Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Nuclear Energy Debate, part 1

Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy

Due to having a family and having been very sleep deprived for years, I missed out on learning about a more important issue than the Kyoto Treaty: The Nuclear Energy Debate.
Even though my brain was too tired for anything in depth, I did pick up enough info and the occasional article and documentary to learn that we , earthlings, are at a major crossroads. Despite the 'tut-tut camp' who thinks it's all baloney, evidence abounds of global warming. People past a certain age recall the past and note how the weather and other aspects in nature have changed. Current freak weather; heatwaves in Europe; too much rain in Europe; drought in Australia; Corrals disappearing; stronger hurricanes; species disappearing.

From what I see, a major part of the argument of global warming rests with the various parties attributing global warming to different factors. Then there are those scientists who believe we are at a tail end of some natural cycle. The earth on its own has cooled, then warmed throughout its existence they say. This is is just inevitable.
Regardless, having 'woken up' in more ways than one, and not having the excuse of sleep deprivation, I wanted to explore and discuss the Nuclear Energy Debate.

In upcoming posts I will look at the environmentalists who consider nuclear energy not only the only viable option at preventing further damage to the earth, but who also consider it a safe one. James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia theory and 'whistleblower' or 'defector' however you want to call him being one of them.
James Lovelock

I will also look into nuclear plants here in the US and elsewhere and write about the nuclear-fuel- recycling business. I also want to look into the worst case scenario Lovelock described in his 'Independent' article.

The pro-nuclear energy environmentalists do not dismiss alternative energy sources, but realize that for the 6 billion people on Earth, a combined effort of nuclear and alternative energy is needed to save whatever we still can. As Lovelock notes in his Independent comment:

"Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, was far-sighted to say that global warming is a more serious threat than terrorism. He may even have underestimated, because, since he spoke, new evidence of climate change suggests it could be even more serious, and the greatest danger that civilisation has faced so far."(bold added by yours truly)

To Be Continued...


Zee said...

Hmm, playing with bewitched fire is always an unpredictable avenue.
Sure, nuclear energy would solve (some) emission issues for the near future (200 years or so, just to pick a random number), but how will it work in the long run - I mean LONG run?
I am no physicist, and definitely no expert on nuclear issues. But that doesn't matter. I can think ... sometimes logically, and my thinking is such:
Certain harmful nucleons who can't be recycled will have to be stored safely for eons (thousands of years). Inevitably some kind of disaster will happen. The probability is a purely statistical phenomena.
Two years or so ago, a Russian nuclear submarine sunk somewhere in the northern seas. They managed to salvage or seal off the reactor. Well that is good. But will it always be that way?
I think not. And therefore I am not amused by the proposition to lean towards reliance of nuclear energy.
Tschernobyl has taught us a lesson, or so I thought. (yea, yea ... old technology and so on, blame it on that). But it didn't. The poison from that accident still festers in our environment for thousands of years to come.
In other words: There is no such thing as "save" nuclear energy, it is a gamble with the devil.
Guess who wins :)!

Ingrid said...

Zee, I quicly peaked to see if someone would comment and I'm just about to put the kids to bed. I will refrain from commenting on you now as I will continue to explore so that at the end, perhaps you might have some different information and/or opinion, or I will. Who knows. For now, I reserve judgement but felt it was only fair to look into.
Off topic. I was thinking of you tonight. I went out with James and bought a cd for the one song I know about it. I'll post it on the blogger round table tomorrow with hopefully the music and the lyrics.
nice to see around Zee,

lindsaylobe said...

The nuclear debate is a very vexed question in our world to day.

Targeted reductions in emissions of between 50-80% will not,in my view,be enough to save us as suggested by the climatic modelling by the year 2050. Already the signs are ominous.


It was not surprising to learn China only recently rejected any targeted reduction in its carbon emissions, siting reductions would curtail its continuing development and prosperity to it’s the nation. It is hard for us to imagine the phenomenal growth occurring in developing counties such as China and India. China for instance is currently in the process of building 300 new cities, each to house over a million people to support its expansion to a modern economy and accommodate the continued population movement from agriculture to jobs created within the expanding regions and city centres. Even so as we speak nearly 50% of its population are peasant farmers engaged in subsistent farming which is likely to shrink to 3-4% in the longer term. India a has expressed similar views, it did not create the current mess and argues it should nor be penalised by adopting targeted reductions in emissions as it rapidly embraces modernity and subsequent reliance on energy and the burning of fossil fuels

This gives you a picture of the future expansion; what I would estimate as the equivalent of another 40 Australia’s or 4 times the USA in created new demand over the next 20 years from these 2 emerging giants alone.

Hence the current green house emission reductions will need to be increased substantially to offset the accelerated effect of the developing world. The developing world will argue their per capita emissions currently fall way below the advanced economies and they should be given a chance to catch up with ourselves without the need to bear the brunt of self imposed restrictions.

