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CNN opinion: Japan and future of U.S. nuclear power

By Joe Romm on March 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm

"CNN opinion: Japan and future of U.S. nuclear power"

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“The U.S. government and nuclear industry must take new actions to ensure that nuclear power is safe for the American public.”

CNN just published an opinion piece that I wrote with my CAPAF colleague Richard Caperton.  Here it is:

By Joseph Romm and Richard Caperton, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Joseph Romm edits the blog ClimateProgress.org for the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Richard Caperton is a CAPAF policy analyst. Romm, who has a Ph.D. in physics, was acting assistant secretary of energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during the Clinton administration.

(CNN) — The recent history of the U.S. nuclear industry suggests that nuclear power can be a safe source of low-carbon electricity. But disasters can happen very quickly, with potentially cataclysmic results.

The loss of coolant, explosions and apparent partial meltdown of nuclear plants in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami remind us that nuclear power is inherently risky. The U.S. government and the nuclear industry must take new actions to ensure that nuclear power is safe for the American public.

New nuclear reactors are phenomenally expensive, costing up to $10 billion dollars apiece. Exelon CEO John Rowe said recently that the combination of low natural gas prices and failure of Congress to put a price on carbon dioxide pollution pushes back any significant nuclear renaissance by a “decade, maybe two.”

The U.S. nuclear industry has long argued that new reactors are prohibitively expensive because of an overly burdensome site selection and permitting process, which they say unnecessarily drives up costs. But, in fact, new nuclear plants have seen soaring prices not just in Florida, Texas and other states — but in Finland, Turkey and Canada.

New reactors are intrinsically expensive because they must be able to withstand virtually any risk that we can imagine, including human error and major disasters. Why? Because when the potential result of a disaster is the poisoning — and ultimately, death — of thousands of people, even the most remote threats must be eliminated.

Insurers know that the results of a nuclear catastrophe would be ruinous on a scale that would overwhelm any private company, which is why they won’t insure nuclear plants. Instead, the U.S. government — which is to say taxpayers — takes on the liability for nuclear reactors.

If one of the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. experiences a catastrophic failure, taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for the damages.

Taxpayers aren’t just bearing the risk for operational and environmental disasters, they are also on the hook for financial disasters. No bank will finance a new reactor without a loan guarantee from the federal government, which says that if the power company can’t pay the loan, the government will step in and pay it for them.

Let’s be clear: If something goes wrong with a U.S. nuclear reactor, the American public will be in double jeopardy — we’ll suffer the health consequences and then also have to pay for it.

Because taxpayers have so much to lose in a nuclear disaster, the government has a responsibility to take every precaution to minimize that risk. In the immediate future, the government must do four things:

1. Review the ability of every reactor to deal with threats to its safety. The “Japan Syndrome” — a major disaster causing loss of coolant that threatens a meltdown — means we must make sure that reactors in coastal or seismic areas can withstand any disaster. Many disasters can imperil reactors.

For example, severe floods are becoming more common. As FEMA head Craig Fugate said in December after all the record-smashing deluges around the globe, “The term ’100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year.” Every reactor that is in a 500-year flood plain should demonstrate that it can handle the challenge.

2. Congress must not cut funding for NOAA’s tsunami warning service. House Republicans have proposed cutting funding to NOAA — the agency directly responsible for tsunami monitoring and warning — restricting the government’s ability to respond. America has a number of reactors that could be affected by a tsunami, such as the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in California. Many more are at risk from a major earthquake.

3. The permitting process must not be further weakened. Today, new reactors must undergo a multiyear review process before they are given a “Combined Operating License”. This is already an accelerated permitting process — in which multiple reviews are conducted simultaneously. It mustn’t be sped up yet again.

4. The Department of Energy must continue to run the nuclear loan guarantee program to protect taxpayers and must continue to accurately charge the nuclear industry for the risk it incurs by guaranteeing these projects. To receive a loan guarantee, a builder has to pay a fee to compensate taxpayers for taking on significant risk. If DOE collects too little money, taxpayers bear too much risk. The nuclear industry has claimed that these fees are too high, despite evidence to the contrary. Congress must not interfere with DOE’s critical role in taxpayer protection.

Today, one-fifth of our country’s electricity comes from nuclear power. Nuclear safety depends on being ready not just for the threats that existed when reactors were built many decades ago, but on being ready for the challenges of today’s world. If the nuclear industry wants to generate even more power, it must demonstrate that it can do so safely and affordably, with minimal risk to the American public.

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56 Responses to CNN opinion: Japan and future of U.S. nuclear power

  1. robert says:

    Nuclear safety, like clean coal, is an oxymoron. The risks are myriad and large at every stage of the process, from mining, to processing, to operating, to waste disposal.

    My question: If we have the technology and the economy to implement renewable alternatives, primarily solar, why do reasonable people still pursue the high-risk folly of nuclear power?

  2. PurpleOzone says:

    Good article. Time somebody aired the taxpayers in the U.S. insure against nuclear accidents.

    The nuclear propagandists are already putting out the reassurance “Modern nuclear plants aren’t like those old things in Russia and Japan. Their engineering is safer.”

    Not quite as hyperbole as the original chant: “The chance of a nuclear accident is 1 in 10 million years.”

    What new plants? The U.S. curriculums to train nuclear engineers folded 30 years ago. So where are the engineers coming from? Maybe we’ll import them?

    After the horrible bombing, people splatted against walls, we hoped something could come out of it. The proposal to develop a deep harbor in Alaska with a small nuclear bomb died soon. I think it’s time to bury the dream of safe, inexpensive nuclear power.

  3. Bill Waterhouse says:

    The re-study of safety should include modeling a 9.0 on the Seattle area Cascadia subduction zone and the impact of the quake and resulting massive tsunami on nuclear plants on the West Coast, including Diablo Canyon and San Onofre in California. A large quake on the Cascadia zone occurred in 1700 and a repeat may be overdue.

  4. Prokaryotes says:

    Factor in potential air plane infiltration and the nuclear industry has become history..

  5. If the nuclear industry wants to generate even more power, it must demonstrate that it can do so safely and affordably, with minimal risk to the American public.

    How safe is the CO2 being injected in the environment by coal plants?
    How many will die as a result of coal power plant pollution and climate change while these plants still operate?
    How many have died, total, due to nuclear power?
    There appears to be a double standard here. Am I wrong?

    Note should be made that the Japanese plants suvived a magnitude 9 and and huge tsunami without losing containment, way beyond what they were designed to withstand. (so far)

    Of course nuclear is not the best choice… but can we afford to dismiss this source when we have waited until the last minute to mitigate climate change? We need them all, solar, wind, tide, geothermal and nuclear. We need to let science inform us, not our bias.

