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Renewable Nuclear?

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View Tom Turner's blog posts
15 September 2009, 2:24 PM
Nuclear boosters disguise their product behind green verbiage

Boosters of nuclear power plants usually depend on the fact that the facilities emit no greenhouse gases for their rationale, and a powerful one it is. They generally ignore problems of proliferation, terrorist vulnerability, the need to isolate and store waste products essentially forever, the expense of building the plants (once they're built they're relatively cheap to operate, but building them is very expensive), and the lack of capacity to enrich and manufacture their fuel.

But now proponents, led by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, are trying a new ploy to call nuclear "renewable," which would make it eligible for subsidies and tax credits like solar and wind projects.Renewable means perpetual or inexhaustible—like the sun and the wind. There may be plenty of uranium in the ground, but it's no more infinite than oil or gas. It may (or may not) be worth considering in a national strategy, but please don't try to pass it off as renewable.

And it's about time nuclear proponents came clean about cost. For this sort of information, I turn to the Rocky Mountain Institute and its head man, Amory Lovins. He reports, among other revelations, that, "In 2006, distributed renewable power sources worldwide got $56 billion of private risk capital; nuclear projects got zero... Recent industry efforts to entice the U.S. Treasury to give it $50 billion are a desperate response to private capitalists' unwillingness to finance plants they consider too costly and too risky." There's lots more in that vein at RMI's website.

Aside from the more emotional issues relating to nuclear power, Rocky Mountain Institute had published an authoritative report that highlights the cost of new nuclear power compared to other strategies. The winner is end-user efficiency, which delivers new power (or rather displaces the need for new power) at a cost of 2-3 cents per kilowatt hour, whereas MIT and others calculate the cost of new nuclear power at 10 cents per kilowatt hour or greater.

End-user efficiency is the least expensive, most secure, most reliable and cleanest energy technology available.

There are those who will tell you that the supply of efficiency is exhaustible. Nevertheless, until we have exhausted the inexpensive solutions, we have no business (so to speak) proposing the most expensive solutions, particularly one laden with all of the other burdens of water, waste, etc.
If you were driving down the road and found your parking brake on, your first solution would not be to buy a bigger engine.

This is the link to the RMI article "Forget Nuclear"

To run the world on nuclear reactors would require THOUSANDS of nuclear plants...everyone one of which increases the odds of catastrophe. Proponents of nuclear power love to ignore the cost of DECOMMISSIONING power plants after they wear out, which costs ALMOST AS MUCH as building them in the first place, because now you have tons of radioactive concrete, metal, etc that must be disposed of somehow. Proponents love to IGNORE the environmental damage caused by mining the Uranium in the first place. Just go talk to some of the Navajos in Arizona, and ask them how they like having 10X the normal rates of cancer because vast tracts of their reservations were thoughtlessly contaminated by uranium mining. Inevitably it will be poor people who will be duped into working in the mines, most of whom will probably die early. Running the plant itself requires access to vast amounts of water needed to cool the plant, which then expels very warm/hot water which damages the surrounding wildlife. I DID like Dave's suggestion about getting the storage time down to 500 years rather than 10,000, but the solution needs to be found BEFORE we create any more waste, because believing something can be done, and actually doing it are 2 DIFFERENT things!!! Faith might be great for keeping a religion going, but it is USELESS when it comes to keeping radiation from escaping and MUTATING all life on the planet. I disagree with the notion that global warming is a greater threat than large scale contamination of the surface world by hard core radiation. SOME people will definitely survive global warming, but massive destruction of the human genome (DNA) caused by escaped radiation could very well be the end of humanity.

You have identified the problem that changed me from Pro to Anti Nuclear power. All new systems MUST include the cost of independent analysis of the new system to prevent another 3 Mile Island or Chernobyl catastrophe, the life cost of training and running the facility, and, finally, ALL aspects of decommissioning, including it's final resting place. Sadly, I do not think I'll be going back to Pro in the near future.

