Nukes Now

by Belle Waring on April 9, 2007

It’s a standard move in global warming denial rhetoric to say, “if they were really serious about CO2 production, those crazy hippies would support the construction of nuclear power plants. Bwa ha ha ha, in your face, Al Gore!” Now, I never see anyone actually go on to advocate new nuclear power plants. But guess what? If, after the implementation of a reasonable, revenue-neutral carbon tax, nuclear power would be competitive without subsidies, then I would be happy to support nuclear power. If government subsidies would still be required, I think we would be better off subsidising something like wind or solar power, because nuclear power plants do have a wee negative externality problem, what with all the extra security needed, and that whole “radioactive” issue. Oh, now that I’m here, I might as well just offer up a few other responses to various right-wing Morrisette-ironic talking points.

Nukes


“Why don’t feminists in the developed world care anything about the opression of women in Muslim countries, huh?” Um, what? People tend to care the most about and be the most effective in dealing with problems close to them, and so many feminists work on issues like reproductive freedom closer to home. Nonetheless, feminists absolutely do care about women’s rights in other countries. Like every other feminist ever, I think that the medieval gender apartheid mandated in theocratic states like Saudi Arabia is Very Bad. Before the attacks of September 11 most of the things I knew about the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan I heard from feminist sources, because feminists were horrified by the treatment of women there and were raising money for charities attempting to help. Just two little points, though. First, for the purposes of drawing a distinction between nations where women’s lot is horrible and those in which it is merely bad, the division of the world into Muslim and non-Muslim states is totally useless. That’s because there are plenty of majority Muslim states in which women enjoy quite decent rights and political representation, and plenty of non-Muslim states in which the status of women is very low and they face huge challenges. Consider Female Genital Mutilation, for example; it’s not a practice mandated by Islam but rather a cultural one in North Africa. Christian women in Ghana are subjected to the practice; Muslim women from Bangladesh are not. Secondly, insofar as feminism comes to be seen merely as a stick with which to beat our enemies in the Clash of Civilizations™, it is weakened as a tool for women’s liberation. So, my right-wing friends, the women of the world thank you for your tireless efforts so far in advancing the cause of global equity feminism, but maybe you could let actual feminists take it from here? Thanks a bunch.

“If you love Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez so much, why don’t you marry them?” This one is a stumper, I can tell you. How will I be able to disassociate myself from Castro, the senescent dictator of a repressive socialist state? Oh, wait, no, it’s not that hard after all. Castro is a bad man, autocratic communism is a bad form of government, and he has run Cuba into the ground. Still, I can’t help but feel that America’s 50-year-long snit fit, more appropriate to a 7th-grade girl of middling popularity than a great nation, has not helped matters much. I hope that the passing of Castro’s generation, both in Cuba and Florida, will allow both countries to adopt less obviously insane policies. Hugo Chavez—seriously, why all the hating on Hugo Chavez? I don’t think he’s an excellent president, he’s obviously animated by a significant undercurrent of anti-democratic tendencies, and I disagree with many of his economic policies, insofar as I have bothered to learn about his policies. Which, when you get right down to it, isn’t much, because I don’t see why I should care deeply about Venezuelan politics. Also, I have regretfully come to the conclusion, after much soul-searching, that actual Venezuelan voters ought to be in charge of choosing their nation’s leader, rather then say, me and the Latin American bureau editor for The Economist. So, the fact that he has won quite a number of elections and referenda is just going to have to carry the day. Maybe if his predecessors hadn’t been corrupt, not-a-dime’s-worth-of-difference political parties dedicated to advancing the interests of a narrow economic elite, he wouldn’t be so, you know, popular and stuff. A thought.

“Don’t hold your breath waiting for liberals to condemn Iran for their treatment of the captured British marines.” Exhale, everybody! The marines are reporting that they were subjected to false execution, a well-known form of psychological torture and one which I condemn unreservedly. I have this rule of thumb, which I recommend to everyone: if Solzhenitsyn recounts some practice as one employed in coercive interrogations at Lubyanka, it’s torture. So, false execution: definitely torture. Also torture: long-time standing; exposure to extremes of heat and cold; forcing prisoners to kneel or stand in painful positions; putting prisoners in cells so small they cannot stand or lie down; keeping them awake for days at a time. These practices were the meat and drink of the NKVD, who preferred them to fingernail extraction for the same reason certain American torture advocates do: they can be made to seem as if they are not torture, even though they are, in fact, actually torture. FYI.

“Liberals don’t condemn terrorist atrocities in Iraq, such as the latest chlorine bomb attacks, because they think Arabs are sub-human scum from whom nothing better can be expected.” Um, who thinks Arabs are scum now? Moving on, I have a strong sense that my condemning such attacks is pointless (still, obviously, I read about such attacks with surprise and horror and regard them as evil). Give me a lever long enough and I will…er, scratch my ass with it in a spasm of useless, self-righteous moral preening! By contrast, since I am a citizen of a democratic state, my efforts to change US policy by criticizing, say, Yoo’s depraved torture justifications may actually have some effect, however small. Additionally, it’s true that qua terrorists (rather than qua Arabs), I don’t expect much better from Sunni ultras. On the other hand, I am a US patriot. This means I have a lot invested in our city on the hill image and don’t want to see my nation’s honor dragged through the mud by a bunch of incompetent authoritarian dillholes. I don’t know why I’m implying that’s a conditional; I done already seen that, and I didn’t like it any. Join us next week, when we find out that I know you are, and go on to wonder, what am I?

{ 1 trackback }

Inside the Asylum :: Green Power :: April :: 2007
04.09.07 at 11:13 pm

{ 111 comments }

1

Michael Nielsen 04.09.07 at 8:39 am

At least one well-known environmentalist (Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, among other things) is on record as supporting nuclear power.

2

Anthony 04.09.07 at 9:17 am

Just to bring a positive aspect to this, you can express solidarity with natural allies like Trade Unionists and academics in places like Iraq. That’s something the right wing won’t be doing (the US army have in fact not helped unions).

My colleagues and I, including some Iraqis (ex-pat and in-country), have just delivered a few hundred pounds of books to a Baghdad University. OK, it’s small beer, unlikely to be of vast importance in the wider scheme of things, but it is at least something. It is perhaps something other academics could attempt.

The TUC Iraq appeal is another way of expressing solidarity and support with ordinary Iraqis trying to lead normal lives in tremendously difficult circumstances, and something I suspect the majority of the Crooked Timber readership would be happy to support.

With regard to your last point that condemnation of terrorist attacks is pointless, then read the words of the TUC leader:

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber wrote to the GFIW’s President Rasim al-Awadi, saying: ‘Trade unionism is founded on the principle that an injury to one is an injury to all, and I have no doubt that, contrary to their intentions, the actions of these terrorists will only redouble the commitment of Iraqi trade unionists, and the solidarity of trade unionists around the world for your struggles.

I find it hard to condemn that as “a spasm of useless, self-righteous moral preening”. Surely you can do both? Criticize torture and condemn terrorism?

If an expression of such solidarity with an Iraqi trade unionist is pointless, then surely all expressions of solidarity with any trade unionist in any country are pointless? We should be careful not to make exceptions of Iraqi Trade unionists, because of a desire to react to a right-wing agenda. The TUC work with unions in Burma, China, Colombia, India, