75% of Greens OK with Nuclear Power [redux]

  • Published on April 18th, 2008

nuke-poll, nuclear power, public opinion[Update 11.9.2008: Over the last several days, thousands of environmental activists in Germany have blocked and delayed a train carrying nuclear waste from France into the country to be stored in an old salt mine. The story reminded me that there is still substantial opposition to nuclear power, despite the fact that it has been touted by many as an essential component of our energy mix because nuclear power generates little in the way of greenhouse gas emissions. The story also reminded me of the following post. ]

This past spring we conducted a reader poll that concluded with some rather unexpected results. Nearly 75 percent of the respondents believe that nuclear power is good because it is a source of “abundant carbon free energy.” Granted, this simple reader’s poll with an admittedly minute n of 133 is not a statistical representation of the public attitude of any particular group of people. But attitudes towards nuclear power have undergone a palpable shift amongst self-identified environmentalists in recent years. The change is especially striking considering that the anti-nuclear cause had been one of the core issues for the environmental movement for almost four decades.

But as consumed as I am with energy issues and the politics that surround them, I remain somewhat agnostic about nuclear power. Why is that? There’s no simple answer. Part of it is not wanting to reconcile the tensions between nuclear power as a low-carbon alternative with the ecological dangers of mining uranium and the big issue of transporting and storing nuclear waste.

I would also argue that the reason I (and many other greens my age) are not particularly averse to nuclear power is because the pressing environmental issues that were building blocks to my own environmentalism were generally not related to nukes. I vaguely remember the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. And I was in high school when the more serious accident at Chernobyl happened. But that’s it. There has not been a new nuclear power plant built in this country in 30 years, and for that reason nukes have faded away as one of the critical rallying issues of the modern environmental movement.

One of my biggest concerns is the issue of water. Extracting uranium from the ground using in situ mining methods requires massive amounts of water, as do the reactors themselves. Judith Lewis, who also holds that concern. She wrote in Mother Jones,

“Light water” reactors, used at the majority of the world’s nuclear plants, use water both to moderate the chain reaction and produce steam to spin turbines—2 billion gallons per day on average. Most of it returns to the adjoining river, lake, or ocean up to 25 degrees warmer, an ecological impact that could significantly interfere with nuclear power’s chances as a climate-change solution. Already, wherever a light-water reactor sits near a sensitive body of water, its intake pipes kill fish and its outflow distorts ecosystems to favor warm-water species.”

That said, I recognize that nuclear power must be part of “the discussion.” I just want to be sure that the discussion happens, and that it is thorough, and geographically specific. In other words, nuclear power will not be the answer everywhere.





About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.
  • employee time manage

    Build enough nuclear plants and we can satisfy our electrical needs and also make any number of fuels for vehicles.

  • Dan Ulseth

    It is encouraging to see such well-reasoned, scientifically valid responses to this article. As several have posted, there isn't one form of energy production that doesn't have some impact on the environment – be it mining, fabrication, land use, efficiency, reliability, durability, etc.

    Due to its density, nothing yet surpasses nuclear power for electricity generation nor do other methods offer the spin-offs (desalinization, hydrogen production for fuel cells, etc.) in the quantities needed to be viable. And consider the advancements in safety, facility size, efficiency and now, smaller-sized units like Toshiba's 4S and the Hyperion Power Module as evidence of thinking "outside the box".

    Personally, I don't worry about CO2 emissions as, from my research, water vapor, cloud cover and ocean currents appear to exert a greater influence on climate than what amounts to be 0.038% of the atmosphere. No excuses for flagrant polluting but don't stop all activity in pursuit of perfection.

  • If this is true then maybe their is hope for energy Independence in the US.

  • It sounds promising, but is it safe?

    It always has been, so far. Not perfectly, but much more so than what it has replaced.

