. EPACT reauthorized the Price-Anderson Act for 20 years. The cap— US$10.8 billion—falls far short of plausible nuclear accident damages. According to a study by Sandia National Laboratory, a serious nuclear accident could cost more than US$600 billion in 2004 dollars, and taxpayers would be responsible for covering the vast majority of that sum. Price-Anderson could easily bust the federal budget or, as we have seen in the aftermath of Katrina, leave victims unaided.

EPACT also authorizes funding for DOE’s (Department of Energy) Nuclear Power 2010 program, a government/industry cost-share program to license new reactors that will cost taxpayers US$1.1 billion. In comparison, the total fiscal year 2006 budget for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the premier renewable research laboratory in the United States, was only US$209.6 million. As a result of the energy bill’s passage, at least 16 consortia and individual utilities have indicated that they intend to apply for licenses to build as many as 33 new reactors, most of which are slated for the impoverished southeastern states and in Texas.

But even with all of the subsidies in EPACT and the resulting utility interest, credit rating agencies have expressed doubt that nuclear power is economically viable. The credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s concluded in a January 9, 2006 report that “from a credit perspective, these legislative measures may not be substantial enough to sustain credit quality and make this a practical strategy.” In other words, the credit rating of a utility that commits to building a new reactor could be downgraded, thereby making it harder for the utility to borrow money at a manageable rate. In response to these dismal economic indicators, utilities have gone to state and local governments for additional subsidies and tax breaks.

Nuclear Power Creates Long-Lasting Radioactive Waste

In addition to being uneconomical, nuclear power also produces nuclear waste that remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. After half a century of commercial nuclear power, no country in the world has solved its nuclear waste problem. The US government is currently pursuing three non-solutions: Yucca Mountain, reprocessing, and interim storage.

Although the United States has spent about US$9 billion dollars and more than 20 years studying Yucca Mountain, research has shown that the site is not suitable for safely storing the radioactive waste for the hundreds of thousands of years that it will remain dangerous. A US Senate Committee report argues that Yucca Mountain is “the most studied real estate on the planet”; this claim is a non sequitur. Yucca Mountain is located in an active earthquake zone near volcanos, in porous soil, and atop an aquifer used for drinking water and irrigation. Moreover, DOE’s flawed scientific and quality assurance practices have cast serious doubt on the validity of its work performed at the site.

DOE has yet to even submit a license application to the NRC. In July, DOE announced that it will submit its application in June 2008 and will start accepting waste in 2020. This estimate is highly optimistic because it does not factor in delays due to funding limitations or litigation and ignores the scientific problems with the site. Nor does DOE have a current estimate of how much the project will cost. As the New York Times reports, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman commented in February 2006 that DOE “may never have an accurate prediction of the cost.”

The capacity of the Yucca Mountain repository is legally capped at 77,000 metric tons. Even if licensed, the repository cannot hold all the waste that US nuclear reactors will generate in their licensed lifetimes. The DOE predicts that currently operating commercial reactors alone will generate more than 105,000 metric tons of waste. Once Yucca Mountain is full, DOE has estimated that there will be approximately 42,000 metric tons of commercial irradiated fuel at 63 sites in 31 states. Extending the operating lifetimes of existing reactors and constructing new ones would result in even more waste in excess of the repository’s capacity. Several legislative proposals to “fix Yucca” have been introduced that would, among other things, pop this cap. None, however, address the fundamental problems of the program or the site.

In February 2006, the Bush Administration proposed a new program, called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, to restart reprocessing of nuclear waste in the United States. The program was presented to Congress largely as a research and development program to develop “advanced recycling technologies” and thereby postpone the need to license additional geologic repositories for the nation’s high-level waste until the next century. DOE is now proposing to skip the demonstration facilities using “advanced” technologies, and go straight to building commercial-scale facilities. The key components of a reprocessing and reuse program include reprocessing plants, fuel fabrication facilities, and fast reactors, none of which have proven to be commercially successful technologies in the United States or abroad.

US and international experience clearly shows that reprocessing is not going to solve our nation’s radioactive waste problem. Reprocessing is expensive and polluting, and poses a serious risk to the global non-proliferation regime. More than US$100 billion has been spent globally trying to commercialize plutonium. The results have been failed technologies, contaminated land and water, and 250 metric tons of separated plutonium—equivalent to more than 30,000 nuclear bombs—that remain vulnerable to theft.

Without a permanent repository available in the near-term, attention has turned to dry cask interim storage of spent fuel. Interim storage away from reactor sites will not even temporarily relieve the waste problem, because it would not meaningfully reduce the number of locations where high-level radioactive waste is stored and would unnecessarily increase transport risks to the public. With no additional repositories on the horizon, these sites would become long-term storage for high-level radioactive wastes.

In addition to the waste at the back end of the fuel cycle, the front end requires the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium for fuel. These processes cause environmental contamination, health impacts, and security threats. For example, uranium milling results in large piles of tailings that are contaminated with radon and are often abandoned aboveground. Twelve million tons of tailings, for instance, are piled along the Colorado River in Utah, threatening communities downstream. Native American communities have been particularly devastated by illnesses that result from uranium mining. The enrichment process also results in large amounts of waste, particularly depleted uranium that should be disposed of in a geologic repository. Moreover, enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons and the spread of this technology remains a global concern, as evidenced by United Nations efforts to prevent Iran from operating its enrichment facility.

Nuclear Power Poses Security and Safety Threats

chernobylThe reactors that industry is proposing to build are called Generation 3.5, which are considered “first of a kind” because they have never been built and tested. They are not so dramatically different from existing reactors , however, that the nuclear industry would be willing to build them without Price-Anderson limited liability in the case of an accident or an attack.

More than five years after 9/11, no nuclear plants are required to be protected against an air attack. The Committee to Bridge the Gap, a California-based organization, petitioned the NRC to require the construction of shields consisting of I-beams and cabling, called Beamhenge, around reactors and fuel pools that would protect them in the event of an aircraft crash. Seven Attorneys General supported the petition. Yet the NRC has rejected this sensible and relatively inexpensive proposal for existing reactors. Instead, the NRC relies on “mitigation” factors (measures taken once the attack has occurred) and on evacuation of the public. Thus far, the NRC has not required security design improvements for new reactor designs that it has licensed or is in the process of licensing, even though a nuclear industry panel made recommendations in 1980 for feasible design improvements that would reduce the risk of air attack.

Spent fuel pools are the most vulnerable part of a reactor. At some sites, these pools are covered only by a corrugated metal shed. At one-third of US reactor sites, the spent fuel pool is located above the reactor outside the primary containment structure. Meanwhile, spent fuel pools have been densely packed. If water is lost from these pools, there could be insufficient ambient air to prevent a fire that would release large quantities of radioactivity. Utilities are moving some of the spent fuel into onsite dry cask storage, essentially big containers on concrete pads. These casks are not designed to resist a terrorist attack. Nor has the NRC analyzed the environmental impacts of a terrorist attack for any of the 42 sites for which it has granted dry cask storage licenses.

In addition to the security threats posed by nuclear reactors, safety failures continue to be discovered at operating nuclear plants. These failures include aging equipment, management that ignores safety concerns raised by workers, under-trained and overworked security guards, poor emergency planning, lack of NRC oversight, and weakening of safety standards by the NRC. For example, Davis-Besse, a relatively young nuclear reactor near Toledo, Ohio, developed a hole in its reactor vessel head, caused by a boric acid leak. Only a 3/8-inch metal cladding was left as protection against a reactor breach. The NRC had specific knowledge of the type of problem that caused the leaks at Davis-Besse more than a year before they were actually discovered in March 2002.

At Shearon Harris in North Carolina, the NRC has allowed the plant to operate for 14 years while in violation of federal fire safety regulations. The three Palo Verde nuclear plants, which together have the largest nuclear generation capacity in the country, have also had serious ongoing and uncorrected safety problems for over a decade. For example, the owner unilaterally changed safety procedures at the site, resulting in an increased probability over a 12 year period that emergency pumps would not work in an accident. More recently, NRC found that workers added excessive amounts of chemicals to the cooling water over the past decade and ignored the resultant clogging of essential safety equipment. The NRC has described the decay of “key safety systems” at the plant as “egregious.”

Radioactive contamination of groundwater is also an ongoing problem. Tritium from nuclear reactors has leaked into groundwater at more than 10 reactor sites—at least one leak goes as far back as 1997. At Indian Point in New York, tritium and strontium are leaking from the

facility and have migrated into the Hudson River. Yet the NRC denied a request by nearly a dozen public interest groups for mandatory reporting on radioactively contaminated water at other sites, and instead has agreed to voluntary reporting by utilities. As of September 12, more than 26 reactors have failed to report to the NRC.

Global warming also poses safety problems for nuclear reactors. During recent heat waves in Europe and the United States, reactors have had to reduce output and some have even been shut down because cooling water in nearby rivers or lakes becomes too hot. As climate change worsens, it is expected that heat waves will become more severe and frequent.

Renewables Can Meet Our Energy Needs

Not including hydroelectric power, renewable energy currently provides only 2.3 percent of electricity in the United States. According to a draft analysis by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it is technically feasible for a diverse mix of existing renewable technologies—including wind, solar, advanced hydroelectric power, and geothermal heat pumps—to completely meet our electricity needs by 2020. As much as 20 percent of US electricity could immediately come from non-hydro renewable energy sources without any negative effects on the stability or reliability of the electrical grid. Despite the vast discrepancy in federal support, wind power, which costs between 4.2 and 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, is already competitive with new nuclear power plants. Over the long term, improvements to the grid can be made, and renewable technologies could supply increasingly higher percentages of our power. Renewable energy and efficiency are viable solutions for climate change, air quality, and energy independence. We cannot afford to waste our time and limited resources on building even a few new reactors.

© 2003-2007 The Harvard International Review. All rights reserved.

I probably should ask Chuck if the pro-nuclear power people are contributing to his next campaign. 

  40 comments for “The Case Aganist Nuclear Energy

  1. Chuck DeVore
    August 29, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    Dan,

    You wrote, “I probably should ask Chuck if the pro-nuclear power people are contributing to his next campaign.” Given that 80 percent of Republicans are pro-nuclear, the answer is “yes, of course.”

    As for your paper, I’m not impressed.

    Just a few errors and exaggerations:

    1) The “subsidies” cited include billions in government R&D. You could say the same of solar since it was government R&D that created the technology used for solar PV. The amount also includes some military research.

    2) The French have solved the waste and long term storage problem by recycling their plutonium . 78 percent of the French grid runs on nuclear power.

    3) Saying nuclear power doesn’t help transportation is an overreaching crock. Where the heck do you think the power comes from when an EV is plugged in? In America, 19 percent of the power is coming from nuclear power, which, if expanded, can power more electric cars and make hydrogen.

    4) Wind power is next to worthless as it is too unreliable. The plains of northern Germany feature far more steady winds than here in California. Even so, it is the French nuclear baseload that allows the wind to be incorporated into the European grid without widespread blackouts. The writers saying that we can get 20 percent from renewables does not make it so. At what cost to the consumer and will it be reliable. Interestingly, Germany is scaling back wind subsidies right now as they are getting too much for their grid to be stable.

    Nuclear should be a greater part of the mix. I invite you to go to my http://www.PowerForCalifornia.com website and play the Power Game — it’s an interactive spreadsheet that allows you to game out the future of California’s power mix and see what power will cost and how much CO2 you’ll make. I employed my aerospace industry geekiness to make it myself a few weeks ago. Give it whirl and tell me how you’ll power the future.

    All the best,

    Chuck DeVore
    State Assemblyman, 70th District

  2. August 29, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    The trouble with the article is that, instead of making a case, it simply repeats the same misinformation anti-nukes have been tossing out for decades. To make a case, it would at least have to give references for its argument points. And you can’t expect anyone to believe that Public Citizen would offer up objective information.

    The country’s failure to develop nuclear energy forced utilities to use coal instead, and literally hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from the resulting pollution. While Public Citizen has been wringing its collective hands over nuclear wastes, which have never harmed anyone, coal wastes have been contaminating streams and aquifers with, among other things, heavy and radioactive metals.

    Consider what nuclear gets us:

    (1) An electricity source that doesn’t depend on wind or sunlight or the limited amount of energy storage available, and emits virtually no greenhouse gases. It could reduce CO2 emissions by 40%.

    (2) An energy-efficient way to produce hydrogen, which could be used directly in automobiles and trucks or added to biofuels to make their production higher by a factor of three. Presently, transportation accounts for about 33% of CO2 emissions; all of that could be eliminated through conservation, electrification, and alternate fuels.

    (3) A huge reduction in air pollution, lowered trade deficits, and freedom from Middle-East involvements.

    To find out where all this came from, check out the references at Global Warming: A Guide for the Perplexed

  3. August 30, 2007 at 6:02 am

    Here’s another problem that Public Citizen didn’t count on: Committed liberals coming out in support of new nuclear.

    I’m talking about David Walters and NNadir, two diarists at The Daily Kos who write about the topic exclusively.

    Perhaps, instead of making nuclear energy a topic for partisan combat, it might be time to put the issue aside, and look at it on the merits?

    The nuclear energy industry is willing to talk — and listen — if you are too.

  4. August 30, 2007 at 6:32 am

    It is too bad Erin that Dan and a few liberals have chosen to make this a partisan issue. Our state needs a source of new energy for our growing power needs. As Chuck says, we are not going to be able to grow our supply that we need through unreliable wind or solar power. Nuclear has to be part of the solution.

  5. Caveman
    August 30, 2007 at 7:56 am

    Where can i find an affordable cave and an unlimited supply of matches?

    I just love the way the liberal environmental nutballs just demand that we evolve back to the stone ages. Maybe they should get out of their SUV’s and shut off their air conditioners and start “living their dream”.

  6. August 30, 2007 at 8:29 am

    Alan is correct. Because Chuck has an R before or after his name, whatever merit his ideas present , will have an uphilll battle for acceptance in our Legislature. I won’t repeat what others have said but putting our heads in the sand on addressing the future energy needs of CA is not the solution.

