Sep 16

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Long Now: The Arguments for Nuclear Power

On this past Friday night, the Long Now Foundation's Seminars on Long Term Thinking offered a provocative session from Gwyneth Cravens and Rip Anderson entitled "Power To Save the World". According to Stewart Brand's email writeup of the session:

In the early 1980s Gwyneth Cravens was one of the protesters against the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant on Long Island, and also participated in ban-the-bomb rallies. After 15 years of deepening familiarity with nuclear power, she says she still would ban the bomb, but she now regrets that the Shoreham reactor was shut down.

Who changed her mind was a nuclear expert at Sandia Labs in Albuquerque, D. Richard Anderson, known as "Rip." "Here was someone who thinks in thousands of years, about climate, about nuclear waste storage," she said. "He applies to nuclear issues the same probabilistic risk assessment that helps us understand what we're facing with climate change."

One concept that altered Cravens' perspective was realizing what "baseload" requires. Rip Anderson, on the stage with her, explained that baseload is the fundamental currency of grid power. It is massive power constantly available 24/7. It comes from only three sources--- fossil fuels, hydro-electric dams, and nuclear. Hydro is maxed out. Fossil fuels have to be cut back to slow global warming. That leaves only nuclear growth to handle the expected doubling of energy demand in the world by 2030.

Anderson added that his first scientific discipline was oceanography, so one of his greatest concerns about CO2 loading of the atmosphere is that the resulting carbonic acid in the oceans is dissolving the calcifying organisms and could effectively end the crucial carbon sink that oceans provide.

Cravens went into detail about the harm brought by coal, which currently provides 51% of US electricity (while hydro is 7%, nuclear 20%). Estimates are that coal pollution causes 24,000 deaths a year in the US, 400,000 a year in China (not counting the 5,000 who die annually in Chinese coal mines).

She also mentioned the still-incomplete science of the effects of low radiation--- the amounts below 10,000 millirems. People encounter much higher levels of natural radiation at higher elevations and in some radon-rich areas, but there is no indication of higher cancer rates in those places. The fears of long-lingering cancer effects in the Chernobyl region have not proven out.

Comparing the environmental footprint of nuclear versus coal was the most persuasive mind-changer for Cravens. Coal involves vast quanities of mine spoil, vast quantities of fuel, vast quantities of pollution (including mercury and uranium), and vast quantities of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere. Nuclear, by contrast, uses the most concentrated form of energy in the world, the plants are small, and the waste amounts to one Coke can per person's lifetime of energy use.

There is said to be no geological repository for nuclear waste yet, but Rip Anderson pointed out that the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) in a deep salt formation in New Mexico has been operating since 1999. It now handles only military waste, but there is no reason except political that it could not take all of our civilian spent fuel.

Two questions from the audience addressed possible limitations on fast growth of nuclear energy in the world. One was, "Won't we quickly run out of uranium?" Anderson said that 10% of US electricity currently comes from recycled Soviet nuclear warheads, and we haven't begun to draw the energy from decommissioned US warheads. The price for uranium ore has been so low in recent decades that mines closed and discovery stopped. Now that the price is rising, mines are reopening and new reserves are being found. (They're mostly in Canada and Australia, some in the US.) Meanwhile, spent fuel in the US still has 98% of its energy in it. Once we reprocess the spent fuel the way the rest of the world does, we will extract more of that energy, and the final amount of waste will be drastically smaller.

Second question: "Are there enough nuclear engineers in the pipeline to deal with a worldwide nuclear renaissance?" Answer: No. That's the most limiting resource at this point.

There's a third question, which I've previously heard Stewart himself address, when he first turned heads by coming out in favor of nuclear power: how effective is long term storage of nuclear waste? Stewart's answer was typically provocative. As I recall it, he said something like this: "We don't know, but our framing of the question shows a failure of long term thinking. We've all been imagining that we have to solve the nuclear waste problem for all time to come. In fact, we only have to solve it for a few hundred years. Either by then technology will have advanced sufficiently that it will no longer be a problem, or we will have regressed so far that a few nuclear waste dumps in out of the way places will be the least of our worries."

What do you think?

tags: the long view  | comments: 45   | Sphere It

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Comments: 45

  Steve Borsch [09.16.07 10:42 AM]

Like others, I too was a bit taken aback by someone of Brand's stature -- and one whom is deeply involved in thinking about the long now -- coming out in favor of an expansion of nuclear-generated energy.

What he did was open me to thinking of nuclear again as a viable option. Next I saw the 60 Minutes piece on the French nuclear recycling program which spurred me to read more about this recycling technology which, surprisingly, seems viable *today*. Brand's answer to the question of long term storage of nuclear waste being " will have advanced sufficiently that it will no longer be a problem..." is one I embrace since today's inefficient recycling is tomorrow's efficient one...especially when the world collective consciousness (and incentives to figure this out) is as connected as it is right now.

Finally, take the seemingly obvious answer to the question of how to shift from oil-based automotive energy use toward what many believe is the easiest and fastest-to-deploy alternative, plug-in hybrids. Moving to hydrogen as a fuel source would require a wholesale infrastructure changeover while electrical plugs are absolutely everywhere (unless you're searching for one while holding your laptop in a wifi enabled coffee shop...but I digress). If everyone is plugging in, even at night, demand will soar requiring significantly more power generation than carbon-based fuels could deliver.

My layman's $.02...

  Simone Brunozzi [09.16.07 12:29 PM]

I agree.
Uranium waste is a much smaller and tractable problem than sparse (and diffuse) "coal" and "oil" pollution.
Also, the real price of using uranium as an energy is lower than fossil fuel energy... this means that using uranium, the world gets richer.

  Michael L [09.16.07 01:02 PM]

It's seems that some of the justification for nuclear in the excerpt from the talk, rests on the assumption that energy production must be centralized and distributed over the grid? If we question this assumption, is the case for nuclear as strong?

  Greg Wilson [09.16.07 01:42 PM]

I used to teach programming courses to physicsts at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and had quite a few after-hours discussions with some of my students. I was surprised by how many were *opposed* to expansion of nuclear power generation. As one said, "You show me how to do it without giving more countries the material and know-how to build nuclear weapons, and I'll sign up." William Langewiesche's book "The Atomic Bazaar" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007, 0374106789) lays the case out; I have yet to hear a convincing rebuttal.

  Daniel Haran [09.16.07 01:43 PM]

Madness. The lead times for building enough nuclear plants and the cost overruns in both building and maintenance are the main factors making nuclear obsolete.

There is an opportunity cost when sinking so much capital in the nuclear option. We could be using that capital on improving efficiency and accelerating growth in wind and solar. Wind and solar are particularly attractive - growing at 30-40% a year they go down in price with economies of scale. They are already cheaper than nuclear energy, and we could accelerate this trend so they become cheaper than coal or natural gas.