    Fossil fuels are enormously more expensive than uranium, so you should always suspect any objection to the use of uranium of being oil-funded or gas-funded. Those who pretend to think switching to nuclear won't improve everyone's safety should be watched for failure to walk the walk.

    That means although they claim to believe it is not an advance in safety, when it comes time to choose between putting their own skins near either a fossil fuel burner or a nuclear reactor, they'll go with the reactor. This behaviour has been observed on the part of Greenpeace contractors.

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  • Oxy

    I'm not quite sure how I feel about nuclear power yet.

    It sounds promising, but is it safe?

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  • Uncle B

    So we go nuclear, use up the world's Uranium ores, then go desert/solar electric or will the fusion boys have pulled the rag by then and given us an alternative?

    Why not develop and use all the renewable solar, wind, wave stuff at the same time just in case fusion still hasn't arrived when the uranium runs out. We will have hedged our bets with a known, and survived another day.

  • Timothy:

    The cost associated with delaying a large, capital intensive project can be far more than what you might think, especially if the delay happens late in the project when most of the money has already been spent. Until the project starts up and begins producing electricity for sale, there is no revenue, but there are many costs that must be paid through ever increasing borrowing.

    For example, the full operating crew must be assembled and trained well before the plant's scheduled start up. If there is a delay, the payroll must still be met or all of the investment in the training will disappear. If the delay is too long, much of that investment will disappear anyway as important training modules need to be repeated or as some of the highly motivated people decide to seek more interesting work.

    For some of the plants in the US where the construction process got tied up in the courts through repeated intervener suits over minor issues, the financing costs added up to about three times as much as the cost of the actual installation labor and equipment costs. The delays in the first US nuclear plant construction era were especially costly since many of them occurred near the time of Three Mile Island (1979) – some before, many after – which coincided with a period of high inflation and interest rates that reached as high as 18%.

    I do not agree with the conventional wisdom that the capital cost of an atomic fission based heat engine is inherently more than the capital cost of a fossil fuel combustion heat engine since there are a number of simplifications that are possible with fission that are not possible with combustion. I do not want to clog up your comments with details – if you do not mind a little plug – please visit Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. to see just one possible example of what I mean. You can also find out some very interesting information about a more simple fission heat source at the Energy from Thorium blog.

    Glad that you are hosting such an interesting discussion. Keep up the good work.

  • Folks, thank you all for jumping in on this and for your valuable comments. I have been learning a lot from this excellent discussion.

  • JimHopf

    Nuclear plants use a lot of water, but all other thermal plants (including coal, gas, and renewable sources like geothermal and solar thermal) have the same issue. In terms of thermal efficiency, present-day nuclear plants are not much worse than modern coal plants, and advanced designs like the HTGR (pebble bed) reactor have efficiency levels similar to the best combined-cycle gas turbine plants. (They will have half the heat rejection, and therefore require half the cooling water, that current plants do.)

    Nuclear waste is not expensive to store, or even to transport and dispose of. The entire Yucca Mtn. program (repository study, design, and construction as well as waste shipment and placement) is fully paid for by a fee of only 0.1 cents/kW-hr that is charged on all nuclear electricity. The overall cost of storing the waste on the plant site is even less. In summary, storing/disposing of nuclear waste, and isolating it from the environment is very inexpensive. The cost of isolating fossil fuel wastes from the environment, if we ever require it, will be much higher.

    Nuclear plant operating costs are also very low, less than 2 cents/kW-hr, only 0.5 cents of which is the fuel cost. And this is the cost of fuel assemblies (which includes ore processing, enrichment and fuel assembly fabrication). The cost of the raw uranium ore is only ~2-3% of the total cost of nuclear electricity (i.e., about 0.1-0.2 cents/kW-hr). Thus, nuclear power’s economics is virtually unaffected by any increase in uranium ore cost. For this reason, limitations on long term ore supply are not an issue.

    Anyway, the entire issue for nuclear power’s economics is the initial plant construction cost. In my personal opinion, nuclear is, and will be, at least somewhat more expensive than (conventional) coal, until coal is held to remotely the same requirements as nuclear (i.e., until it is required to sequester its wastes (incl. CO2) or pay a significant tax for the priviledge of dumping it into the environment. The small, additional cost for nuclear, however, is well worth it.

    Finally, as for mining, uranium mining does have a measurable environmental impact, although the impact from present mines is much smaller than those of the old days. Uranium mining is probably the main, if not the only real, tangible impact from nuclear power overall.

    However, given that renewables will not be able to provide all, or even most of our energy needs for the forseeable future (the most agressive goals under discussion are for them to meet ~20-25% of generation by ~2030), the salient question is what the environmental impacts of uranium mining are, per unit energy produced, compared to the overall impacts of the fossil alternatives (mainly coal).

    It seems pretty clear that coal mining alone has a much greater impact than uranium mining. And for other parts of the production cycle, the differences get even more spectacular. Whereas the effects of coal mining are a tiny fraction of coal’s overall effects, uranium mining is probably most of nuclear power’s overall environmental impact. US coal plants alone cause ~25,000 deaths every single year, and are the leading single cause of global warming. Western nuclear plants have never had any measurable impact on public health over their entire ~40-year history, and they have negligible CO2 emissions (the same or less than renewables).

  • Joffan

    Ken, the allocation for nuclear waste is $0.001 per kWh, which is 0.1 cents per kWh. The accumulated fund stands at something like $30 billion.

    Alexandra, just a note on your poll – you ask whether nuclear power is A solution to global warming, and my "yes" did not exclude other solutions contributing also. I felt that "maybe yes" would have implied doubt that nuclear can contribute.

    Timothy, on water: Mother Jones' quote in your article sort of implies that the water from the local cooling source is circulated through the reactor and/or the turbines. Neither of these is true. The river, lake or ocean water is used to cool the water that went through the turbines, through heat-exchangers. "super-heated" is an inaccurate description of the return cooling water (although correct for the turbine water); the outlet temperature limits are defined for the power station as part of the license in due regard of the local aquatic ecology. It's that ecological limit that sometimes limits some nuclear power stations for a few days a year.

  • Ken

    Tim,

    The economics of nuclear power is complex. Actual operations once the plant is running is relatively cheap. Storage and disposal of waste is actually not that expensive on a per kw basis (something like 0.001 cents is currently put aside for its eventual disposal). There isn’t that much waste produced at the plant and that is maintained in intact fuel assemblies just waiting for its final disposition, which I hope is reprocessing to get all the U235 still sitting there out. The capital cost concerned with borrowing the money up front for the entire construction is a large amount of the cost. Relative to a coal fired plant its about three times more to build a nuclear plant, so its not as if coal plants are free either. If you are able to secure a low interest rate it affects how much the electricity is to produce more than how much Uranium cost (for example) by a long shot. You have to borrow most of the money for the entire project up front and put it in escrow or no one involved in construction will show up. Japan’s newest reactors came in ahead of schedule and thus under budget, and this has been the trend. Because of the cost of borrowing and the sums involved, the cost of any particular power plant is highly variable. If the money is cheap and the control rods are slid out early, you are probably at around 3 cents per Kw, if the loans are bad and it takes an extra year you could be at 4.5 cents, which is a ton of money.

    The argument concerning mining isn’t what you make it out to be either. If mining is really at issue as an argument against nuclear power, there is probably a lot more mining and processing involved in producing photo voltaic cells, per unit out put. There are rare earth metals and copper and silicon to purify. With every alternative you are going to dig holes in the ground and use chemicals and energy to process the ore into metal. They all leave tailings. To single out uranium mining and say that this is in any way a reason not to pursue nuclear power must also be the reason not to pursue copper wiring in your home or on the back of solar cells as well, anything else is a form of hypocrisy. I understand the issues with the processes now being used to extract uranium in Colorado. Calling this a Hobson’s choice is just not signaling an awareness that the mining issue is present with all the alternative forms of power generation and it may be that uranium mining is less toxic than others, not more. Its a non-starter. I also don’t know whether you would rather live downstream of a gold mine or a uranium mine, but I’ll bet its the latter. If you look at the total mass of coal mined in this country (we’ll include Canada for the argument) vs the total mass of uranium ore, the mass of uranium ore gets lost in the error for sampling the mass of coal. This is a matter of scale. The same probably holds true for copper and certainly true for iron to build windmills. With centrifuges, its probably less energy intensive to isotopically purify U235 than smelt aluminum. My problem with these arguments is that they are held up as something unique to nuclear power generation where in reality they are very common place concerning things that people don’t seem to care about and benefit from on a daily basis. It rises to the point of objection just because its associated with something one is uncomfortable with for other reasons.

    You can use the spare heat for syngas production to produce cellulosic ethanol or liquefy coal for petrol production, mix the two together for E85 fuel and put it in plug-in hybrids powered at overnight rates from the same nuclear plant, these would be a (partially) nuclear powered car.

  • Folks, thank you all for your informed comments. I do not claim to be a nuclear physicist, electrical engineer, or geologist, but I am well educated, averse to employing scare tactics and fear mongering, and open to the possibility of nuclear power as part of the mix. I will respond to your excellent comments in order.

    Mark- My own views have shifted on nuclear power as well, as I hope this article has shown. Thanks for the data.

    Joe- I have read about pebble-bed reactors (I believe in South Africa). I’d like to learn more about them.

    Rod- Great comments. I did not know that nuclear capacity has actually grown consistently in the US, despite the fact that no new plants have come online – very interesting. You also make the excellent point about coal-fired power plants getting a free ride in terms of dealing with their waste. If nuclear (as well as solar, wind, etc) is to make serious headway (in the US), their proponents must frame the issue as such. Coal is ‘cheap’ only because the externalities of producing electricity from coal are not absorbed by the producer.

    Finally, you write:
    “The financial aspects of the debate get a lot of attention from the people that still fight nuclear power. Their fighting and delaying tactics, however, are a part of the reason that the capital cost of fission plants is higher than those of similar coal or gas plants.”
    Building a nuclear power plant is more expensive than building a coal or gas plant, and the “fighting and delaying” tactics are hardly the reason for that. Granted, you suggest that this is only ‘part of the reason,’ but I would argue that it is a much smaller part of the reason than you suggest.

    Alexandra- Yes, framing the issue by the media, industry groups, enviro groups, and others plays a tremendous role in how we adopt new technologies.
    I also checked out your blog and like what you are doing over there, I will return.

    Ken- Also, thanks for your well-informed comments.

    I don’t think you have fully addressed the issue of cost. I agree with your assertion (and Rod’s) that nuclear waste is expensive to store, but only because coal is getting a free ride. But, you also suggest that the bulk of the cost is in securing upfront capital and servicing this debt and construction. While I would agree with you, I’m not sure what your point is, it seems tautological. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you saying that nuclear power is more expensive because it costs more to build and service debt? Isn’t that just plain ‘more expensive.’

    I’m glad you didn’t “stop reading this post when the author” mentioned uranium mining. You ask, “Compared to copper mining, gold mining, iron mining, etc. what is he talking about?” Well, let me tell you what “he” is talking about. Mining is an ecologically and geologically destructive practice, no matter what you are mining for. Yes, uranium mining may be less destructive than coal mining, but I am not advocating coal mining. By giving me those two options (neither of which I am happy with) you have created a Hobson’s Choice.
    More specifically, my community here in Colorado is currently embroiled in a proposed uranium mine that would use an ‘in-situ’ practice to extricate the uranium from the ground. In-situ mining takes (locally scarce) ground water, adds a solution to create a chemical slurry that is then used to separate the uranium from the bedrock. The chemical solution is then “reclaimed” and injected back into the aquifer.
    The most critical problem with using this approach here, is that the Denver Aquifer supplies water to about a half a million people and it also is the source for much of the water that irrigates the agricultural crops of Northern Colorado.

    All- As I mentioned in the piece, one of my biggest concerns is the water issue, and how returning super-heated water back to rivers and streams has had a detrimental effect on aquatic life. And in some cases (most recently in Tennessee this past summer)nuclear plants had to go offline because the water in the river was already too warm, and adding more hot water to it would have killed everything in it. Considering the planet appears to be warming, and will continue to do so for some time, it seems that the water issue should not be given short shrift. Rod, you mention that super-heated water could be used for desalinization, and I think that is a wonderful idea – as long as the plant is situated near water that needs to be desalinated (which is not the case in Tennessee).

    Would it be safe to say that nuclear is best suited for installations near the ocean?

  • Reese

    That last paragraph you quoted from Judith Lewis/Mother Jones lets me be prejudicial about the rest of the article. It shows either ignorance or a purposeful attempt to mislead.

    1. Very little water is “used” to moderate and cool the core of a P/LWR. The primary system is vanishingly near to closed– the same water going round and round, moving heat to the boilers.

    2. Very little water is “used” in the secondary. It is also nearly closed but for engineering reasons not as “tight” as the primary. Still, it is essentially the same water going round and round moving heat contained in steam from the boilers to the turbines, where the heat is converted to mechanical/electrical energy at an efficiency of about 30%. The better plants get a wee bit more, by running the low side (condenser) of the turbines under vacuum, and the steam leaves at low temperatures- low compared to the heat source… 100F? This is true for coal fired plants, too.

    3. Waste heat must be removed from the steam to convert it back into liquid in the condenser. That’s where the cooling water comes in. A. This is true for any steam turbine plant– nuclear, coal, oil, etc. B. It doesn’t have to be water, it can be air, or the “swamp coolers” (the iconic cooling towers).

    So the “2 billion gallons on average” used water is misleading. Virtually all of this would be cooling water through the condenser, and if that was your flowrate, the “delta T” or change in temperature would not be nearly 25 degrees (units not given, so I assume that’s Farenheit, so it can be a bigger number than the equivalent Kelvin). Again, true whatever the heat source. Why use the bolded sentence as an argument against nuclear generated heat and (presumably) in favor of chemically generated heat?

    Of course, the words “up to” are used to keep the sentence technically true, but misleading. In fact all industrial processes these days (at least in the USA) must do some sort of environmental study. In that study, the permissible delta T will be determined and engineered for.

    And why are the words “Light water” in quotes? No need for the quotes. They mean that the water is used in its natural isotopic form, not “heavy” as is used in some other kinds of reactors. Is Lewis trying to imply they’re not light, but heavy in that they “use” 2 billion gallons? That’s wrong in the sense explained above.

  • Ken

    A few points:

    On Cost, a majority of the cost is involved in securing upfront capital and servicing this debt and construction. The cost of borrowing has a huge bearing on the marginal cost of reactor construction. On the back end, it is costly to store nuclear waste, its not costly to store the waste from coal fired plants, you just send it on its way and its off the companies balance sheet. Seems like a fair fight to me, right?

    On Waste, Nuclear waste is dangerous. Radiation can cause genetic mutation that can lead to cancer birth defects etc. Nuclear power plants must account for their waste, a grand majority of which is fixed inside ceramic fuel pellets in intact fuel assemblies stored in secured locations. The waste from coal fired plants on the other hand is distributed freely to lakes, streams and the oceans, eventually ending up as 40% of the mercury content in your child’s tuna sandwich (currently). I should also mention Arsenic, Chromium (carcinogens), Uranium and Thorium (heavy metals and radionuclides), Sulfuric and Nitric acid (acid rain), and of course carbon dioxide (climate change and ocean acidification). Coal was mined in the Dakotas, burned to ash which was then used for Uranium extraction. Think of coal as a huge brita filter that binds up all the stuff you would dare not put in your body for hundreds of millions of years. This is dug up and all that stuff comes with it and burned at a rate of 120 million tons a year in the average sized coal fired plant. Background radiation is and has always been all around us, take a Geiger counter to granite and see the needle jump. We live on a huge Uranium/Thorium breeder reactor that keeps us free of deadly solar radiation by keeping the earth’s core molten thus generating the magnetosphere. I129 is naturally occurring due to this and we take a bit of it in every day. I’m not advocating unnecessary radiation exposure or sloppiness, but low level exposure to radiation has never been shown to be harmful, despite what people on “green” sites post. For instance, children in France living near nuclear power plants have actually been found to have lower levels of childhood cancers (published in the British Journal of Cancer Research). The cancer clusters near Sellafield in England have been shown to be due to industrial waste left over from arms manufacture during WWII. One of the possible reasons for French observation may be the paucity of coal fired plants in France with their Cr and heterocyclic hydrocarbon soot, but I’m only guessing.

    Alternative Energy, This is a great idea, I have all sorts of ideas about how we can use alternative energy sources, from wind to solar to tide and even ethanol. There are new and innovative technologies that I am very enthusiastic about. These can be used even more irresponsibly than nuclear power in every respect that “greens” use against nuclear power. (I put “greens” in quotes because I don’t think a lot of self proclaimed “greens” are, rather they are just scared and uneducated.) We have now seen this play out in the biofuels/ethanol arena. I agree with the PM of India, its immoral. It also cost over TWICE as much in energy than you get back! If the math doesn’t add up with your idea, believe the math. Maybe Coskata will fix the ethanol mess, especially if it is run on the front end by excess overnight capacity from a nuclear plant to run its syngas production, this would make it even closer to carbon neutral. My personal favorite alternative is solar. It is expensive per kW, but the price is coming down quickly due to exciting technical advances, such as nanosolar’s production technology. Solar is great because it can blunt peak demand and is distributed, this is its reasonable role and it can do a lot in this direction. My least favorite is wind. It’s very costly and is unpredictable. Every time I drive past a California wind farm most of the turbines aren’t moving.

    Uranium Mining, I almost stopped reading this post when the author mentioned this as a part of the equation. Compared to copper mining, gold mining, iron mining, etc. what is he talking about? Then compare it to coal mining. No one is going to remove mountains (literally) to mine uranium. It won’t take entire freight trains to transport it weekly and there won’t be hundreds of tons of smoke stack effluent and bottom ash created to deal with on a daily basis. It is this amazing lack of scale that always gets me. My prediction is that we will soon be reprocessing fuel, most of the original U235 is still there, and we will be converting to a thorium fuel cycle which produces vastly less waste by mass, the waste that is produced has vastly shorter half lives, the products are proliferation resistant, and thorium is both more abundant and easier to obtain than Uranium. There is a site in Idaho where the ore is up to 60% thorium by mass. We will actually need the plutonium that is sitting around in storage pools at current reactors to drive this cycle and in the process it will be burned up.

    Question, by blocking nuclear power in this country, how many fish and people have the “greens” killed, how many mountains have been cast into valleys? Would the State of Maine state on its website that the rivers in the state exceed EPA standards due to coal burning in the Mid West? Would the lakes in Scandinavia have a normal pH? With the exception of Chernobyl and not bringing in to the argument all the sins of military facilities, what is the damage that the nuclear power industry has wrought? In aggregate, do they even come close to what GE did just to the Hudson River in the same time period? Bush’s EPA claims that coal fired plants kill 25,000 people a year. Does anyone think this crowd is over-estimating this number.

  • Reese

    Mr. Hurst,

    I'd use the propoganda phrase: "very slightly warmed" if your condenser's flowrate was asymptocically close to 2×10^9 gallons per day.

    Mr. Adams is fresher in the training program from which I guess this. Perhaps he can elaborate on my claim. I humbly ask him if he can. Really, though, I know it all depends on what you want it to be, and has implications for the efficiency and/or cost of the plant (any plant, nuclear or coal).

  • Reese

    Mr. Hurst,

    You use the compound word "super-heated." That's compound, right? (Ask Cdr. Adams– he's an English major.)

    Isn't it propogandistly charged (the way you use it) to scare people? "Super-heated" has a specific meaning in science and engineering. For my propogandist purposes, I would use "warmed." And it can be warmed by any process, by any amount as engineered. It is nature: things you DO produce disorder and waste heat. (I don't want to attract odd folks by using the proper terms.).

    And, yes, ANY power plant would have to go offline if the engineered cooling sink was not available. Your car wouldn't work without its "radiator," (which is much more a "convector") or the air moving through it (which also absorbs the heat of the exhaust).

    Yours,

    Reese

  • Reese

    Okay, reading the article I see Lewis used "Light water" in the right context. Sorry.

  • One of the possible reasons why there is such an attitude pattern in relation to nuclear power even among the Greens, is that the actual media image of nuclear power is more and more connecting nuclear power to a single possible and effective solution to global warming. I did a small questionnaire on my blog recently asking a question, do you think that nuclear power is a solution to global warming? And more than 70% of the visitors answered "Yes", although there was an answer "Maybe yes", "Not sure" and so on to choose from. It shows that people in general are confident in the fact that nuclear will save us from the global climate change. Very few have doubts.

  • Timothy:

    As you have noted, there have been no "new" nuclear plants started in the US in more than 30 years. It is interesting to note, however, that since the last new plant came on line in 1996 – a TVA plant named Watts Bar – the amount of electricity generated by nuclear plants in the US each year has increased from 674 Billion Kilowatt-hours to more than 800 billion kilowatt hours in 2007. In contrast, the total amount of electricity generated each by all other non combustion sources (wind, solar, hydro) is about 316 Billion kilowatt hours – with more than 289 Billion of that from hydroelectric dams.

    Not much publicity, not much attention, just a heck of a lot of power. Just think what it could be if there had not been so much opposition to new plant construction!

    The financial aspects of the debate get a lot of attention from the people that still fight nuclear power. Their fighting and delaying tactics, however, are a part of the reason that the capital cost of fission plants is higher than those of similar coal or gas plants. From a pure technical point of view, nuclear plants are simpler than their competitors and could actually cost less when you include the cost of the fuel delivery and processing infrastructure plus the cost of waste disposal. After all, most fossil plants currently get a huge virtual subsidy because they get to use our common atmosphere as their waste dump. Nuclear plants have a waste issue that is far smaller in dimensions – small enough so that they can manage all high level waste on the site where it is generated.

    There are certainly many technical improvements that have been made by the very smart and dedicated people in the business in the interval since we last built new commercial plants. It is time to encourage those learned lessons to be applied before it is too late to ward off some of the severe consequences that will result if we continue to be addicted to fossil fuel combustion.

  • Joe

    I believe that many of our problems are the result of short-sightedness.

    There is smarter and safer nuclear technology, such as pebble-bed reactors.

    We just some leadership that is willing to plan ahead, rather than having to reactively implement something with a more expensive cleanup cost.

  • Some interesting perspectives.

    My own views of nuclear power have shifted somewhat since starting this debate. Principally because I have come to realise that modern reactors and the governance processes that surround their design, building and operation are literally a generation apart from Three Mile Island, Windscale and Chernobyl.

    More interesting are the solutions that are now available to take advantage of problems such as the waste water issue referred to above – such as using the excess heat for water desalination.

    I would encourage anybody who is sceptical of the safety and benefits of nuclear power to thoroughly investigate the realities of modern nuclear energy. It really is one of the few genuine solutions out there today.