If you think nu-clear power is clean think again the emissions are no different to toxic coal which has 9 cancer causing chemicals on extraction alone.Then you must remember the birth defects asthma and a host of other human created diseases.So if you think that nu-clear is clean just do some research on the toxic effects from both coal and nu-clear power generation.I myself create my own power collect my own water and grow my own food.Start today by planting a couple of seeds in the right direction and in 6 months you will have a food garden that you will be proud of.Start with a second hand solar system and grow more powerfull as your budget allows thats what we did now we have an enormous amount of power while running a fridge computers lights big tv and no power bills for 10 years no water bills for ten years and plenty of free food.If you still think nu-clear is cleaner than coal move to Chernoble or tennesee coal ash spill town one is full of cancer from nu-clear and the other is coming.Your choice for a cleaner world...

While nuclear energy is not renewable, it is carbon free and as such should be considerable a valuable arm of our national strategy to combat global warming. It is a balancing of risk; on the one hand we have the potential to make our planet uninhabitable during the next two or three generations through global warming and kill most people on the planet, or we can combat this through mutiple methods (no single noncarbon energy source will do the job) including nuclear energy, and work to figure out how to deal with the waste and potential proliferation issues, which are longer term problems that while significant, are not as likely to destroy humanity as global warming is. Now is the time to fully embrace all options to stop global warming, and nuclear energy should play an important role in this and should be fully supported and advanced in a thoughtful and responsible manner.

I agree with Marc, I don't think we can be too picky about where we get our energy from at this point as long as it's clean. Anything to get us away from building more coal plants and selling off pristine areas and oceans to oil companies. I also believe that in the future there will be ways to reuse and recycle some of the waste from nuclear that currently has to be stored.
At the end of the day, we just have to get used to using less energy in our daily lives. Put up a washing line, invest in solar energy for your home, etc. A few little personal sacrifices go a long way.

That's what I have been telling people for a couple of decades now.Until there is a way to SAFELY dispose of nuclear waste it is not what I want as an energy source.

It's not the 80's anymore. A lot can change over the course of two decades and it has in this case. Even I was against nuclear power until maybe... 2003-ish. Given the lack of greenhouse emissions and the possibility of a very viable long term fuel source (our current technology only exploits about ~1% of the uranium we pull out of the ground, to say nothing of all the untapped potential in thorium, which is even more abundant than uranium), nuclear power deserves a serious reconsideration.

On the other hand, Turner is dead on in regards to the nuclear industry needing to come clean about costs. Yes, once the construction costs are paid off, a reactor becomes essentially an enormous cash producing machine, but construction costs are very steep, and take a couple of decades of continuous operation (if I remember correctly off the top of my head) to pay off. Plus, if we're really going to step up to the plate on the waste issue, that's going to drive costs up. It will require what are called breeder reactors, which while interesting, have admittedly spent more time being fixed than producing the emission free electricity, more fuel than what is consumed, and short lived radioactive waste like they're supposed to. But hey, that's comes with the territory when you're being ambitious.

A very good argument can be made that while nuclear power can do a lot for the United States, if we tackle the issue with the free market, de-regulated everything, uber-capitalist mentality that is in vogue right now, we're going to produce reactors that are designed to for low financial risk and high profits rather for high burnup, responsible waste management and exploitation of currently untapped fuel sources. Sure both approaches give us greenhouse-emission free energy, but we're talking about 200-500 years of fuel (depending on international consumption rate) versus literally tens of thousands of years of fuel. Remember, with some medium sized technological advances, the worldwide exploitable nuclear fuel supplies can literally become hundres of times larger.

Oh, and did I mention in so many words that if we actually fissioned most of the uranium in our fuel, rather than the 1%-ish described above, then the radioactivity of the nuclear waste we produce drops down to below background levels in 300-500 years? That's right, nuclear waste that is primarily fission products, as opposed to mostly UN-fissioned heavy actinides, turns into normal rocks within a handful of centuries. Still a lot of time, yes, but I think the Egyptians have proved you can isolate stuff successfully for centuries long timescales.

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