We can hack around the issue of baseload generation. Networked appliances could be set up to consume or stop consuming based on supply. Water heaters could fill their tanks when the wind is blowing. Freezers could pre-emptively cool down to avoid having to turn on during periods of high demand. The plug-in hybrids that are seen as a reason for nuclear power plants can also be used by houses to avoid drawing energy from the grid.

With efficiency changes, those technologies could allow us to make full use of intermittent generation. Baseload isn't such a big deal, unless you ignore demand-side management.

More than simply punting the problem of nuclear waste for future generations, the nuclear option is also one of the least likely ways for us to stop global warming. We need to spend our money on technologies that are already cheaper.

  Jordan [09.16.07 03:22 PM]

Daniel, your assertions that our problem can be fixed by wind and solar power are disingenuous at best, and maliciously untruthful at worst.

To power our country with either (or both) of those options would require us to blanket an entire state (we don't need Wyoming, do we?) in generators. And should we begin talking about the cost that wind power has on local aviary species?

Yes, wind and solar generators are cheaper and produce no waste products, but they will never be powerful, efficient, or numerous enough to provide the kind of energy that is necessary to supplant fossil fuels. The cost to even begin doing so would far outweigh nuclear implementation either in land or duplication.

Moreover, your suggestions for making our appliances more efficient are admirable, but ultimately a drop in the bucket. The vast majority of energy consumption comes from commercial sources, not water heaters and freezers. And the cost to begin outfitting the entire country in such efficiency regulators would vastly outpace the cost of building new nuclear plants. Not to mention the manpower -- where are you going to find all these people to build and install efficiency regulators from Los Angeles to New York City? And who's going to pay them?

Get with the program: nuclear energy is clean and available. The field has grown by leaps-and-bounds since the last plant was built 20 years ago, and make plants far safer than current solutions.

Nuclear alarmists do nothing but delay the inevitable while we continue to suffer under a lack of affordable, clean power. How much longer are we going to wait, debating whether "natural" sources can do the trick, before we actually implement the solution that we've had around for 30 years?

  Nat [09.16.07 03:30 PM]

Nuclear plant decommission costs are also awful (check, for example, UK's nightmares).

The WIPP waste disposal is only meant for transuranic waste. In other words: not for hot stuff (high level waste). The short version is: hot stuff is heat-producing, WIPP is a salt bath (sort of) and (casket corrosion happens in such a context. Therefore saying that it may store all nuclear waste is, as far as I understand, absurd.

"the French nuclear recycling program"... I don't know what "information" was presented about this in the US but here, in France (I'm French and live there), the last huge related research (the 'Superphenix' plant) was a failure (60 billiard French Francs lost) and more modern approaches are costly and not enough generic and practical. Burying the waste (by the ANDRA at Bure, Meuse Department) is the approach du jour and many, here, protest against it.

Renewable sources potential is growing and the amount of energy produced in the US thanks to them is already approx 83% (6.8 to 8.2) of the nuclear-produced part. Even with maxed-out hydro there is something to do there, while saving energy. I'm all with Daniel Haran, there.

Moreover we are only talking about gridpower (about 40% of the global amount of energy consumed in the US). Moving to electric cars will be a major overhaul, and many other huge oil (as a source of energy) consumers just cannot switch fast, or even switch at all.

"probabilistic risk assessment" is neat but doesn't shows that there will be no disaster. If a huge mishap happens somewhere do we have serious reasons to believe that rescue will be more efficient than, for example, during Katrina's visit? The Soviets forced/lured approx 600000 guys in order to limit Chernobyl's pollution, who will be on track for this in the US?

Add to this dissemination of atomic weaponry-related technology and terrorism (for example dirty bombs)...

  Thomas Lord [09.16.07 05:11 PM]

I think it is bad social policy to try to decide social policy based on the reductionist, polarizing, aggressively question framing efforts of popularizers like Brand, Rip, and Cravens.

Is anything gained, at all, by asking people to take a stand "for or against nuclear power plants?" Isn't that like taking a firm stand "for or against farms," or "for or against nightclubs" or any other broad category? I mean: it does nothing but harm to polarize around such removed-from-anything-practical abstractions.

If one day we want to shut down a project to build Shoreham than, fine, let us make our case against that project. For this, we do not need to invent some overarching principle about nuclear plants in general. Whatever broad theories you might have, if they are true, surely just apply them to the project at hand and explain it in a way so that the project at hand stands on its own merits. Don't ask me to take a metaphysical view on nukes in general.

If its idiotic to be "against nuke plants in general" then its just as idiotic to be "pro nuke plants!" What the heck are you talking about when you make such pronouncements? What plants? The one in the imagination? The one's our grandkids might build? The one down the street? Around the globe? Why would any sane person decide to be for or against all of these things at once?

That overreaching for the overarching metaphysics of a politically charged term leads inevitably to reductionism to the point of oversimplification. You can see that in several of the critiques of Rip and Cravens in the comments above.

Politically speaking, wouldn't we all be far, far better off if the normative attitude was more like a careful skepticism and appreciation for the complexities of each plant and proposed plant?

"Cheerleading is dangerous,"

  Hmmm [09.16.07 06:21 PM]

Apres moi, le deluge.

  anonymous [09.16.07 06:22 PM]

No one on a bicycle has ever been run over by a plutonium atom. A Prius is more of an risk to life than a nuclear plant.

  Andy Wong [09.16.07 06:55 PM]

Those like Daniel in favor of Wind and Solar simply ignored the concept of Baseload.

Apart from base load, wind power and solar power are only clean if you design the equipments in US, manufacture them in China or other 3rd world countries, and then use in the US. That is, ship the pollution parts of the life cycle of these clean powers to China, use the only the clean parts in the US. And then, let's blame China.

However, do China and the US sit in the same planet Earth?

  Tomo in Kyoto [09.16.07 07:00 PM]

Japan, the world's second industrial power, could not survive economically without nuclear power. We have been using it successfully for decades.

  Caroline Webb [09.16.07 07:22 PM]

I heard Gwyneth and Rip speak last Friday, Sept 14th 2007 . These people are motivated by care for the planet. They are not raving, not reckless, they know a lot, and they have given thought - a lot more than I have or most of the rest of us.

Rip Anderson was trained as an oceanographer. He says it is the evidence of pH changing in the oceans that is stirring him into a fever of concern. If carbonic acid in the oceans, deriving from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, continues to increase, the result will be a devastating effect on all marine life because carbonic acid prevents shells forming, and does a host of other kinds of damage to marine organisms at the smaller scale of things and, as we all know, those smaller things feed all the bigger guys... His point is that the oceans show signs of no longer being the CO2 sinks they have served as for the last 100 years or so. pH is pH - no way round it. It is changing. The implication is that not only do we cease to be able to eat the fish and shellfish that we are used to (all over the world, millions, or billions are dependent on this food source) but that we are heading into irreversible climate change. We are heading into the prospect of all economic life, all cultural life, all domestic life all over the globe now being potentially up-ended - and I, for one, will not allow that to go ahead without giving a LOT of thought to the possibility for nuclear power to help us deal with the issues in the immediate and most likely in the longer term as well...

After all there is enough uranium on the planet, much of it in the oceans, to see through the necessity for energy for the next 4 billions years or so.. That counts as a renewable energy and it is time for us to revise our definitions of 'renewable energy'.

We have to take action immediately. Climate change is not a remote possibility. I view it as an emergency situation right now.

I think that we have to weigh up the risks of spilling the waste products of coal, oil and gas combustion all over the planet in a completely uncontrolled way, with reckless regard for all of life now and in the future, versus burying some nuclear waste far beneath the ground where no terrorist attacker could easily get into it. Is it really beyond us as an advanced civilization to manage to guard the waste sites with sufficient power and intelligence to defeat would-be attackers? For hundreds of years? Come on, of course it isnt.

As for the question of an attack on a nuclear plant by some madman in an aeroplane, the likelihood is that they would not break through the containment building concrete and be able to dig down into the earth where the reactors are sited in modern plants. Below ground.

And even if they did, and some radiation escaped, the realpolitik is that we have to be ready for risks, accident, calamity, pathos and tragedy on a small scale if we are to avert planetary levels of the same thing. Why Burn Up the PLANET for the sake of not being able to face the reality that some of us might die early?? For goodness sake, where do we find the bottom line here and know what the most sane decision is?

It is not a case of either nuclear OR wind/solar/tide. It is a case of BOTH. It is not a case of centralized versus distributed. It is both.

I urge readers to go to the LongNow Foundation website in a week or so to view the talk by the brave souls Rip Anderson and Gwyneth Cravens, on video. They are brave because it is not fashionable to stick your neck out and say that caring for the planet means going nuclear as fast as possible, while still encouraging the adoption of other renewable energies as well through all possible fiscal means. Both sources of energy are needed and both need fiscal support.

I think it is time for all anti-nuclear proponents to do some more research and be quiet for a while, while they give in-depth thought to the issue of which type of energy is causing the greatest harm - and, given that everyone wants a better standard of living on this Earth, there is no way that in the immediate term, all those billions of people are going to be served by the current level of solar/wind/tide technologies. Today those technologies stand at approx 2% of total energy usage. For me, just looking at that figure: 2% , is sufficient to make me realize that there is no chance that the technologies can progress fast enough and far enough to take care of the industrial and other demands that are now in process. If someone out there knows that there is a way of shifting 98% of demand onto those technologies in a matter of two decades, then speak up. I remain completely skeptical of such a thing ever happening. You would have to subsidize solar energy to such a high extent that the economies of the world would shut down...

Nuclear energy is a gift of nature just as surely as fossil fuels are. Let us learn to live with the reality of there being no guarantees of safety in this life. Americans have to shift their attitudes real fast. I speak as Brit and we are in the same boat.

  Thomas Lord [09.16.07 08:44 PM]


It remains completely unclear whether there is any important distinction between "all the nukes we smartly build out in a rapid shift" and "all the green-spotted unicorns in the world".

There's no point in just "voting" on the phrase "nuclear plants".


  edward [09.16.07 09:10 PM]

George Soros Versus Warren Buffet

Both of them are elites of elites in investment sector, yet they are quite different.

Wealth creation: Warren Buffet by direct long-term investing on other public companies through its holding company named Berkshire Hathaway, which main business lies in insurance; while George Soros by hedge fund management
Amount of assets: Warren Buffet > George Soros

Impacts to global economy: George Soros > Warren Buffet, especially during late 1990s’ Asia financial crisis

Influence to the society: George Soros > Warren Buffet, George Soros is much more philosophical than Warren Buffet, well-known books include The Alchemy of Finance, Soros on Soros: Staying Ahead of the Curve, George Soros on Globalization and The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror (the latest release). George Soros is more open on disclosing how he thinks and acts on investing. Warren Buffet has not published anything so far, except his annual letters to the shareholders of his holding

Please note Jim Rogers was George Soros’s partner during the early years of Quantum Fund (was originally named Double Eagle Fund, and then renamed Soros Fund), during the interview, published in Soros on Soros, Soros acknowledged on Jim Rogers’ contribution to Quantum Fund in those days such as on identifying the rising potential of defense sector, and he added one remark, all of investment decisions was made by him, while Jim Rogers conducted all of research and analysis. They respected with each other very much. Jim Rogers was much more cynical towards Wall Street mainstream than that of Soros.

Of course, Jim still is, as an vivid proof, you may check his 2 rounds interviews with our Frontier Visionary Interview at, they are al great minds, all very philosophical, ascending from technological and scientifical

Frontier Blog - search but not REsearch

  Nat [09.17.07 01:42 AM]

Baseload: I did not see any serious reference on the fact that renewable and clean energy sources cannot provide it, or an equivalent service.

Some, for example, think that solar cannot be used because it barely produces at night. This is not relevant because of the mix of sources (solar will not be the only source, just as nuclear isn't right now) and grid effect (electricity travels, for example from a solar-bathed region to others, even if it implies losses. This is already done for all existing sources).

Moreover we are only thinking into the 'centralized power production' frame, which (as stated by Michael), may not be relevant.

Wind and solar power may produce a fair amount of energy. Does somebody here think that Denmark is a third-world country? They try hard to save, sometimes by clever means, and favor renewables-clean sources to the point which produces approx 1/4 of their electricity: 4+ times more since 1993, and rising, while the US could only enjoyed 2+ times... from 1949 to 2006!.

This does not mean that Denmark is smarter or more lucky than any other country. Useful innovation, in those energy-related field, needs fair amounts of money which is simply not available in countries using fair amounts of other types of sources. A country has to decide to provide adequate allocations, to really invest and work to save and to switch to other sources, and then many problems slowly disappear (see Denmark, Germany, Spain...). After allocating ridiculous resources to renewable R&D (less than 1 per thousand of the amounts granted to other means), those sources account for approx 2% woldwide: there is no surprise.

Pursuing both ways (nuclear and renewables, or even all renewables) is probably out of reach: the R&D implied may be to expensive or, if we cut corners, take too long.

Let's also note that many nuclear-related problems aren't solved after decades of costly research: there is no clean solution for waste, no absolutely sure plant, no serious way to really extract a fair proportion of the total amount of energy contained in fuel (this will reduce waste-related problems), no sure way to avoid dissemination...

Renewables does not imply to 'blanket an entire state', for example because various useless places (deserts?) and efficient setups (for example offshore windfarms or decentralized production) are already proven. Nor do the production of related equipment imply large amounts of pollutions anymore (this was true for old-generation photovoltaic cells, but not for new ones which are also less costly and more efficient and durable).

Energy saving, even at the appliance level, is possible and even already enforced by regulations and public funds in many countries, and can make a difference.

Japanese nuclear-plants (about 30% of gridpower, not "could not survive economically" w/o nuclear is somewhat exaggerated) show that even this well-organized country can have some serious mishap. See, for example, the Tokaimura accident: for the IAEA, which is absolutely pro-nuclear, it was caused by "human error and serious breaches of safety principles" (there were numerous other mishaps, for example at the Mihama power plant). See, on the upper-managing level, the awful scandal of TEPCO (falsification of safety inspection reports) and various other problems, often related to lies. Is someone seriously confident upon the guys in charge? A wind or solar farm just cannot lead to similar problems.

Nuclear is often touted as a perfect answer to carbon-dioxyde 'pollution', but it isn't because the major part (from 60% to 90%) of it is not produced by electricity sources. Nuclear powerplant or clean-energy sources of gridpower will not make a real difference. To illustrate this say that even France, albeit it fights hard for a long time in order to avoid using oil (even when it comes to cars!), is simply not able to cope with it.

Warren Buffet, who knows what insuring (and therefore risk) means, thinks that nuclear explosion, not just a terrorist attack ((...)) is certain to happen ((... in ...)) about the next century. He was quoted as saying "I would regard the importance of reducing the probability as terribly meaningful.". As he was "rarely" proven wrong, we may give a thought to reducing the risk (dissemination, waste adequate for a dirty bomb...).

"Cheerleading is dangerous", but reasoning upon serious data, with references, is not. Calling it "cheerleading" does not replace a similarly backed critic.

  Dan [09.17.07 01:50 AM]

"In the early 1980s Gwyneth Cravens was one of the protesters against the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant on Long Island, and also participated in ban-the-bomb rallies."

How nice. Too bad she's lost her way since then.

"I think it is time for all anti-nuclear proponents to do some more research and be quiet for a while..."

Of course you wish that, commenter. That's the only way you (and Dick Cheney and Tony Blair) are going to win this debate.

  Rex [09.17.07 03:34 AM]

"How effective is long term storage of nuclear waste?"

The storage of nuclear waste is the biggest problem. Most of methods employed are temporary and no permanent solution is available. Especially permanent storage of spent fuel rods is big issue.

The Temporary methods for the storage of spent fuel rods are:

1. Fuel Rod Storage Pool (in which Rods are placed in a pool to cool down)

2. Dry Cask Storage Containers (putting the waste in reinforced casks)

Permanent disposal

The low level waste can be buried under the surface of the earth. But the disposal of high-level waste is big problem. However the most suitable option so far is burying the waste in the ground. This is called "deep geological disposal”. But it must be stored in an area where there is little groundwater flowing through. If ground water does flow through a waste storage site, it could erode the containment canisters and carry waste away into the environment.

New waste disposal technologies are Reprocessing and High Temperature Breeder Reactors

But at the end , there is no permanent and reliable solution.

  Daniel Haran [09.17.07 08:57 AM]

Jordan: the problem with birds is mostly bunk. New, bigger turbines run much more slowly, and are less of a risk than smokestacks and sky-scrapers, and orders of magnitude smaller than domestic cats.

A lot of surface currently goes unused - rooftops. BIPV - building-integrated photovoltaics could play a huge role there.

Wind is growing 30-40% a year. Costs go down with every doubling, like with every other mass-produced technology we know and love.

Andy: even if we used coal to build the wind turbines and ship them half way around the world, the EROEI is still very good, and faster than building a nuclear plant.

We shouldn't ignore the concept of baseload, but we have technology to deal with it now. It's just less of a big deal to have slightly intermittent supply.

  James Aach [09.17.07 09:28 AM]

I wish to point out that there is another book Stewart Brand has endorsed that can give readers a good inside view of the real world of nuclear power, good and bad. It's far different than what most pundits, politicians, reporters and academic experts on all sides of the issue think. I know - I've been in the nuclear industry for over twenty years. (But I like windmils too.) We'll make better decisions about our energy future if we first understand our energy present. "Rad Decision" is a technothriller filled with the typical mayhem that also covers power generation basics and nuclear in particular. It is available at no cost to readers at (reader reviews are in the homepage comments) and it's also in paperback at online retailers. (I get no royalities.) So take a look at Rad Decision and gain some needed perspective.

James Aach

"I'd like to see Rad Decision widely read." - Stewart Brand.

  Karen Street [09.17.07 02:02 PM]

Thanks for the synopsis, I look forward to hearing the talk when it's posted.

Of course wind and solar are part of the answer to climate change. Of course nuclear power is as well. Denmark may favor renewables, but the great majority of its electricity comes from fossil fuels. We need both renewables and nuclear power.

One question to those who claim Price-Anderson is an enormous subsidy: um, how much have we been subsidizing nuclear power to date with this Act? How much does that come to /kWh?

  Nat [09.17.07 02:26 PM]

> Denmark ((...)) great majority of its electricity comes from fossil fuels.

Indeed, because they are in the process of switching. They aim to produce most of their electricity thanks to clean-renewable sources, and so far they reached the stages planned. Rejecting this approach because it cannot be done in a few years is not realistic.

The Price-Anderson Act case is pretty simple: there will be no nuclear industry without it because no insurer accepts to fully cover a disaster, therefore the federal gov has to do it. As far as I know there is no other industry benefiting from such a huge gift, failing to obtain a required insurance policy usually puts directly out of business.

The real cost of nuclear energy is very difficult to assess because the gov takes care of many aspects of it thanks to various budgets, not always allocated to it, for example on the R&D side. Moreover some other hidden costs include the real decommission costs, as seen in the UK. In the US the real cost of waste storage is unknown because it has not really begun. As a matter of fact the real total cost, for one avoiding the "après moi le déluge" way of thinking, will only be known when the last waste will cease to be dangerous. "Après moi le déluge (de chauds souvenirs)".

  Thomas Lord [09.17.07 02:34 PM]


"Reasoning upon serious data," sure, but let's get the ontological categories right:

There isn't a single meaningful decision to be made, anywhere, that hinges on the general question of "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to nuclear plants in general. The social policy decisions are all about specific projects and the details of each specific project tend to matter, a lot.

Stepping back for the bigger picture: when I look around the business landscape, I see exactly the opposite of this kind of policy-making going on (and to good effect): Investors are gambling like happy drunks on energy in every direction they can find. So, yes, solar, wind, biofuel, petrofuel, nuclear, tidal, geothermal, and hydro are all, to some extent, competing for the same pool of (mostly private) money. This is very good.

To minimize risk, that private money will tend to favor plays that can be bootstrapped quickly, with minimal investment. For example, one firm might try to make first black ink selling solar panels for homeowners, another might optimize for office parks, a third doing wind farms for northern regions, and a fifth planning replacement reactors for California.

That's a huge win because there is constant feedback between investment levels and results produced, as well as an aggressive effort to reduce "the problem" to as many separate "solvable cases" as possible -- trying to make as much of the problem a "long tail" as possible, so to speak.

It's better to not say "yes or no?" to any one broad category of technology. It's much more important to get good at continuously valuing current projects.

When leaders polarize issues in this way they are just interfering with efficient decision making: they are creating a gaussian distribution of superstitious prejudices across the public, and then actual decisions need to navigate around those randomly scattered obstacles.


  Thomas Lord [09.17.07 02:42 PM]

This quote from Nat is true but says little about nuclear power.

The real costs of medicine, agriculture, real estate speculation, automotive detailing, and tatoo parlors are all similarly difficult to assess, for similar reasons.

The problem is that Nat's idea of "real total cost" has no basis in reality -- so of course we can't measure it.


The real cost of nuclear energy is very difficult to assess because the gov takes care of many aspects of it thanks to various budgets, not always allocated to it, for example on the R&D side. Moreover some other hidden costs include the real decommission costs, as seen in the UK. In the US the real cost of waste storage is unknown because it has not really begun. As a matter of fact the real total cost, for one avoiding the "après moi le déluge" way of thinking, will only be known when the last waste will cease to be dangerous. "Après moi le déluge (de chauds souvenirs)".

  Nathaniel Ford [09.17.07 03:18 PM]

I work in the domestic energy production industry, and the research my company has done leads me to strongly believe that nuclear or not, renewable or not, and even fossil fuels or not, we have a much bigger problem; Consumption.

Currently, according to the US Dept. of Energy, we're hovering at about 4,000 billion kilowatt hours of usage - which by 2030 will rise to 5,500 billion kilowatt hours. Fossil fuel prices are already very much on the rise, and, as you say, hydro is tapped out. Nuclear would help the situation - but our lead time left to build the plants is growing increasingly small to make up a 40% increase in the next fifteen years.

More and more equipment comes out onto the market that uses electricity. On top of that, there is a vast amount of legacy systems that use electricity inefficiently. With the advent of hybrid car technology, you might also reasonably expect a boom in electricity usage as our energy consumption previously drawn by internal combustion engines is now drawn from the grid.

The grid, by the way, that is in dire need of upgrades and improvements to distribution and transmission - two elements that cannot be ignored.

In short, the problem is beyond merely generation. Nuclear power? A resounding yes. Simply because we can't meet the mark without it. But at the same time, we'd all do well to curtail our use of energy, especially inefficiently. One instantly recognizes that the replacement of inefficient systems (light bulbs, old refrigerators, over-powered air conditioning) is expensive. This is why it's not done. But that investment is the 'on the ground' investment that needs to happen, even while the industry scrambles to meet the demand that will inevitably exist and inevitably grow.

And, while we're at it, distributed sustainable sources are an absolute must-have, both because it will reduce the overall load on the system, but also because it can help to stabilize that system.

  Karen Street [09.17.07 03:22 PM]

Decommissioning costs are included in the cost of US electricity.

It turns out that Energy Incentives for nuclear power aren't quite what some antis purport. But that's irrelevant to me -- solar will require substantial R&D and deployment subsidies for a decade or two or five, and I hope that we provide them. I really don't see the logic in opposing all energy sources today that require subsidies. Per kWh, subsidies for nuclear are considerably less than for solar and wind, as they should be.

We need to shift to low GHG sources of electricity. Nuclear power is cheaper than coal in most countries, and even in coal countries, nuclear is cheaper than coal with carbon capture and storage. That definitely doesn't mean excluding the more expensive sources of electricity, we need a variety of methods.

Wind power can be built faster than nuclear power? Once the first few nuclear power plants are built, they will require about 4 - 5 years to build, and several could be started each year. Assuming 30% capacity factor (it's about 20% in Germany), that means about 4, 500 MW in wind power to equal one 1,500 MW nuclear power plant, plus the backup systems, generally inefficient natural gas. And time to improve the grid. About 2,400 MW in wind was added in the US in 2005, 1,800 MW each in Germany and Spain, etc.

These are not being brought online as fast as new electricity generally. Even with greater efficiency and nuclear power, all peer reviewed analysis I have seen indicates that we will have new coal plants (without carbon capture and storage). Without nuclear power, the situation will be even worse.

Re nuclear waste: National Research Council looked at Disposition of High-Level Waste and Spent Nuclear Fuel: The Continuing Societal and Technical Challengesa(2001).

  Nat [09.17.07 03:45 PM]

The social policy decisions are all about specific projects

Some expenditures (mainly up-front and maintenance) are only realistic if a fair amount of plants are to be built. In other words: in order to always have the choice to build a nuclear powerplan one has to pre-allocate, for example, sufficient R&D. Adding up the costs of realistic R&D for all major energy sources leads to mind-boggling numbers, we may not be able to afford it.

Investors are gambling

I'm OK with that but let's not forget that nuclear investment will stop as soon as the federal government will cease to sustain it. No insurance, no waste disposal, no inspection... No way!

Let's not neglect that some huge gains can only be obtained through massive R&D and tool production which, in turn, always starts as a centralized public effort. A bunch of competitors from the private sector just cannot hope leverage this way before an (often late) market consolidation.

an aggressive effort to reduce "the problem" to as many separate "solvable cases"

Algorithms are good when it comes to ideas, to software, to 'dematerialized' thingies, which come from nil and can be copy/pasted at no cost: one can efficiently solve a problem by slicing it into subproblems. But it does not work when you have to pay huge amounts of money just in order to keep a particular tool (for example "the tool which builds a nuclear power plant") in the chest. In such a context optimizing leads to searching for the more adequate minimal set of tools (often the "less inadequate" one, this is a matter of half-full / half-empty glass...) then to 'mass product' it.

A global optimum is rarely the sum of local ones.

It's better to not say "yes or no?" to any one broad category of technology

Saying "yes" or even "yes, maybe, let's keep this option" sometimes costs. When it comes to nuclear energy it costs a pretty huge amount (certification, inspection, conception, waste disposal...), which can only be recouped by running a fair amount of nuclear power plants.

The real costs of medicine, agriculture, real estate speculation, automotive detailing, and tatoo parlors are all similarly difficult to assess, for similar reasons.

Decommission and dangerous waste storage, for example, aren't pertinent on those sectors where I can't see any equivalent burden. Moreover nuclear risks are universally shared (waste loss or a disaster don't only affect pro-nuclear people), while a tatoo parlor, for example, is hardly dangerous for those ignoring it.

  Andy Wong [09.17.07 04:29 PM]

Gwyneth Cravens was not a believer of renewable energy, but was faithful for how to make human being live after 30 years from now. She somehow got opportunity and willingness to learn some hard facts, and bravely changed her course, because her real objective is not renewable energy, but the survival of human race/civilization. Even if nuclear has bad reputation among public, she would just dance with the old enemy. It is about balance and trade-off when dealing with survival. I am fear of nuclear pollution too.

We simply have no time to wait because climate change is immediate, and our oceans are so tired of tolerating CO2.

As many suggested, wind, solar and nuclear go together in our power grid. Just don't build nuclear power plants in my backyard.

  Wai Yip Tung [09.17.07 07:00 PM]

It is a hard choice for environmentalist. We have invested so much love and passion in wind and solar it is difficult to admit there is not enough of them to save the world. Idealism is important. But it takes a realist to truly understand the magnitude of problem we are facing today. Global climate change is such a threat to humanity, everything has to be on the table.

Developing countries' energy use will surge in the coming years. The truth is even with all the conservation, solar power plant, wind mills and ever new nuclear power plants, we still cannot shutdown coal power plant fast enough.

  Nat [09.18.07 01:04 AM]

Decommissioning costs are included in the cost of US electricity

Hard facts show that those costs can be very underestimated, and that starting the process may reach to a fast-paced cost rise. When massive decommission will occur in the US such a problem may arise (the taxpayer will, as usual, support it but it nevertheless may raise the total cost).

really don't see the logic in opposing all energy sources today that require subsidies

In a word: subsidies are not infinite.

Per kWh, subsidies for nuclear are considerably less than for solar and wind

True for subsidies granted to small producers per unit of energy produced (small amounts). False for the global amount of (serious!) public money dissipated into various programs, for example in 1999: 639.6 million USD (1,131.7 in 1992) for nuclear and 133.9 (136 in 1992) for wind and solar. Moreover one has to add to the nuclear R&D those magic "Fusion Energy Sciences" (872 in 1992, 222 in 1999, without any practical result). Now wonder why the Danes can begin to switch while the US cannot!

Assuming 30% capacity factor

Offshore often surpass 90%

500 MW in wind power to equal one 1,500 MW nuclear power plant

Nuclear powerplant capacity factor is between 70 and 90%, not 100%. Therefore offshore windfarms and nuclear power plants are equivalent upon this attribute.

Moreover even onshore windfarms are useful as local complements of offshore farms (cheap, low maintenance, flexible, no fuel cost or strategic issues, no serious risk, no waste...)

plus the backup systems

There is no need for this with solar+wind+biomass and multiple sites coupled to a grid (just as already done with existing plants).

I back every statement with solid data. Bluntly answering "you are an idealist" is, in my humble opinion... well... idealistic! My references and inferences may be inadequate and I'm ready to learn about it, but please understand that I will ignore the "this is idealism/cheerleading!" way to dismiss without discussion.

  JimHopf [09.18.07 11:08 AM]

Commenting on the original article, I agree with Brand's thoughts about nuclear waste (in the last paragraph). I would also add a slight twist (or say it in a slightly different way).

The fact is that guaranteeing complete containment until the waste becomes harmless is not really necessary. All we have to do is contain the waste (w/ no leakage) until we develop the technology to process and eliminate it. Such technology is decades away, not centuries or millenia away, and we know for certain that we can contain the waste for at least ~1000 years. Thus, we know with certainty that the waste will be completely contained (and have no environmental impact) until it is removed, processed and eliminated. We know, right now, that this waste will never have any environmental impact.

Also, even if we did leave the waste there forever, even the most conservative/unrealistic analyses show that nobody will receieve a radiation dose outside the range of natural background at any point in time. No health effects have ever been observed for dose levels within the natural range.

All waste management and disposal costs are fully paid for by a 0.1 cent/kW-hr charge paid by the nuclear industry. All plant decommissioning costs are fully paid for (and included in the price) as well. And BTW, if people are worried about the "burden" to future generations of them having process/eliminate the waste, we'd be happy to set aside another 0.1 cent/kW-hr of nuclear electricity. With compounding interest over a few hundred years, this will more than pay for any of the work involved.

Nuclear waste has always been completely contained, has killed noone and has never had any public health impact. And it never will have any health impact in the future. This "issue" has always been a fabrication. An unsolved, intractable problem?? It was solved from the beginning. It never was a problem in the 1st place. It is fossil fuels that have an intractable, unsolved waste problem. Waste generated in such volumes that it must be continually dumped directly into the environment, where it causes ~25,000 premuture deaths in the US annually (hundreds of thousands worldwide) and also causes global warming.

  JimHopf [09.18.07 01:10 PM]

British experience does not apply to the US. All costs for US plant decommissioning (to greenfield) are fully included in the price of nuclear electricity. These costs add ~0.25 cents/kW-hr to the power cost. The utility is required by law to put money, every year, into a trust fund that will be sufficient to pay all decommissioning costs at the time of plant shut down. These funds are routinely audited to ensure that the contributions will be sufficient. The taxpayer will never contribute anything to nuclear plant decommissioning; this is ensured/required by law.

Now that a few plants have been decommissioned (and a few more are well along in the process), the total cost involved is better known, which allows the contribution requirements to be set (and monitored) with more confidence. Also, the contributions were set based on a 40-year plant life. Now that the plants are all going to be run for ~60 years, this results in 20 years more contributions along with 20 years of additional interest accumulation, making it absolutley clear that the decommissioning funds will be sufficient.

As with waste management and disposal, all decommissioning costs are fully paid for. Nuclear has very few unpaid indirect/external costs. Meanwhile, the unpaid external costs for fossil fuels are enormous. These include pollution health effects (25,000 annual deaths), global warming, and negative geopolitical consequences of using gas imported from the Middle East and/or Russia (where ~80% of remaining reserves lie). Basically, where nuclear is required to completely sequester all its toxins/wastes, and have essentially no environmental impact, fossil fuels are allowed to dump their toxins/wastes directly into the environment, and pay nothing for the priveledge.

Virtually all scientific studies (such as the ExternE project, at show that coal and oil's external costs would add ~4-8 cents/kW-hr to their cost, almost doubling their price. Nuclear's external costs are a tiny fraction of this, a fraction of a cent.

  JimHopf [09.18.07 01:34 PM]

The argument that allowing more nuclear power prevents investment in (and growth of) renewables is specious. We spend less than a billion dollars (i.e., less than 0.01% of GDP) per year on programs that in any way benefit the commercial nuclear power industry. To suggest that this renders us unable to afford renewables research and investment is ridiculous.

If you want to complain about a project that drains resources from other endeavors, complain about the Iraq war (and DOD in general). Spending on that is almost 1000 times anything we spend (annually) on nuclear. And note that the Iraq was at least partly due to our dependence on Middle Eastern oil (and soon, gas as well).

Frankly, the govt. research funding isn't even needed in order to build the next generation of nuclear power plants. None of the current research programs would tangibly affect the success of new plants, or the number built. All the industry really needs is some loan guarantees for the first few plants. The main benefit, if any, from govt. research is that over the longer term such research may eliminate the need for multiple repositories. But even if all this fuel cycle research were paid for by the indsutry, it would add less than 0.1 cents/kW-hr to the power cost.

Nat demonstrates the weakness of his own arguments when he refers to the nuclear fusion research budget as a nuclear subsidy. This is a prime example of govt. "nuclear" research funding that does not help the commercial nuclear industry in any way whatsoever. It is NOT appropriate to count that as a nuclear power subsidy! It would make as much sense to count geothermal energy research as a nuclear fission power subsidy (the heat comes from uranium decay, after all). Fusion and commercial nuclear power are two completely different energy sources. And yet, simply beacause of its name, it gets included in the "nuclear" budget title, and anti-nukes gleefully report it as a nuclear power subsidy.

  Nat [09.18.07 04:04 PM]

All we have to do is contain the waste (w/ no leakage) until we develop
the technology to process and eliminate it

It seems so easy that the current plan for it (the "Yucca Mountain Repository") is studied since nearly 30 years, scheduled since 20 and can
only handle the current waste production up to 2014. Let's evaluate the
result of quadrupling the number of running US reactors (currently: 400) in order to reach
80% of electricity produced (it implies 4 times the nuclear power already exploited, therefore 4 times the waste...). And at this stage, with 1600 active reactors, US nuclear plants will only deliver 30% of the global amount of energy used in the US... Therefore nuclear is not a complete solution to energy needs, nor to pollution.

This Yucca Mountain Repository, after many postonings, will only (theoritically) open in 2017, and there is no other equivalent
site scheduled. Moreover most people concerned simply don't want this to happen and even citizen not affected by the "Not In My Backyard" syndrom don't want anyone to coerce them.

"All we have to do" is solve those problems, among others.

Such technology is decades away

Promises are cheap (seems that "all we have to do is write promises"). It works! Take, for example, "nuclear fusion": nearly 50 years of promises and wasted public money.

we know for certain that we can contain the waste for at least ~1000 years

That's the way those things now work: some say "we can read the future", hoping that nobody will laugh.

The taxpayer will never contribute anything to nuclear plant decommissioning; this is ensured/required by law


Now that a few plants have been decommissioned (and a few more are well along in the process), the total cost involved is better known

US decommission history is apparently pretty. Secrecy hides many tricks, but not all. In the "Maine Yankee" nuclear power plant decommission, for example, one may not forget the lawsuit: Maine Yankee owners tried to get the DOE (dept. of Energy) pay for part of
fuel removing (by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, leading to Yucca Mountain),
and won (approx 75M bucks). Isn't DOE's money taxpayer money? Better: two
companies exploiting the plant were also awarded, for a grand total of 152
million. Granted, those companies payed during years for this DOE service
(which has an explanation: failure to receive approvals, which postponed
and added to the costs of Yucca Mountain), but AFAIK the balance between
their temporary storage costs and those earnings is positive: Maine Yankee
wins taxpayer's money because the DOE promised to take care of the waste,
and failed. Here is the best part: the DOE will very probably, beyond the
awards, be coerced into removing the fuel (here is an account). Yep, the taxpayer (again) helps some easy accounting
write-offs. Anything "costs less" when taxpayer money discreetly pays!

Moreover this decommissioning seems to be done by rubblization which "is in fact a serious abrogation of law and environmental policy as
currently evidenced by Maine and Connecticut legislation mandating that
there will be no "low-level" radioactive waste site in those states without
voter and legislative approval respectively."

"Ensured/required by law", uh?!

the unpaid external costs for fossil fuels are enormous

Indeed. I don't advocate them.

The argument that allowing more nuclear power prevents investment in (and growth of) renewables is specious


To suggest that this renders us unable to afford renewables research and investment is ridiculous

I produced official figures Federal Funding for Energy-Related R&D and we all know that
those federal fundings are caped, because taxpayers just cannot pay
infinite taxes. Those figures showed allocation choices in favor of nuclear
energy. Therefore if there were no R&D on nuclear energy more R&D budget
could be allocated to other programs. As previously showed (Denmark) some
countries took other choices and their plans work, without any of the nuclear drawbacks.

the govt. research funding isn't even needed in order to build the next generation of nuclear power plants

As far as I know no new plant was built since 1977 (is there any newer one?). Where are the private active projects (not 'projections': works in progress!) to build a
nuclear power plant? The (public) official "Nuclear Power 2010 Program",
launched in 2002, has to build a single plant (only vague projects, for now, five years later)!

Nat demonstrates the weakness of his own arguments when he refers to the nuclear fusion research budget as a nuclear subsidy. This is a prime
example of govt. "nuclear" research funding that does not help the
commercial nuclear industry in any way whatsoever.

Indeed... because this "fusion" R&D failed to deliver any usable result. That's the rule
with research: all bets are not winning ones. "Nuclear fusion" research is nevertheless a 'nuclear' one, as some failed solar R&D programs remain called "solar R&D". If this "fusion" approach delivers one day the main winner will be the nuclear industry. Rejecting its imputation to nuclear because it did not deliver is OK if someone reimburses the money spent, where is the volunteer (we are talking about billions here, not the few dimes granted to solar and wind)?

  Rick [09.18.07 08:45 PM]

As an environmentalist, I originally believed that CO2 was not a problem. We are air breathers so lack of oxygen would hit us first. I studied coal desulfurization under Dr. Savage at Ohio U, or U of Ohio. Metal and sulfur oxides were the problem not old CO2. Thinking then that maybe man was doing a service in turning the old mulch pile by extracting coal and oil and pumping CO2 into the air. Figuring then that man can't even handle simple chemistry, how can we handle "nucular"? But, being an engineer, I had to keep an open mind. I was wrong about CO2 and that coal being almost pure carbon is a major world problem. We are all going to choke on China's air.

Over the years,I have certainly had to change my thinking. Given that nuclear energy can be extremely dangerous, then it will always be expensive. However, cost and liability can be limited by perhaps pursuing a new type of nuclear plant. Are ceramic ball and air turbine systems viable? Can the depleted ball of lower temperature be safely stored somewhere? Can they be dropped in a wrinkle in the techtonic plates? If the ingredients to make the ceramic ball are properly prepared can the ball be rendered relatively harmless? Or will the balls (the size of handgrenades) be used as dirty hand weapons?

While these issues are discussed the concept of "distributed sustainable sources" to achieve power grid stability is smart thinking. Afterall, a hundred thousand houses in Central California having air conditioners directly hooked to rooftop solar panels makes a lot of sense. Also, the future for plugin hybrids is a two way street. The preferred methane fuel is used by the hybrid to power the house and then some.

  Nat [09.19.07 02:47 AM]

cost and liability can be limited by perhaps pursuing a new type of nuclear plant

The minimal cost and latency of a program aiming at re-designing current reactors/plants architectures is mind boggling. As far as I know all concerned are instead enhancing the current ones, and it seems not efficient nor easy. Take, for example, the EPR ("European Pressurized Reactor"), conceived by AREVA and Siemens, who are surely not amateurs on this field and which is an evolution of an existing well-known and used architecture, aiming at gaining security and efficiency. In a word: the plant will probably produce about 20% less hot waste than existing ones (that's probably its best achievement), the efficiency-related gains are low (a few percent) and risk reduction is not certain. This last one (security) is revealing: the beast was touted as very secure then sold to Finland who ran a blue-prints checking and discovered problems, the main one being pretty huge:

Reference: Nucleonics Week, Volume 45, Number 11 - March 11, 2004. The text runs as follows: "Sump clogging will be issue for EPR with Finnish regulator Framatome ANP will soon have to prove to Finnish, and likely French, nuclear safety authorities that its EPR advanced PWR will provide protection against the sump strainer clogging risk that has emerged as one of the most acute problems of today’s LWRs, officials in both countries say. TVO, the Finnish utility, has ordered a 1,600-MW EPR from Framatome, a subsidiary of Areva, but it’s not known today how Framatome will design the reactor to preclude sump strainer clogging."

Such technobabble implies that a sort of cradle container where the reactor, in theory, falls in case of severe problem, may become full of vapor (due to clogging) to the point of ejecting the whole hot (and heavy) stuff, which is precisely one of the scenarios which *must* be avoided.

Such clogging is a generic problem (whose effects are worsened by EPR's layout) and the only practical answer, for now, is to have the maintenance teams strictly respect the procedures. This is very difficult upon time (people get bored, accustomed to danger...).

For every late-discovered problem, how many are quietly sleeping, disasters waiting to happen?

Moreover the first EPR is currently being built in Finland ("Olkiluoto" site) and the project has major problems, is late and induces costs overruns, showing a lack of command. This recent account shows many of those problems, albeit it mainly uses pro-nuclear arguments.

This may show that even minor enhancements are difficult, and even maybe impossible if we want to preclude most potentially dangerous side-effect, and that applying them into the real world, as already stated here, may be very difficult.

(drop waste) in a wrinkle in the techtonic plates?

Massive waste dump in tectonic fractures (in the most remote ones, at sea) was common practice during the 50s' and 60's because tectonic dynamics was not enough advanced, then rejected about 35 years ago by specialists as not secure. This led to the pertinent parts the "Convention on Law of the Sea" (1982), in force in most advanced nations, which simply forbids it.

Are ceramic ball

I don't know, but a similar thingie (the 'PBMR', using tennis ball-sized graphite fuel assemblies) was touted "absolutely secure" until someone found a quirk: Nuclear Reactor Hazards (Greenpeace). Note that the authors aren't amateurs (read page 4). Page 41-42 one can read: "However, the temperature limit of 1600° C is not guaranteed in reality. It depends on successful reactor scram as well as on the functioning of the passive cooling systems (which can be impeded, for example, by pipe breaks and leaks in coolers). Furthermore, fission product releases from the fuel elements already begin at temperatures just above 1600° C. In this context, it is irrelevant that severe fuel damage or melting only occurs above 2000°C. Massive radioactive releases can take place well below this temperature."

Pro-nuclear are very well funded (by governments) and their critics aren't, they manage to seal most secrets (remember that most of the first managers in charge began with military applications), they communicate by over-repeating the same propaganda often without any solid reference backing it nor challenge to produce any (they adopt the "you, people, can't understand, therefore you have to believe our mottos" approach). I know about it by being a French living in France, where such disinformation is even more intense.

The only solid point they have is the reinsuring history of the US plants: no major mishap happened in a fair "reactor.year". Let's not forget that no one knows for sure why the Three Miles Island plant reactor vessel contained the danger, in other terms why it did not degenerate into a major disaster. One of the defective valves which started the incident was made by Dresser Industries, which was acquired by Halliburton then separated from it and stopped its IPO process due to "accounting problems and an internal investigation of a subsidiaries unauthorized dealings in the Middle East". What a wonderful industry! How confident I am that the guys in charge all respect rules, are not greedy, will not disseminate sensible knowledge or material and are ready to endorse their faults...

  LKM [09.19.07 06:33 AM]

"We don't know, but our framing of the question shows a failure of long term thinking."
"What do you think?"

I think Stewart doesn't have children.

  Michael R. Bernstein [09.20.07 10:43 AM]

Missing from this debate are Solar Power Satellites.

They have their hazards too, but just as rising energy prices are prompting previously unprofitable coal mines to reopen, so too do the capital expenditures of space-based solar power look more attractive.

  Rick [09.24.07 11:48 PM]

Solar Power Satellites? I don't know, its kind of pie in the sky. We haven't build out our land based capacity for solar power, which I think is a bit more realistic. We haven't begun to develop a methane and hydrogen fuel society, one that can be based on a sustainable and distributed power source. We should start with projects that can be implemented now.

  Sean [09.25.07 06:04 AM]

Yucca Flats, the proposed repository for nuclear waste, has been opposed by the environmental movement for years. The real issue is that decision making in the energy field should not be a democratic process controlled by environmentalists seeking to retain funding by generating controversy. The entire mechanism of the environmental movement needs to be replaced by a pro-human, pro-growth philosophy, which has as its centerpiece, the notion that good husbandry and the marshalling of resources for the betterment of the many outweighs narrow concerns that spring from the fearful politics of scarcity.

"There is said to be no geological repository for nuclear waste yet, but Rip Anderson pointed out that the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) in a deep salt formation in New Mexico has been operating since 1999. It now handles only military waste, but there is no reason except political that it could not take all of our civilian spent fuel."

  Dezakin [09.25.07 10:41 AM]

The whole notion that Yucca is necissary for waste management is misguided nonsense. On site dry cask storage is good for centuries, and centuries from now even without waste remediation technologies, its a simple task to reseal the casks.

Nuclear waste isn't the One Ring of Sauron and doesn't need to be thrown into Mount Doom.

  Nat [09.26.07 01:26 AM]

> generating controversy

... is one thing. Showing, thanks to serious material often published by nuclear agencies, that some key assertions are moot, is another.

> The whole notion that Yucca is necissary

The DOE, 10 years ago, planned to spend 38 billion bucks on "Total System Life Cycle Cost Assessment for the high-level radioactive waste program", which was re-evaluated (by the Government Accountability Office (GAO)) as about 61 billions in 2001 (see this report to Congressional Requesters page 19, note 11)

For this to be "misguided nonsense" (=> waste of huge amounts of public money) one has to think that all central agencies working on it are populated by morons, fools or crooks. This, IMHO, is nonsensical.

  bill lorch [10.29.07 08:06 PM]

I am not opposed to Nuc pwr. However i believe if we can make wind avial 2 everyone (ie) a gen or alt. in back of every back yard /farm. Add Geothermil 2 the equation than toss in some photo voltic.. think every person could b energy independent. What happened to the research in2 cold fussion??????

  bill lorch [10.29.07 08:07 PM]

I am not opposed to Nuc pwr. However i believe if we can make wind avial 2 everyone (ie) a gen or alt. in back of every back yard /farm. Add Geothermil 2 the equation than toss in some photo voltic.. think every person could b energy independent. What happened to the research in2 cold fussion?????? We need to stop using this oil and coal 4 sure....

  Jez [11.01.07 12:22 PM]

Could Thorium be an answer. It is cheaper to acquire than uranium, its waste has a half-life far less than uranium, and I think, its far less likely to cause a meltdown.

I'm no fan of nuclear power, but at current and expected oil prices, security of supply and no silver bullet from the alternative corner, it may become our only serious option.

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