    I am glad to see that Chuck is not walking away from his passion on the nuclear alternative.

  7. d'Anconia
    August 30, 2007 at 9:08 am

    Wow. I was about to post a nasty comment until I realized Chuck, Alan, and Larry already took care of it.

    Alan put it best. It really is too bad that Dan and a few liberals have to make this a partisan issue. More nuclear power is in our future, just get used to it.

  8. Dan Chmielewski
    August 30, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Excuse me, I haven’t made it a partisan issue. I asked if pro-nuclear proponents are contributing to this effort, I mean big money from corporate players, not individual users.

    It is not my paper. Its from Harvard. If you have issues with their information, take it up with them. But the paper is well documented and research points are referenced with hotlinks that back up conclusions. I’ll leave it to readers to make up their minds about what is factual of not. But what I can’t figure out is how Harvard stands to benefit from reporting the case against nuclear power, while, through support of nuclear power proponents, you stand to benefit.

    But I have a honest question: if the vast majority of 70th district voters came out against nuclear power, would you still advocate for it?

    And I’ve been to your website and seen the game you’ve set up, but quite frankly its rigged to always show a positive outcome for nuclear power. Its one reason I don’t gamble when I’m in Vegas; the odds a always against you.

    Then there are the twin problems of safely storing waste (a problem future generations can deal with; and even the French don’t recycle 100 percent of plutonium) and securing new nuke plants from terrorism. Even six years after 9/11, we stlll don’t adequately secure energy facilities. If terrorists really wanted to hurt NY and the US economy, they might have directed planes to the ConEd facility instead of the Twin Towers.

  9. d'Anconia
    August 30, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Dan-

    One of my problems with your argument against nuclear power (besides the fact that it is weak) is that you don’t have a reasonable alternative.

    I’m guessing you would be/has been very outspoken for carbon control (judging on your perspective on the global warming argument) in California, yet you advocate against the ONLY way to achieve the regulations you so dearly supported.

    Do you not see that Chuck is trying to do exactly what environmentalists in this state asked for? (Reducing carbon emissions)

    I doubt Chuck even agrees 100% with the threat of global warming, but like me, he chooses to get past that argument and moves on to solutions.

    It is sad to see that even AFTER we get past the original argument, lack of logic and a sense of reality still hampers the environmentalists’ side of the argument.

    It begs the question of whether the environmentalists really care about the environment or if they just always need an enemy, something to be against.

    Here’s a tip: if you need to be AGAINST something, pick something else. After all, the 241 extension hasn’t been built yet. Can you focus on that for a while? It may give people like Chuck enough time to actually get something significant done.

  10. Caveman
    August 30, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    d’Anconia has made the point succintly. The enviros want carbon emissions eliminated, but cannot accept the fact that the best, quickest and most proven solution is nuclear power. They just can’t get past the fact that they can’t have it both ways. Except of course if we all go back to the caves. Keep it up Chuck. You are on the right track. Even the Nancy Pelosi’s of the liberal left have acknowledged that nuclear power must be considered for our future. Ignore the handful of wacked out enviro extremists whose only aenda is to relinquish society to transgression.

  11. Dan Chmielewski
    August 30, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Well, I’m not so sure my argumen is weak. I think people at Harvard are geenrally pretty smart.

    I support solar power. Yes, its an expensive alternative energy (I’m having panels installed at my home), but its renewable, safe and has no environmental risk compared to radioactive waste. I know Chuck says it is not always sunny. But many business web sites touting Southern California’s quality of life mention the 330 sunny days per year. Given a choice of cheap and dangerous and more expensive but safe, I’ll opt for the pay more option thank you.

    No where in Chuck’s pitching of nuclear power does he discuss the high cost of insurance. A cost we taxpayers will bear.

    Nuclear power facilities are insured via the Price-Anderson Act. Risks inherent in atomic power do not require reactors to carry adequate insurance, and results in taxpayers footing most of the bill for a catastrophic accident (of which there have been dozens in the nuclear age). A recent analysis by economists places the value at $2.3 million per reactor-year, or $237 million annually.

    The Act indemnifies Department of Energy and private contractors from nuclear incidents even in cases of gross negligence and willful misconduct. Criminal penalties still apply.

    What is the cost of a single accident to the state, to the environment, and to the cost of energy?

  12. Dan Chmielewski
    August 30, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    (3) A huge reduction in air pollution, lowered trade deficits, and freedom from Middle-East involvements

    Nuclear powered cars? C’mon…..

  13. just..asking
    August 30, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Orange County is continually facing lawsuits from Cities and Counties when we take our bio-solid waste to their open lands. What do you think we will be facing with nuclear waste? Why do you think Yucca Mtn is not already operational? I worked on this project over 15 years ago. It is still facing many of the same challenges today that it faced in 1990!

    If Chuck wants nuke’s then we’ll have to live with them in OC, and deal with waste in OC. Not a great bullet point on his next political mailer. Maybe if he gives out enough hemp nobody will notice the nuke’s being built in their backyards.

    Oh, and it’s not a partisan issue. This is a national issue, as a practice nuclear facilities should not be built on flood plains, known faults or area’s subject to natural disasters. Unfortunately this rules out most of California.

  14. Aunt Millie
    August 30, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    I’m not sold on nuclear power or particularly opposed to further study. As long as Chuck Devore has a site ready to go in his district for the first plant, more power to him.

    What bothers me a little is the idea that nuclear is the answer to our twin problems of Peak Oil and Climate Change. At best, it’s one of many slices of a large pie.

    I’m concerned that people may think that this is a giant silver bullet and we don’t have to do anything else. Instead, I believe in the next several years that we will have to make sizeable changes in the way we use energy, how we move ourselves and goods, and even how we grow our food and eat.

  15. Northcountystorm
    August 30, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    I’m sure that Chuck will want to store the plutonium that can not be recycled underneath the Balboa Bay Club. What a legacy.

    I am perplexed at the knee jerk opposition of many liberals to nuclear energy and damm the torpedoes/ waste/security support of many conservatives. It seems we already use nuclear energy and an expansion–if we can deal with the waste and the security issues–is, as Aunt Mille suggests, one of the many pieces of the pie.

  16. August 30, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    My partner is far more expert on this than I am but it’s hard to live with an alternative energy enthusiast for almost 30 years and fail to have a good bit of it rub off on you. (I came to know a lot about the America’s Cup and the Tour de France the same way but I learned auto repair and masonry on my own.)

    Our energy future must be approached multi-dimensionally. In some parts of the world hydroelectric is a solution, in some parts wind or solar are solutions, etc. Nuclear should not be ruled out but it does have drawbacks and needs to be considered as part of a holistic multi-source plan that takes many factors into consideration.

    One thing that bothers me is how few people understand the issue of peak demand and what it means for power plant expansion. The peak demand for energy is the theoretical maximum amount of power that a group of people will want to use at one time. Here in Southern California we are presently experiencing peak demands for power in the middle of the day because it’s been hot.

    A power plant is able to produce a certain maximum amount of power, and ideally it can produce enough to meet the peak demand of the people it serves. When it cannot, other sources of energy must be found if brownouts and blackouts are to be avoided.

    Solar energy generation is at its highest in Southern California at midday during the summer, which is also the time when our peak demand occurs. That’s the reason solar energy is so important to our energy future here in So Cal: because it precisely addresses our peak demand problems.

    If we can use solar in So. Cal to cut the tops off our peaks, we can build fewer power plants and delay the building of additional plants for many years. It’s very silly to advocate new nukes for So. Cal when we only need additional power sources for our biggest peaks.

    The cost of solar is often cited as a negative, but it’s coming down and will come down further as demand for it rises. As we learned in my fancy MBA program in the 70s, the first widget always costs a million dollars to produce and each subsequent widget costs less and less. When more people and industries purchase solar components the costs will drop pretty dramatically.

    We need to address our peak energy needs, and in So. Cal we need to do it with solar. Building new power plants in the situation we’re in is a knee-jerk reaction that doesn’t address the entire situation. It’s like using a sledgehammer to drive a thumbtack.

  17. August 30, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    It’s a pleasure to take part in this thread because all the participants are knowledgeable and literate.

    Dan, the article isn’t well-documented and referenced. There is a steady onslaught of the usual propaganda and only a few points are referenced. It’s supposed to make the case, but doesn’t come close because the bulk of it isn’t anchored in facts.

    As is traditional, you’ve focussed on waste. Why is it no one complains about the toxic wastes from coal, but anti-nukes obsess over nuclear wastes even though they’ve never harmed the environment? As far as terrorism is concerned, every objective study done has concluded that of all the terrorist targets there are, nukes are among the least vulnerable and the least attractive.

    Actually, the waste issue of solar vs. nuclear isn’t so clear. Solar-panel manufacturing gives off a number of toxic wastes, including cadmium, which you don’t want to be around. There isn’t a good plan for dealing with the wastes, just as there isn’t for electronic waste (which is what solar waste is). If we’re going to send wornout panels to poor countries so starving people can pound them with hammers and melt them with acetylene torches, then we can’t say the waste problem has been solved. Meanwhile, nuclear wastes still have the distinction of not having caused harm.

    You can be excused for not understanding Price Anderson, since the news media have misrepresented it completely. In fact, nuclear plants are the best-insured activities in the US. They’re self-insured to some very high level, over 9 billion dollars, plus they carry high coverage from insurers.

    It’s a mis-statement to say contractors are indemnified, meaning exempted, from liability. What Price-Anderson does is put nukes under no-fault insurance laws. The point is to enable anyone who sustains a loss to collect compensation without going through a long, expensive court trial which would require him to prove in court that some particular defendant was at fault, and then to seek fulfillment of whatever the court would order. Spinning it the other way is just anti-nuke propaganda. Typically misleading.

    We know what the cost of a single accident is, because Three-Mile-Island had the worst possible accident, a meltdown, with no effect on the environment or any person.

    I thought the part about nuclear-powered cars was clear, but I’ll fill in a little. So far, only three alternatives to petroleum fuels have been suggested: battery power, hydrogen, and biofuels. As I described in (2), all of those would depend on nuclear energy, or at least be greatly enhanced by it. I secretly believe in wind-up Volkswagens, but I can’t get anyone to fund my experiment.

    Aunt Millie, you and I are 100% in agreement. Nukes are only part of the solution. My only point is that they are an essential part. I wish so-called environmentalists would emphasize the need for diversity instead of cheering only for their own favorites and lying about the one energy source that works now and doesn’t rely on non-existent storage methods.

  18. Dan Chmielewski
    August 30, 2007 at 10:13 pm

    Rob –
    Not sure what browser you’re using,but the article has several embedded hotlinks…go read the hotlinks.

    Thanks for your take on Price-Anderson, but I don’t necessarily agree with that definition of it.

    And there was one long term cancer fatality attributed to Three Mile Island; there are considerably more nuclear accidents around the world with more dire consquences to public health and the environment.

  19. d'Anconia
    August 30, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    Dan & Aunt Millie-

    I never said nuclear power was THE solution to climate change/energy crisis. I agree that it is a slice of the pie, but what you need to understand is that without the nuclear slice, the pie can’t be finished.

    Give it some thought…

  20. Publius
    August 31, 2007 at 1:13 am

    I’m not in any sense an expert on energy, but an interested observer. I’ll weigh in on this one anyway.
    Gila’s comment makes the most sense to me. The supply/demand here in Southern CA seems ideal for a focus on solar power. Take a look at the Cal-ISO graph over on OCBlog. We seem to have plenty of excess supply in non-peak hours.
    I disagree rather strongly with D’Anconia. I think we might be able to finish the pie without nuclear. To say that it would be impossible is an overstatement.
    And finally, for Dan C., like everyone else, the International Review has an agenda. You give the big H way too much credit. Some of the dumbest people I’ve ever met were those I met in my years at Harvard. Testing well and problem solving are very different skills. People who believe they have the market cornered on the right answer are rarely skilled at defending their arguments. A bit like the conservatives here in OC.

  21. Dan Chmielewski
    August 31, 2007 at 7:33 am

    Pub — Lived in Boston for 10 years and totally agree with you on the arrogance of big H. But again, all I did was post an article they wrote. The only editorializing in the original post was my legitimate concern over how we handle nuclear waste which is no where as inconsequential an issue as the pro-nuclear crowd seems to believe it is.

  22. August 31, 2007 at 8:01 am

    I only have a moment but I have read this stuff to my partner and he comments as follows:

    1) regarding the waste from solar panel manufacturing and disposal he says “Every aspect of modern human life on this planet has an impact. The amount and type of impact is a matter of choosing between alternatives.”

    2) regarding the building of nukes he says “When was the last time a nuke was built in this country? It’s been decades. The power companies blame the enviros, but the truth is that they are not cost effective. If they were, they’d be being built.”

    3) regarding our energy future he says “Why does no one ever talk about conservation? I don’t mean living in the dark, I mean normal, relatively easy methods of conservation like driving fuel efficient cars and insulating buildings. Conservation needs to be a MAJOR, immediate part of the solution.”

  23. d'Anconia
    August 31, 2007 at 8:09 am

    Publius-

    You can disagree all you want. Do your research, look at the numbers (like Chuck and I have) and then come back here and SHOW us how it will get done WITHOUT the nuclear slice.

    Gila-

    So your partner says that our energy future consists of conservation and solar power?

    No offense Gila, but I wouldn’t call him an expert on the subject.

  24. pauli
    August 31, 2007 at 8:27 am

    Gila is on the mark, diversity is the answer.
    Let’s look though at the investment in technology issue. Solar power will come down in price considerably once we find materials that are more readily available and the manufacturing is done by countries needing the work, China.
    In addition to the high mid day demand and the solar solution there is ice storage which can be done at night during those excess/low cost energy times and used during the high demand times to air condition the buildings.
    I built my first solar panel in 1979 and heated one room during remodeling, in Iowa. The sun never shines there. I am not a tree hugger, repub/dem just a person who believes in conservation and cleaner air.
    I work in the energy conservation industry and business is good. I am not sure I even believe we are responsible for the global warming. Saturn and Mars have increased in temperature the same incremental amount as earth, no cars there.
    Read last weeks Newsweek magazine about the suns cosmic ray and their effect on cloud formation and global warming takes on a whole new perspective.
    Turn off your lights and AC and that will help a lot.

  25. Dan Chmielewski
    August 31, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Last time I checked, Chuck wasn’t a nuclear scientist. Are you d’Ac? So I don’t think you are in any sort of position to decide Chuck is an expert and others are not.

    I don’t personally believe nuclear power advocates believe in global warming, so to use it as an excuse to build more nukes is a means to an end. I’d feel better about Chuck’s proposals if he embraced global warming but he’s backed by Republicans who don’t really believe its a problem.

    I also don’t think waste fom solar panel manufacturing will be able to poison you and your descendents for millienia to come.

  26. Publius
    August 31, 2007 at 8:54 am

    D’Anconia-
    Do you understand that saying it CANNOTbe done without the nuclear “slice” is as closed-minded as saying that it MUST be done without the nuclear “slice”?

  27. August 31, 2007 at 10:09 am

    Pauli, your partner is right, right, and almost right. Obviously, we have to choose between alternatives and, as I’m sure he will add, it ain’t easy. Nukes aren’t economical because we have chosen (through our elected representatives) to keep coal-fired electricity cheap, even at the cost of thousands of deaths every month and of global warming. No other energy source can compete on cost. If air-quality standards were set at reasonable levels, renewables, nuclear, and conservation all would be cost competitive. Furthermore, the savings in medical costs and lost workdays would largely offset the higher electrical bills. But conservation isn’t being ignored. We could do a lot more, but it’s the one thing everybody agrees on.

    Dan, this is one liberal environmentalist who is convinced both of global warming and the need for nuclear energy. I’ve put up a web page with the best information I could find on both subjects at Global Warming: A Guide for the Perplexed. As one liberal environmentalist to another, I think you’re underestimating the harm electronic wastes cause. We’ve got into the habit of importing consumer goods and exporting dangerous waste. So you’re right that you and I won’t suffer but that’s not responsible stewardship.

  28. August 31, 2007 at 10:13 am

    So your partner says that our energy future consists of conservation and solar power? No offense Gila, but I wouldn’t call him an expert on the subject.

    Jeez, D’A, did you even bother to read what I wrote? Or did you just decide that our opinions couldn’t possibly have validity?

  29. August 31, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Darn it. My comment to Pauli should have been directed to Gila. Please excuse.

  30. Aunt Millie
    August 31, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Rob,

    Again, not that I have any real objection to nuclear, but I do have very serious issues about when we might complete new nuclear plants, where we will locate them, and how much we will put off investing in alternatives until we get there.

    There’s way too much magical thinking in Republican circles, whether it’s about the invasion and occupation of Iraq, funding our government with massive borrowing, or denying the ongoing accretion of research by scientists about evolution, climate change, or cigarette smoke.

    These are guys who have gone past the level of accounting where two plus two equals five. Now they’re at the level where two plus two equals purple. Most of what they say is nonsense.

  31. d'Anconia
    August 31, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Dan-

    One does not need to be a nuclear scientist to do math.

    Publius-

    Not if you do the math. Have you done it?

    Gila-

    I didn’t mean to offend you or your partner. As a matter of fact I didn’t even notice you said he’s an enthusiast of alternative energy in an earlier comment until it was too late. His comment is very much typical of an alternative energy enthusiast, although we disagree in the basic premise that I consider nuclear energy “alternative” because it’s been basically capped.

    Guys, all I’m trying to say is that if you do the math, like Chuck has, and like I have (and no that does not make us nuclear scientists Dan), you’ll realize that it’s an impractical impossibility to reach the goals set out for carbon emissions in this state.

    By the way Dan, I think it shows some of your true colors that you admit that you would give Chuck’s idea more consideration if it wasn’t being backed by “anti-global warming” Republicans.

    So much for pragmatism.

  32. August 31, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Aunt Millie, I try to avoid making predictions because I’m not good at it and I don’t think anyone else is, either. I’ll suspend this reservation for a moment.

    We can’t avoid global warming because it’s already started. The best we can do is minimize it. That being the case, I don’t see the kind of all-out effort needed so we’re in for a rough ride. Most likely, what will happen is something like this: we won’t shut down any existing fossil-fired power plants before they’re worn out. But we could, and should, stop any new ones from being constructed. That means we have construction capacity for new wind farms and nuclear plants. In the short run, the fossil-fired plants can serve as backup generators for wind farms. There also will be manufacturing capacity for solar panels and for various energy-conservation measures. All this means we can make the transition without severe disruptions.

    We can decide about nuclear vs. renewables a long time in the future when the world will have better information. If energy storage is available, perhaps the world will choose just renewables, or possibly other considerations will drive the decision toward a mixed supply.

    I also predict that siting won’t be the issue it was in the past. New plant types are being built now that simply don’t have the capability of causing harm. It isn’t that safety systems can contain the accidents, it’s that the plants don’t have the capability. People who live near nuclear plants have highly positive attitudes about them and I believe that confidence will spread.

    Since I’m making predictions, here’s another. Spent fuel is immensely valuable. Recycling fuel multiplies its energy value by a factor of twenty. So I don’t think it will spend much time in the ground. We’ve had the technology for recycling for some fifty years and all it takes to make it happen is political will because the economics are already there.

    Any anti-nuke will object at this point that predictions don’t prove anything. He wants facts. Well, the facts are that nuclear energy has the best safety record and the best environmental record of any energy source there is, and is the one energy source that is making the biggest reduction in greenhouse gases.

  33. d'Anconia
    August 31, 2007 at 11:15 am

    Correction to my previous comment:

    “you’ll realize that it’s an impractical impossibility to reach the goals set out for carbon emissions in this state WITHOUT using our most efficient form of energy; nuclear.”

  34. d'Anconia
    August 31, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Aunt Millie-

    “There’s way too much magical thinking in Republican circles…”

    No offense, but as far as the issue of energy independence is concerned, the anti-nukes like yourself are the ones with a monopoly on “magical thinking”.

    There is no hocus-pocus about nuclear energy. It works. It’s clean. It’s cost-efficient.

    You can’t say the same about ANY other alternatives. At least not yet.

  35. Publius
    August 31, 2007 at 11:41 am

    OK, D’Anconia-
    Here’s a challenge:
    SHOW US THE “MATH” YOU’VE DONE!

  36. Aunt Millie
    August 31, 2007 at 11:44 am

    RobC,

    Well said.

    Thanks for responding. I’m really hoping we can move to a new post-partisan age on the national level and start having sensible conversations about the real issues we need to deal with.

    I do know smart forward-thinking Republicans, but so many of them seem to be poisoned by the daily talking points spread through the mighty Wurlitzer of Fox, talk radio, drudge, and the rest of the cowed traditional media.

  37. Aunt Millie
    August 31, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    d’Anconia,

    Thanks once again for being such a jerk.

    Conservation works. Ir’s clean and cost-effective.

    Green building works. It’s clean and cost effective.

    It’s not particularly difficult to cut energy and water use immediately by 40% without building a single nuclear plant, while creating healthier lifestyles.

    I’m not an anti-nuke, just highly skeptical of those who think that we can just go on with our profligate waste of resources, with the idea that nuclear energy will let us toodle along in hydrogen-powered Hummers.

    As fossil fuels become significantly more expensive, and as greentech companies invest heavily in thin-film solar and manufacturing technology, solar will be very cost-effective.

  38. Dan Chmielewski
    August 31, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    By the way Dan, I think it shows some of your true colors that you admit that you would give Chuck’s idea more consideration if it wasn’t being backed by “anti-global warming” Republicans.

    If you’re going to ask me to apologize for being partisan, I won’t. Chuck is equally partisan and I would venture would back new nuke plants even if every voter in the 70th told him no. I have actually weighed this issue with Chuck’s website carefully before deciding the issue of dealing with waste just doesn’t seem to be taken very seriously.

    I actually chuckled when you wrote nuclear power is clean; its that nasty lethal waste byproduct it leaves behind that’ll kill ya.

    Sorry, I would rather pay a higher cost for renewable energy sources from solar power to order to avooid filling Yucca Mountain with tons of radioactive waste.

  39. August 31, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    His comment is very much typical of an alternative energy enthusiast

    In what way?

  40. mike
    September 10, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Nuclear power sucks and the Republican hack jobs are pushing it with money from French nuclear companies.

    Nuclear also costs billions of tax dollars–republicans hate socialism until they are the ones getting the handouts.

    1) We don’t have any where to put the waste, Devore is flat out lying when he claims the french have “solved” the problem.

    2)terrorists want to hit plants according to the 9/11 commission and the nuclear regulatory commission says guarding plants from air attack isn’t even their problem.

    3) Plants are too expensive to build, they will take billions of your tax dollars to build the plants and then send you a bill for the power at the end of the month on top of it.

    4) Most importantly, by the time plants come online the last plant took 26 years to build. Many experts say we need to do something about global warming in the next 10l–that is if you believe in global warming, which Devore doesn’t because he voted against the Global Warming law in California.

    5) They want to build nuke plants in earthquake zones. Devores supposed “exclusion zones” is nothing but bullshit. Think Japan.

    Devore is a hacker who is using global warming to push nuclear with money from nuclear companies. Nice try, loser.

    Man you pro-nuke republicans are the worst kind of hypocrites.

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