  6. Andy Bauer says:

    How is it that an industry that after six decades of operation can’t

    1) build its facilities,
    2) operate its facilities,
    3) insure its facilities,
    4) take care of the waste generated at those facilities

    *without government assistance* enjoys so much favor from today’s conservative anti-socialist crowd?

    I’m not knocking socialism with this post, but I’m issuing a challenge to those who call themselves capitalists to point out how this isn’t socialism?

  7. Wit's End says:

    What about sea level rise?

  8. Raul M. says:

    Time changed, Japan got wider, and
    because the land subsided 2′ on some of
    Japan’s coast the seawall droped
    2′ in relation to the sea?

  9. Lewis C says:

    This from the BBC news site is worth reading as an indictment not only of design, and the decision to extend operations beyond the design-life, but also critically of the competence of the organisation now attempting to control the rogue reactors.

    “Technicians are battling to stabilise a third reactor at a quake-stricken Japanese nuclear plant, which has been rocked by a second blast in three days.
    The fuel rods inside reactor 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have been fully exposed on two separate occasions, raising fears of a meltdown.
    Seawater is being pumped into reactor to try to stop the rods overheating.
    A cooling system breakdown preceded explosions at the plant’s reactor 3 on Monday and reactor 1 on Saturday.

    The latest hydrogen blast injured 11 people, one of them seriously. It was felt 40km (25 miles) away and sent a huge column of smoke into the air.
    The outer building around the reactor was largely destroyed.
    But as with the first explosion, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said the thick containment walls shielding the reactor cores remained intact. It also said radiation levels outside were still within legal limits.

    Shortly after the blast, Tepco warned that it had lost the ability to cool Fukushima Daiichi’s reactor 2.
    The fuel rod exposure at Fukushima Daiichi number 2 reactor is potentially the most serious event so far at the plant.
    A local government official confirmed the fuel rods were at one point largely, if not totally exposed; but we do not know for how long.

    Without coolant around the rods, temperatures can rise to hundreds of degrees Celsius, almost certainly resulting in some melting.
    This opens the possibility of a serious meltdown – where molten, highly radioactive reactor core falls through the floor of the containment vessel and into the ground underneath.
    However, engineers appear to have restored some water flow into the reactor vessel and if they are successful, temperatures will begin to fall again rapidly.

    Hours later, the company revealed that the fuel rods inside had been exposed fully at one point, reportedly for about two-and-a-half hours. It said a fire pump that had been used to pump seawater into the reactor had run out of fuel.

    The company is now trying to inject sea water into the reactor to cover the fuel rods, cool them down and prevent another explosion.
    Initially, water levels continued to fall despite the efforts, as only one of the five fire pumps was working, officials said. The other four were believed to have been damaged by the blast at reactor 3.

    By Monday evening, officials said the water level inside the reactor had risen to 2m. But later, local media reported that the fuel rods had again been fully exposed.
    State broadcaster NHK said the air pressure inside the reactor had risen suddenly after the air flow gauge was accidentally turned off. This blocked the flow of cooling seawater.

    Exposure for too long a period of time can damage the fuel rods and raise the risk of overheating and possible meltdown.”
    __________________________________________________

    Given this catalogue of serial incompetence, and the international distribution of fallout from any of the three reactors doing a catastrophic meltdown (and in that event how could the others be controlled ?) it is surely time that vulnerable nations insist that the Japanese government remove Tepco from managerial control of this emergency, replacing them with a task-force of the world’s most highly experienced engineers.

    Being just 6 days downwind, the US has the most immediate vulnerability, and should take the lead on this action.

    Regards,

    Lewis

  10. Colorado Bob says:

    SOMA, Japan – Water levels dropped precipitously Monday inside a stricken Japanese nuclear reactor, twice leaving the uranium fuel rods completely exposed and raising the threat of a meltdown, hours after a hydrogen explosion tore through the building housing a different reactor.

  11. Designer of nuclear power plants must anticipate every possible threat, which is humanly impossible.

    Current reports seem to be saying that the designers of the failed nuclear power reactors in Japan made the elementary blunder of putting the diesel backup generators in the basements of the reactors, so the backup generators were flooded and unable to operate.

    If they did not notice that obvious hazard, how do we know that designers of future nuclear will anticipate and design for all possible failures?

  12. ToddInNorway says:

    It is technically possible to make a nuclear power plant safe enough, but it would add incredible expense to the “normal”. No-one would accept the financial cost. Very simple. Worst-case scenarios defined as the total loss of the plant with very large clean-up costs have now played out four times since 1957 in an industry with 450+ commercial reactors (Windscale, 3-mile island, chernobyl and now Fukushima, am I forgetting some here?). The industry simply cannot profile itself on its safety record or cost record. Time to move on, and throw all the resources released by stopping further development of nuclear power into energy efficiency, renewables and new support systems like load management and short-term energy storage.

  13. catman306 says:

    I’m just thrilled to know that all of my (and all Georgia Power customers) future Georgia Power (Southern Company) electric bills include an extra $11/month charge to help pay for the new reactor being built in South Georgia, expected to go on line in about 5 years. This was made possible by a special act of the Georgia legislature circumventing the usual public service commission rules. This is possibly the only nuclear power generation plant being built in the US today. Hope they change their collective minds so that reason trumps money.

  14. dhogaza says:

    Current reports seem to be saying that the designers of the failed nuclear power reactors in Japan made the elementary blunder of putting the diesel backup generators in the basements of the reactors, so the backup generators were flooded and unable to operate.

    If they did not notice that obvious hazard, how do we know that designers of future nuclear will anticipate and design for all possible failures?

    Well, they were behind a seawall thought to be high enough to protect against any expected tsunami. This appears to be a once-per-several-centuries event, similar to the Big One we expect to get hit with here in the US PNW sometime in the future. These large earthquake events on very long timescales in human terms were unknown to geologists decades ago when Japan began engineering its seawall defenses to guard against *expected* tsunami events. We’re in the same boat here in the US PNW. Geologists have learned more about the *real* range of huge earthquakes we might experience here, and while we’ve been in the process of revamping building codes and the like to cause new buildings and remodeled older buildings to withstand such a quake, we’re a long ways from getting there.

    It’s a bit difficult to blame those building facilities in the 1970s for not anticipating something geologists didn’t understand was a real possibility until a couple of decades later …

  15. The only other high tech industry we can look to is the airlines. It took them about 100 years before there is now a reasonable level of safety.

    But with a nuclear accident, the consequences are far greater and last longer. Think of a plane crash that goes on for 24,000 years. We are way too early in the technology.

  16. Richard Brenne says:

    I’m no fan of nuclear, but all coal plants have to do to kill us all off is to operate as they were designed to operate.

  17. paulm says:

    The behavior towards nukes also demonstrates the human trait of chance taking and irrationality, reacting to circumstance only when confronted with catastrophe.

    On reflection, why would anyone build nuclear plants right on the coast next to a major fault line? Defies commonsense.

  18. Zetetic says:

    @ Beam Me Up Scotty #5:
    Respectfully, it’s not about comparing nuclear to coal.
    It’s about comparing both coal and nuclear to renewables.

    When compared to renewable they both lose out. Wind is already cheaper than coal in some areas, and in some areas solar is cheaper than natural gas. Even when you leave the hidden costs of coal (and natural gas) out. Renewables do this all without toxic smoke/slurry or meltdowns/waste-disposal.

    Considering the massive amount of subsides for nuke plants, from construction to fuel production, to waste disposal and decommissioning. It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense compared to a comprehensive system of renewables (and a smart grid) when you then add the safety risks inherent in any (even a 4th generation, which won’t be available for a long time yet) nuke plant.

  19. PurpleOzone says:

    Richard Pauli, I’ve been loathe to take an airplane since I read the transcript of the pilot and first mate of the ‘Continental’ crash in Buffalo. Stupid ill-trained people.

  20. Michael Tucker says:

    Richard Brenne I am glad you made that point! And I would add a question: How many deaths can be associated with each? Including mining deaths. What of all that mercury? What of the plumes of mercury that constantly arrive from China?

    But I must say that I’m so glad the US stopped blowing up pacific islands with thermonuclear weapons, blowing up nuclear weapons underground, and building nuclear power plants. It makes it a lot easier to claim the moral high ground.

  21. PurpleOzone says:

    How much oil has to be burned to dig up and grind up the pitchblend to get a few scraps of uranium? How much to separate the small fraction of U235 from U 238? To refine and smelt the U235 into rods? To build the nuclear power plant?

    A friend of mine in the nuclear power business told me 3 decades ago that probably there was no net saving in oil and coal, when you include the cost of disposing of the nuclear waste. 2 Billion has already been spent to develop Yucca mountain, which is closed until the Senate gets a majority leader not from Utah.

    Helen Caldicott estimated in her book that the permanent disposal of nuclear waste, together with the original costs, takes as much energy as comes out.

    If these estimates are in the ball park, I’m against nuclear energy period. I’m noticing I’m steaming, albeit not as much as Japan’s troubled reactors, about the bunch of crap we’ve been fed all these years.

  22. Zetetic, respectfully, of course wind, solar and perhaps fusion are preferred.
    And you are right, what makes sense is the way to go.
    That means, IMHO, is that we started building solar, wind, etc 20 years ago, so that a significant percentage of our electricity came from them today. But we didn’t! Currently our renewable energy sources, aside from hydro, is minuscule. We put it off for decades. We need to get of fossil fuels ASAP. Closing the door on any viable option at this point does not make sense.

  23. dhogaza says:

    “The only other high tech industry we can look to is the airlines. It took them about 100 years before there is now a reasonable level of safety.”

    It’s been safer than auto travel for over 50 years, on a per-mile-traveled basis. Maybe as far back as the DC-3 era (remember, cars back then were death traps).

    “Richard Pauli, I’ve been loathe to take an airplane since I read the transcript of the pilot and first mate of the ‘Continental’ crash in Buffalo. Stupid ill-trained people.”

    The Bombardier Dash 8 is an extremely popular commuter turboprop, which has had four fatal accidents in 22 years.

    In two of the crashes, all souls were lost, in the other two, nine killed and 35 survived.

    That’s not bad.

    BTW if you chase the link, “The aircraft then had a controlled flight into terrain, crashing into a coconut plantation” means that the flight crew made a successful landing … just in the wrong place.

  24. dhogaza says:

    PurpleOzone, you’re right though, that training standards, hours (fatigue played a factor in the crash you’re referring to), and pay (garbagemen in NYC make at least twice as much as entry-level pilots at regional commuter airlines) are much lower than for major airlines and that flight crew totally screwed up. The co-pilot had just begun flying that route and was clearly intimidated by the winter weather conditions, apparently the regional airline involved had a lot of faith in the apprentice system as only the pilot was really competent to be flying that route (in theory, he showed himself to be anything but).

  25. Prokaryotes says:

    Fallout cloud animation
    http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/bild-750835-191816.html

    Note the cloud is first going to tokio a 35 million megalopolis. Currently the wind blows from northeast. For the next 48 hrs rain and snow fall is forcasted, which would contribute considerably to contamination on land/sea.

  26. Prokaryotes says:

    The worst possible weather scenario you could possibly deal with. The cloud might hang over tokio for some time.

  27. Alex Smith says:

    My third Japan Atomic Emergency Bulletin is available now with news updated to noon Pacific Time, Monday.

    We all know a second reactor building blew up. Now BBC is reporting Fukushima Daichi Reactor #2 is very near melt-down. A fire truck ran out of fuel, and unnoticed by Tepco workers scrambling to cool the reactor next door, the reactor fuel rods totally were exposed, for an unknown period of time. As reported by Richard Black of BBC.

    Meanwhile, VOA reports the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier group had to be moved much further out to sea, after 17 crew were found exposed to low levels of radioactivity. That shows radioactive particles are blowing West into the Pacific.

    Much more, including stock drops on nuclear companies, etc. in this Bulletin, available in both print and audio.

    http://www.ecoshock.info/2011/03/japan-atomic-emergency-bulletin-3_14.html

    Alex Smith
    host
    Radio Ecoshock

  28. Mark C. says:

    @TodInNorway – Don’t forget “We Almost Lost Detroit” with Fermi 1 breeder reactor in 1966.

  29. Prokaryotes says:

    “That shows radioactive particles are blowing West into the Pacific.”

    That message is a little misleading, as the exposed group was using helicopters when flying 90 km north of the reactor (or something similar). But the wind is changing now, see above animation.

  30. Prokaryotes says:

    And they had the equivalent of 1 month of radiation exposure.

  31. Prokaryotes says:

    In such a situation you should sent in the radioactive drone observation unit to first check for the contamination levels.

  32. dhogaza says:

    We all know a second reactor building blew up.

    To be clear, though, this is just the building – not the containment vessel or the reactor vessel inside.

    Not that blowing the top off buildings is insignificant … it’s just important to know this doesn’t imply any additional damage to the core, tucked safely inside the reactor vessel which is tucked inside the containment vessel which was tucked inside the building that blew (from hydrogen in the steam vented from the containment vessel when pressure got so high).

    A fire truck ran out of fuel

    This would only be important if they’re using the fire truck to pump water into the reactor … is this the backup pump system they’re using? Good improvisation, I guess, but YIKES.

  33. Mike # 22 says:

    This is getting really serious. Image of what remains of no 1 and no 3

    http://www.digitalglobe.com/downloads/featured_images/japan_earthquaketsu_fukushima_daiichi_march14_2011_dg.jpg

    This report talks about the spent fuel in the cooling pools located above the containment. Much more fuel likely in the pools than in the the reactor. The pool in no 3 is obviously gone, looks like the pool in no 1 has collapsed. Common spent fuel storage is the building just behind no 3 and no 4.

    http://www.dcbureau.org/201103141303/Natural-Resources-News-Service/fission-criticality-in-cooling-ponds-threaten-explosion-at-fukushima.html

  34. dhogaza says:

    Alex Smith, from your website:

    The second explosion was even more violent, with an orange fireball not seen in the first. It is a strain to imagine that nothing on the inner shell of the reactor was damaged, as the Japanese government continues to claim

    The orange fireball is evidence that the hydrogen wasn’t fully mixed with oxygen, so in part burned rather than exploded. It’s not at all evidence that it was “more violent” than the first.

    Your website does claim that the fire truck was being used to assist in pumping … if so, ugh.

  35. Richard Brenne says:

    Zetetic (#17) – You make good points and I agree with you, but feel compelled to point out that to live on solar and wind now we’d have to live on about 1 per cent (global and U.S. averages) of all the energy we’ve been consuming.

    If we put a WWII-type effort in place (that you and I and most others here are fighting for), maybe in 10 years they could supply 10 per cent of our total energy usage today.

    I would welcome both scenarios and I’m sure many here would as well, because then my comments would be 1 per cent as long. But like many I’m not volunteering to do this when virtually no one else does.

    Now to shift from ideals (that I enjoy discussing) to reality, we need to do the full-cost accounting of every form of energy, putting all the factors of each on the table to discuss them rationally.

    My experience with anyone discussing energy is that most are usually selling something (myself included, like you and I preferring solar and wind) and when selling they’ll leave out critical details like the unfortunate fact that right now and for the foreseeable future renewables don’t come close to meeting the scale of current demand, most of which is wants (huge, poorly-insulated stand-alone homes blasting heat or AC, pleasure gas-hogging in planes, boats, SUVs, RVs, ATVs and all other vehicles, choosing to live dozens of miles from work, schools and shopping, etc, etc, etc) rather than needs (reasonable shelter, warmth, water and food).

    Many postings (especially Joe’s great op-ed here) and comments have done a great job of alerting us to the many dangers and costs of nuclear energy, but most have not come close to doing the full-cost accounting (although CP as a whole does the best job of this of anyone) of all energy sources, especially coal.

    When renewables are a small percentage of global and U.S. electrical generation while coal is 41% globally (45% in the U.S.) and nuclear is 15% globally and 20% in the U.S, then direct comparisons between coal and nuclear are appropriate unless we could get everyone to agree to use a tiny fraction of the amount of energy they are using, with part of those savings coming from pilot pigs landing all airplanes on the frozen reaches of hell.

    The dangers of nuclear energy are many and well-documented, but the past, present and future dangers of coal are infinitely greater still.

  36. Jeff Huggins says:

    That’s A Great Post, Joe and Richard, But I’d Like to Ask a Question and Add a Concern:

    First, the phrase “the nuclear industry” appears once or twice, or maybe more times, in the post and in other articles about nuclear power now and then.

    The main commercial product of nuclear plants is, of course, electricity, so I take it that the owners and users of nuclear power plants are, of course, the electric utilities: the electric power industry. And those folks should be interested in the best-possible sources of electricity, all things considered, including safety to humans and to the environment. In other words, they shouldn’t see themselves as “invested in” (as in, “committed to”) new nuclear power plants, as if their “identity” (as a so-called “nuclear industry”) were somehow at stake.

    And, many of the components of nuclear power plants are, I assume, components made for other industries as well, or other sorts of power generation, or at least components made by large companies, such as GE, that make things for all sorts of industries.

    So who (what companies?), really, constitute “the nuclear industry” in any sense of that term that involves companies that are deeply invested in the construction of NEW nuclear power plants? Just the would-be BUILDERS of those plants, such as Bechtel or whoever the leading construction firms might be these days? If so, those firms make their money from the BUILDING of new stuff, taking their cuts off the top, so to speak. They should, in theory anyhow, prefer to be active building solar thermal plants, wind farms, and so forth, just as much as they might want to be active building nuclear power plants. Right? Unless, of course, they think that there’s MORE profit to be made by building nuclear plants, as if the margin is higher, or as if there are boondoggles to be enjoyed? In other words, if nuclear plants are more expensive, and more risky, then who (what companies?), in their right minds, would consider themselves to be “the nuclear industry”, at least as far as the construction of new plants would go? Why shouldn’t these companies be even MORE interested in building the solar thermal plants, wind farms, smart grid, and so forth? Unless (again) they think that there are “abnormally high” profit margins to be had by building nuclear plants, even as the public carries all the risk? So, who IS the “nuclear industry”, as far as the notion of new plants goes, and why should they want to be the “nuclear industry” rather than preferring to be the “solar thermal” industry, and so forth?

    My second thought: A problem that the media should consider, and politicians should consider, and political organizations, and think tanks, and universities and blogs, and anyone interested in the future and in the future of information, is this: When it comes to Major risks and to “Scary Things”, these days I do not have confidence in ANY institution, right or left, big or small, to handle some sorts of technologies and initiatives responsibly. In other words, history seems to be showing that we humans do NOT have the wisdom and ability, and proficiency — at least not yet — to be playing with certain sorts of technologies. When you combine that consideration with the facts that the media are terrible at responsibly informing the public, that politicians often mislead or don’t understand, that politicians and politics are just as likely to ignore science as to respect it, and that too many companies inevitably cut corners, who in their right minds would be comfortable, or think it a good idea, to have new nuclear plants being built all over the place? In other words, there is a BIG difference, these days, between these notions: “IN THEORY, can nuclear power be made safe?” “IN PRACTICALITY, BUT IN ‘A REASONABLY RESPONSIBLE WORLD’, can nuclear power be made safe?” “IN THE REAL WORLD THAT WE HAPPEN TO INHABIT, can nuclear power be made safe?” These three questions are all very, very different. While excellent scientists, well-meaning utility execs, and (the few responsible) construction contractors, might correctly answer the first question with a ‘yes’, and might even answer the second question with a qualified ‘yes’, no responsible person can credibly answer the third question with a ‘yes’, at this point, in my view. In fact, if someone tries to answer that third question with a ‘yes’, even in light of recent occurrences, the state of politics, the state of corporate corner-cutting, the state of science denial among too many voters, and etc., that person will promptly lose at least some credibility in my eyes, I think. How optimistic would one have to be to think that our present society — culturally and politically speaking, i.e., aside from what might be possible from a technology standpoint in a reasonably responsible world — could responsibly and safely embark on new nuclear power plant construction!? Put another way, even if you (Joe and Richard) say that sufficient safety is possible and do-able from a technological standpoint, in which case I could believe you on THAT, will you also say (staking your own bets on it) that we should trust that our real-life political-corporate-corner-cutting society can manage and expand nuclear power production safely and responsibly? Really? On what basis? Half of the U.S. government doesn’t believe in science. Much of the same half thinks that, if we would only trust an unregulated free market, the “invisible hand” will ensure that all goes well. The fact that we can’t trust the media to give us accurate and honest information, and that we can barely trust politicians at all to do anything at all, does not “recommend” that we place our trust in nuclear power, when we could (and should) be pushing for renewable energy sources that involve much, much, much, much less risk, even if they get shaken down or flooded.

    Another way of saying this is this: I can trust your (Joe and Richard) technological expertise regarding whether it’s possible to build and operate safely, in an ideal or at least responsible world. If you say it is, it probably is, and I’ll take your words for it. But you two won’t be building the plants. You two won’t be the ones deciding whether to cut corners or not. You two won’t be the politicians who decide whether, and to what degree, the plants should be regulated and maintained. And so forth. So, can I trust that all these other things will be done responsibly and well? Something tells me ‘No!’, and that “something” is based on quite a bit of experience in companies and also watching the levels of irresponsibility that seem to be rising nearly every day.

    As you can tell, I’m a little bit “shaky” on this whole nuclear power thing. I was basically putting myself back into the “maybe yes” column, until I started thinking about the recent state of politics, the recent state of science-denial, BP and the Gulf Gusher, and now these problems in Japan. It seems to me that society is still too immature to handle big dangerous toys. Maybe in another 300 years we will have found ways to be more intelligent, more wise, and more responsible?

    Of course, one might respond that we “‘need’ nuclear power to grow, if we are to address climate change”. But is that really correct? Or is it giving up prematurely on other better solutions? Is it addressing one problem that we ought to be able to address in better ways, by embracing an approach that is bound to make big messes, eventually? I don’t know. But we, as a society and world, seem ill-equipped to build more and more nuclear power plants, safely, and to manage them safely. We may have access to the technologies, but we are wanting when it comes to responsibility and wisdom. At least, this is my sense of things this afternoon.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  37. Mike # 22 says:

    General design of the reactor building:

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BWR_Mark_I_Containment,_cutaway.jpg

    The reactors at Daiiki are numbered from north to south. The overhead crane seen in the wikimedia image travels north/south. The spent fuel pool would be just south and above of the reactor containment lid.

    Common storage pool directly behind No 4, with several hundred tons of spent fuel that requires constant cooling in pure water.

  38. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Just watched a CNN interview w/ SCEdison spokesman saying San Onofre was safe because it was designed for a 7.0 quake w/ 0.7 ground acceleration. Blitzer didn’t buy it and neither do I. Didn’t we learn from the NZ quake that they were surprised to have a 2.0 ground acceleration? And what about a tsunami from a 9.0 on the Cascadia plate which would reach San Onofre?

  39. Anne van der Bom says:

    Richard

    If we put a WWII-type effort in place (that you and I and most others here are fighting for), maybe in 10 years they could supply 10 per cent of our total energy usage today.

    Is that based on hard numbers of gut feeling?

    Germany is currently expanding their pv capacity at ~2% of electricity consumption per year. That’s 20% in 10 years. I would not label their EEG as a ‘WWII-type’ effort. And then tbey also do wind power and biomass and solar thermal.

    There is more energy use than electricity, but still a ‘WWII-type effort’ to reach 10% in 10 years is vastly overestimated.

  40. ToddInNorway says:

    Anne van der Bom @35, I agree, we will reach 10% total market penetration in ten years with renewables (not including hydroelectric) in a BAU trend from today. Growth in PV will be 50-70%/year for the next 10 years. If society chose to accelerate this growth it could be 100+%/year and we could see global annual, sustainable production of PV panels of 150 GW by 2020. Wind will likely be 100 GW sustainable, annual capacity production by 2016. Innovation cycles in both PV and wind are in fact speeding up, and unit production costs continue to fall and will likely be the cheapest new capacity of all types of energy by 2015 in sunny and windy areas, respectively.

  41. Mike Roddy says:

    Richard Brenne,

    You’re absolutely right. Neither the public nor the media is being provided with quality information about power costs. I’ve read several studies in the last few years, and they’re all over the place. This in spite of their being ordered by investment banks and public utilities.

    Power contracts are kept secret because, even though utilities are supposed to be public companies, they say it’s “proprietary”. Meanwhile, the studies that do come out don’t detail their methodology with respect to the discount rate, allowance for subsidies and externalities, how capital vs. operational and fuel costs are calculated, etc. etc. I doubt if even the Energy Department has good data here.

    One thing we know for sure: whatever it is per kwh, the cost of nuclear, coal, and gas is unacceptable, because vast health, environmental, and climate destruction are part of the package, and are not factored into economists’ data.

    Meanwhile, there has been a parade of questionable claims from renewable companies, too, especially things like algae and thin film, and even offshore wind. If they truly penciled out, utilities would be ordering them en masse.

    Can you help us here, Joe? What is the current installed cost of wind, solar thermal, PV utility scale, and geothermal and, just as important, how is this cost per kwh calculated? Has anyone foreseen the range of future impact of economies of scale and projected technological improvements? Many of us CP readers have statistics training, and can handle whatever economists- including energy economists and utility accountants- decide to throw at us, including the values and standard deviation of the variables used in future projections. We only request that they or someone better- someone I’m sure you know, Joe- detail it all, so we can understand it.

  42. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    In Australia the Murdoch apparat is leaping to the defence of nuclear energy. Quel surprise! In todays edition of that monument to yellow journalism, ‘The Fundament’ (aka The Australian) between the usual Islampohobia, hatred of the incumbent Rightwing government and barracking for the far Right Opposition and myriad other nuggets of propaganda masquerading as the ‘news’ or, ever more mirth-inducing, the ‘facts’, is a piece from ‘Spiked’. Now Spiked, a real favourite of The Fundament, is the latest incarnation of the ‘Living Marxism’ group, a bunch of libertarian Thatcherites, who thought it jolly japes to pose as New Age Commos in the 1990s and turned Living Marxism magazine into a vehicle for free market economics, total support for the West and hatred and contempt for environmentalism. They were associated for years with the mob that produced the stream of ecological denialist mockumentaries that Channel 4 in the UK specialised in, the most infamous The Great Global Warming Swindle. Well, as you might expect, the author, a Mr O’Neill, argues, more or less, that the media ought to ignore the nuclear disaster, and instead concentrate on the tsunami and its victims. It’s a familiar cheap trick of the Right. Pretend to be so overwhelmed with grief at the human tragedy that it is disrespectful to even recognise the other tragedy, one that so threatens the Right’s obsession with nuclear, in its war on renewable energy. Pretty much, apart from Lovelock, whose ideology is opaque (perhaps it is just ‘science’), the only people I see demanding nuclear to remedy a problem, greenhouse pollution, that they normally simply deny is a problem, are identifiably of the Right, and that, dear comrades, all other things being equal, condemns it, in my eyes at least. Guilt by association, an unfailingly accurate means to seek the truth, in my opinion at least.

  43. Solar Jim says:

    RE:

    “Insurers know that the results of a nuclear catastrophe would be ruinous on a scale that would overwhelm any private company, which is why they won’t insure nuclear plants. Instead, the U.S. government — which is to say taxpayers — takes on the liability for nuclear reactors.

    If one of the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. experiences a catastrophic failure, taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for the damages.”

    Concerning paragraph one, good first sentence since a nuclear meltdown can contaminate tens of thousands of square miles. However, the second sentence reference to “taxpayers – takes on the liability” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the legal construct of Indemnification. The 1957 Nuclear Insurance Indemnification Act does not transfer liability, it removes it. Removing liability from a legal group of individuals (a corporation) means that they have no fiduciary responsibility, under law. This is so, even if an activity could permanently contaminate an entire state. The industry covers some of the reactor loss but the real liability is to current and future generations in the surrounding nation or state.

    In the second paragraph “taxpayers will be on the hook to pay” again shows a fundamental misconception by confusing fiscal liability (“to pay”) with loss of use of home, city, state or country. If multiple full atomic meltdowns were to occur at Fukushima and fallout lands across the soils of Japan, then the third largest global economy and an ancient culture will cease to exist. Is that what “on the hook to pay” means?

    Modern nation-state economics, most especially for agendas of fuels and power, is an arbitrary construct of arrogance, ignorance and greed. The world seems to be suffering increasingly as we ride the consequences of centralized 20th Century war-based designs of Economics.

  44. Richard Brenne says:

    At (#33) I wrote “If we put a WWII-type effort in place (that you and I and most others here are fighting for), maybe in 10 years they (solar and wind) could supply 10 per cent of our total energy usage today.”

    Anne van der Bom (#35) responded: “Is that based on hard numbers or gut feeling?

    Germany is currently expanding their pv capacity at ~2% of electricity consumption per year. That’s 20% in 10 years. I would not label their EEG as a ‘WWII-type’ effort. And then tbey also do wind power and biomass and solar thermal.

    There is more energy use than electricity, but still a ‘WWII-type effort’ to reach 10% in 10 years is vastly overestimated,” Anne concluded.

    Anne, I wish and hope you’re right about this and I’m wrong, just as I wish every nation was Germany in terms of renewable energy, but there are about 200 that aren’t even close. It is Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act that has spurred an estimated two-thirds of Germany’s renewables. How close do you suppose the U.S., China, India, Russia or other large nations outside the EU are to implementing such laws?

    While maybe not quite a “WWII” type effort, Germany has known it needed additional sources of energy for most of a century when Allied oil and internal combustion engines defeated German coal and railroads during WWI. The Second World War was largely about Germany accessing oil (and inventing an ideology to excuse this – witness the right in the U.S. doing the same for decades now, with great danger lurking for the world as a result) and by the end of the war using mostly coal to liquids.

    Germany has been on a track to develop renewables since the oil shortages and price spikes of the 1970s, and for the most part never left that track unlike the U.S.. which was hypnotized into national wishful thinking by Ronald Reagan and his ideological successors.

    Despite Germany’s many triumphs, as of 2009 (the last complete year of records), Germany produced 34.6% of their electricity from oil, 21.7% from natural gas, 11.4% from lignite (domestic and about the world’s dirtiest) coal, 11.1% from mostly imported bituminous coal, 9 per cent from many other sources (they don’t list) and 1.5% from hydro and wind power. Here’s the link from Wikipedia on German Energy (which by the way is conflicted by the Wikipedia entry on German renewables listed below that, which claims 16% of Germany’s energy is from renewables, up from 6% in 2000 as you suggest):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Germany

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Germany

    And this is the model large country that has had many decades to understand and implement renewables.

    I’m talking about the world and everyone in it, including every currently fossil-fuel crazed economy like the U.S., China, India, Russia, etc.

    I’m also talking about 10 per cent of all global energy, not just electrical generation as you are.

    And by the way, Germany is planning to build 26 coal-fired power plants. Half of what Germany burns is lignite, as I said the dirtiest coal in the world. Germany isn’t near the ring of fire or a subduction zone like Japan or California, and tsunamis in Germany are also relatively rare. So celebrating the burning of more coal – especially here at CP – seems curious at best.

    Again, I hope you and ToddInNorway are right, but I’m afraid the shining example of Germany is not the best gut reaction to use, and hard figures to date (whatever they are) from the best example can’t be extrapolated to the world. Maybe if we could harness the energy of wishful thinking. . .

  45. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Thanks Jeff and Solar Jim. I thought nuclear power sounded like lunacy when I first heard about it all those many many moons ago.

    Why on Earth anybody is still arguing for it now is totally beyond me, ME

  46. Zetetic says:

    @ Richard Brenne #33:
    With all due respect your assumptions there are just flat out wrong, it would appear that you have been lied to. This isn’t surprising since the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries have been waging a misinformation campaign about renewables for decades now.

    First of all the USA already gets more than 6% from renewables (not 1%). Granted that is hardly enough, but I wasn’t referring to switching off everything but renewables today. But you seem to under several other misconceptions about renewable power.

    As to your other assumptions…
    Global energy demand can be cut by about 73% just by improving efficiency, and the USA is one of the lease efficient countries (per capita) on the planet.
    Efficiency could cut world energy use over 70 per cent

    If the USA mandated passive house style energy requirements for buildings and housing alone it would reduce the entire nation’s power use by about 36%. Such an efficiency improvement would almost be enough to eliminate shut down all of the cola plant in the USA without leaving people cold and in the dark. The less the USA wastes the less it needs to build new renewable plants to replace the dangerous and polluting sources the USA is currently using and the sooner we can get rid of our current dangerous sources.

    California already gets just under 20% from renewables (and it did that without raising rates), and managed to do so in a fairly short time (since 2006) without a WWII style push. They currently plan to be using 33% renewables by 2020. So right from the start your estimate of only 10% is laughably off base and already proven untrue in California, today.
    California gets 33% renewable mandate through senate 26-11

    Native American lands alone can supply 14% of the nations power from wind and 4.5 times the solar power needed for the entire USA!
    The native opportunity in America’s “Sputnik moment”

    Denmark is planing on getting 50% of it’s energy from wind alone by 2025.

    Scotland is already at over 27% renewables and plans on using 80% renewables by 2020!
    Scotland on track to hit tough targets on renewable energy

    As far as cost goes, in many some areas of the USA wind is already as cheap as the current market price of coal power (even leaving out the hidden costs) and in California Pasific Gas & Electric has contacted for solar power at rates cheaper than natural gas! Google it if you don’t belive me. And consider that this is with the real costs of coal, nuclear, and gas being hidden as externalities (that the renewables don’t have).

    So why do you think that it’s can’t be done? The answer is that you have been lied to by those that want to maintian the status quo of big government subsidized power projects in the hands of a few large corporations, and you seem to be using numbers of a small push to unfairly extrapolate for a major push.

    The only reason why most of the USA (aside from California) is using so little renewable power is due to self-fulfilling prophesy. The fossil and nuclear companies tell us it can’t be done and fight it every step of the way, so there is little progress made towards more renewables. Then the same lack of progress (due to their fighting it in the first place) is used by the same companies as “proof” that it can’t be done at all. Do you not see the problem with this?

  47. Richard Brenne says:

    Zetetic (#44) – Great! All problems solved!

    Below is Joe’s take on the wedges needed to get CO2 stabilized at 450 ppm before dropping it. It has bearing on my question that has now been misrepresented by three characters who’ve apparently escaped from the Pollyanna novel.

    http://climateprogress.org/2011/01/10/the-full-global-warming-solution-how-the-world-can-stabilize-at-350-to-450-ppm/

    I’d be fascinated to know Joe’s and any other experts estimation about how realistic, possible, and what it would take to get 10 per cent of all the world’s energy (not just electricity) from solar and wind (not all other renewables, especially hydro) in 10 years.

    My guess is that it will be very difficult to get 200 countries to do what California, Scotland and Germany hope to do. Thinking something difficult will be easy is like the mindset of both sides going into both the Civil War and World War I (when leaders and soldiers thought those wars would be over in weeks), a mindset that helped create and perpetuate those wars.

    I enjoy enthusiasm, passion, optimism and a positive view as much as the next person, but especially in the context of the full-cost accounting and honesty that comprise reality as well.

  48. Mike # 22 says:

    Richard Brenne, I read all of your comments with great interest. Your good will towards your fellow human being and for the world is clear to all, as is your unending courtesy.

    That being said, Zetetic has the right of it.

    Consider how quickly some technologies can sweep through society. Communications tools, computers, planes, lighting, advanced medicine. Photovoltaics are, after all, just a thin layer of cheap semiconductor. There is wind power virtually everywhere–we haven’t scratched the surface yet in terms of deploying appropriate generation. The Li-ion batteries in production today are cheap and powerful–yes, improvements will occur but it doesn’t matter, these batteries are ready today. Electric transportation. And efficiency, efficiency. Efficiency is a game changer.

    If the day ever comes where decarbonizing our economy becomes important to people, the tools are at hand already. The switch could happen very rapidly. White goods (appliances) and vehicles–just change what is on the production line and in ten or fifteen years, all the hardware is replaced. Energy storage–just sink a few hundred billion into manufacturing capacity for li-ion for ten years. PV–double production each year. Wind, ah wind, plenty of idle manufacturing floor space around the country. National super grid, plans are ready…

    This isn’t a technical issue. Technically, we can do this very quickly. The hold up is because dealing with carbon is not high on the to-do list. Yet.

  49. Richard Brenne says:

    Mike#22 (#46) and Zetetic (seemingly everywhere) – You win! Mike, I like your vision and Zetetic’s better than my own, and will do everything in my power to follow your vision.

    Mike Roddy alerted me to Lily’s Tomlin’s saying that “No matter how cynical you get, it’s never enough.” Maybe Mike, Gail, Leif and I can work in the cynicism department (and if we could harness the energy in that cynicism. . .) while you and Zetetic can head the visionary optimist department.

    As I’ve said many times, we need it all. Thanks again for your kind words and positive vision, Mike. I’ve never wanted someone else to be right and for me to be wrong more.

    Now to bike in the rain (again) to speak to my USGS and PSU geologist friends about Bill McGuire’s feeling that climate change is triggering more earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and volcanoes. . .

  50. Zetetic says:

    Richard Brenne @ #45 said:

    Zetetic (#44) – Great! All problems solved!

    No…not solved, but solvable. We have the technology, it’s mostly a matter of a lack of political will at this point.

    You came on this thread arguing that renewables can’t replace coal and implying that the only other piratical alternative was nuclear. That is clearly incorrect. The rest is now a matter of implementing and improving what we already have available.

    BTW your claim about Germany planing to build 26 new coal plants…did you notice that was from 2007? A little digging seems to have found out that the plans were scraped. Always be careful with using Wikipedia as a source, it’s best to try and verify when you can.

    I’d be fascinated to know Joe’s and any other experts estimation about how realistic, possible, and what it would take to get 10 per cent of all the world’s energy (not just electricity) from solar and wind (not all other renewables, especially hydro) in 10 years.

    Actually Joe just had an article along similar lines (focused on the USA though) in the “With new nuclear power on pause, here’s a practical, affordable (and safe) clean electricity plan.” article, I don’t know what you though of it though since your only comment there so far was about Mulga. Here are some other more globally focused articles that are along the lines of what you want.
    Going “All The Way” With Renewable Energy?
    How to get to 100 percent renewables globally by 2050
    and a more aggressive
    Study: Shifting the world to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030 – here are the numbers

    My guess is that it will be very difficult to get 200 countries to do what California, Scotland and Germany hope to do.

    Probably, since there are always vested interests and ideologues to overcome. Just look at the stink that some groups are making over the phase out of incandescent light bulbs in the USA. In California though, they took a very simple and relatively easy approach of simply requiring the utilities to provided a set percentage from renewable sources by a specific date, then let the utilities decide what they wanted to do or who to contract with.

    Do your really think though that it’ll be a great deal easier to replace the same fossil fuel fired plants with nuclear when nuclear is so much more expensive and more dangerous? That don’t see how that makes any sense.

    I enjoy enthusiasm, passion, optimism and a positive view as much as the next person, but especially in the context of the full-cost accounting and honesty that comprise reality as well.

    Agreed, but also don’t forget that nuclear power is already more expensive than the renewables. The other problem is that accountants and economists tend to be very bad at estimating the cost of a disaster if things don’t go as planed, just look at Japan. The cost of failure is often ignored or underplayed, and even with that underestimate of the true costs/risks, the cost of nuclear is still more.

  51. Chris Winter says:

    It may not be the best time to debate the merits of nuclear power, but everyone else is having a go, so I’ll chime in too.

    I’m on record here (and elsewhere) as favoring nuclear power plants that are thoughtfully designed and competently run. Older designs have their problems, but still can be adequately safe in my opinion — given sufficiently high values of “thoughtful” and “competent” in their implementation. If you look at the history of nuclear power (and I have*), you’ll notice that many of the accidents and incidents are due to carelessness. Somebody checks wiring tunnels using a candle for light. Technicians move sensors so they don’t give those troublesome radiation readings. Weld x-rays are faked.

    I’ve heard it said that a lot of the problem stems from operating nuclear reactors like any other heat source. I think there’s something to that. We’re going to be stuck with nuclear plants for some time to come. We’d best make sure they’re as safe as they can be.

    * This may be of interest: http://www.chris-winter.com/Digressions/Nuke-Goofs/Nuke-Goofs.html

  52. Zetetic says:

    @ Chris Winter #49:
    Respectfully, the only problem with that position is that even when well designed/built/managed there is always the unexpected or deliberate acts (like terrorism).

    I used to be in favor of nuclear too, but renewables have advanced greatly, both in effectiveness and cost. This has made nuclear become a potentially very dangerous (even when well designed/built/managed), heavily subsidized (from cradle to grave), and expensive redundant solution to AGW.

    It just doesn’t make sense IMO when renewables and efficiency improvements are both cheaper and have little to no risk (with the exception of hydro and even that can be mitigated) in the event of terrorism, war, or natural disaster.

  53. I think the Japanese workers at Fukushima should try pouring liquid nitrogen into the reactors. Once the fuel rods have substantially cooled off and temperatures have leveled off (i.e. risen above freezing) then they should resume to gradually spray seawater into the reactors.

  54. Zetetic says:

    @ Jeff Couillard:
    It’s a creative idea, but I don’t think that it’s practical under the circumstances.

    Even assuming that the workers could get enough liquid nitrogen there in the first place (many of the roads are down for example) they’d have to get what water is already there out, without exposing the fuel rods. If they tried to freeze the water too then they would need even more liquid nitrogen. I don’t see how that would be realistically possible.

    Additionally if something that cold hits something that hot it might shatter the metal and fuel making things worse.

  55. Chris Winter says:

    “It just doesn’t make sense IMO when renewables and efficiency improvements are both cheaper and have little to no risk (with the exception of hydro and even that can be mitigated) in the event of terrorism, war, or natural disaster.”

    Nuclear doesn’t make sense for new sources in the near term, I agree. There’s no technical reason why, with energy conservation measures and renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal, we cannot make a huge dent in our CO2 emissions. Of course, political resistance has been holding things back for a long time.

    But as I said, there will be 104 nuclear plants operating in the U.S. for some time to come. Even if we shut all those down tomorrow, we’d have to deal with the spent fuel accumulated so far — and all at once, probably. It makes more sense to operate those plants for their design lifetimes and deal with the fuel a little at a time.

    As for protecting them from terrorist attacks, I think they could be adequately protected at relatively minimal cost. I heard yesterday, for example, that Mohammed Atta’s crew gave up on the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (up the Hudson from NYC) as a target because they assumed it was protected by missiles that would shoot down the airliner they planned to hijack. Of course it is not so protected. Indeed, I suspect security of nuclear plants is not much better today than in the 1960s. (Read what the late Theodore Taylor had to say in The Curve of Binding energy about the West Valley, NY fuel reprocessing plant.)

    Our open society is full of soft targets, however, and will remain so no matter how much we spend. Nuke plants are not among the softest.

    Finally, I think advanced nuclear plants have a role to play in our energy future, and that we should continue development of those designs.

    My outlook on this is spelled out in the Introduction to “Nuke-Goofs”. I probably should have posted that URL before: http://www.chris-winter.com/Digressions/Nuke-Goofs/NukIntro.html

  56. Zetetic says:

    @ Cris Winter said:

    Nuclear doesn’t make sense for new sources in the near term, I agree. There’s no technical reason why, with energy conservation measures and renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal, we cannot make a huge dent in our CO2 emissions. Of course, political resistance has been holding things back for a long time.

    I agree with this 100%.

    As for closing down the existing plants, I never argued such a position, with the exception of those that we know are immediately unsafe, or very risky, the others will need to be phased out as additional power is brought online to compensate since so much of the USA is still dependent on nuclear power.

    My position is simply that we shouldn’t build anymore, and may want to consider phasing out the rest as soon as is reasonable possible based on available power generation and risk. Fortunately, California (which has plants in earthquake country and near the ocean) is perhaps in a better position to phase out it’s nuclear plants since it already uses nearly 20% renewables and is targeting 33% by 2020.

    As to terrorists, while I agree that nuclear plants are far from the softest targets around, I can easily think of a few ways that even a anti-aircraft battery can be dealt with by terrorists. But I think I’ll avoid describing them online in a public thread for obvious reasons.

    As to the nuclear future…I can definitely see a use for them in the military and space, although I’d prefer to not see them on things that are likely to get blown up in a war. But for commercial use, I don’t think that they are a good idea until we get to fusion (which is a big ways off). Even 4th generation nuclear plants will still have their risks, when they finally become available, even though they will be safer than the current generation.