Consider at the moment in China, most people engaged in manufacturing receive less US $1 per hour. Such folk are hardly about to join the world debate on climate change, as they struggle to exist.

Bearing this in mind it seems we will need in the short term to do more than just reduce emissions but use technology to provide a solution to the current imbalance in the polluted atmosphere.

Greenhouse gas emissions are now destabilising the Earth's climate system with added pollution, extreme weather patterns and food shortages.
Coal is one of the key polluters and within the next 20 years nuclear power could replace coal-fired power plants, particularly in Australia.

What the consequences of such a policy?

Nuclear power is not safe, but neither is coal.There is uranium in coal, its output is a pollutant and it causes accelerated rates of cancer, perhaps not as obvious as in the case of the few nuclear accidents that have occurred.

The risk of nuclear energy includes waste disposal, its long term storage, accidents and the uranium being turned into bombs.

International safeguards and policing with adequate controls are key elements if it is to be a part of the energy solution.

Should we leave our children with these sorts of problems of disposal, storage and dangers of accidents or rather rely on alternative energy solutions and targeted reductions which will be insufficient and perhaps lead to catastophic climate-changes?

Alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, wave, hot rocks (geo thermal) will take another 30years or more to have any material impact on the world ……and in the meantime!! I am afraid the lesser evil in my view is nuclear.

Ideally we would not need to consider either, but because of the reasons I have mentioned I believe we do need to adopt, if somewhat very reluctantly, nuclear energy’s important contribution to the world energy solution.

Best wishes

Rod Adams said...


I congratulate you on your interest in this important topic.

As a former US nuclear submarine engineer officer, I made up my own mind a long time ago. My experience sealed up underwater for months at a time leads me to want to shout from the mountaintops. Anyone who is truly concerned about the environment should be at least willing to learn a little more about a power source that works in a closed environment.

Since I have a hard time finding a good mountaintop where there is a ready audience, I have been sharing my thoughts and knowledge on the Internet for more than a decade at Atomic Insights. More recently I have added a blog and a podcast to try to share even more widely and open up avenues for discussion.

Some people try to shut down the argument by pulling out what they believe is rhetorical trump card "what do you do with the waste"? There are many good answers to that question - the simplest form of the answers is "we can recycle it." About 95% of what is currently considered to be waste is still fuel material, and the rest is rare elements with unique physical properties that have potentially valuable uses.

Politically speaking, one should look around and see just how many people in the conventional fuel industry would loose a fair portion of their wealth and power if nuclear fission is allowed to play on an even moderately level playing field.

Here are some stark facts - the average operating cost of nuclear plants in the US is 1.7 cents per kilowatt hour. That compares to 2.2 cents for coal, 7.5 cents for gas and 8 cents for oil (2006 figures). Because of those low operating costs, our 104 nuclear plants operate flat out, with capacity factors over the past 4 years averaging about 90%. For every additional 1000 MWe nuclear plant, there would be a reduction in demand for coal of about 4 million tons per year.

In the past dozen or so years, I have been searching for the source of funding for nuclear opposition groups and have found a lot of sooty, but smudged fingerprints traceable to the fossil fuel industry.

Karen Street said...


In Berkeley, where I live, denizens of Lawrence Berkeley Labs are wandering down the hill to downtown to lecture on energy and climate change. Their main focus for the spring lectures is cellulosic biofuels. Steve Chu, director of LBL spoke last Monday and addressed one of the points in the first comment: what about nuclear waste? Coal power emits just while the plant is operating 4 x as much radioactivity as nuclear power will over its complete lifecycle, from mining the uranium until the waste has decayed.

OK, so if you're worried about nuclear waste, you'll fight coal first! (No one mentions the radioactivity in coal waste because it's so far down the list of coal's sins.)

Chernobyl taught the Soviets to make no more commercial reactors without containment for the core; the rest of the world already knew that lesson. Chernobyl has already killed 50 - 60 people, and perhaps as many as 4,000 more will die over the next 7 decades. It was horrible.

You have a picture of Palo Verde in the part 2 post. If coal power plants had been built instead, then 400 members of the public would die every year (coal kills about 30,000 Americans annually with its particulates, and another 1,000 with ozone). A few coal miners would die each year, mostly from black lung disease. Over the 60 years service expected from Palo Verde, 6 times as many people would die from Palo Verde coal substitute as are expected to die from Chernobyl.

Good luck with your explorations -- this is a path I began wandering down a decade ago, without strong preconceptions. I was surprised at what I learned.

Randal Leavitt said...


About fours years ago I decided to do exactly what you are doing now - try to get to the bottom of the nuclear energy issue. I was shocked to find out how clean, safe, reliable, inexpensive, and sustainable nuclear power is. Based on the data that I dug up for myself I had to really change a lot of my deeply held beliefs. It was quite a revelation.

So be prepared to discover that nuclear power is much better than you imagine at the moment.

You can review some of the thinking that got me to this point at my blog site: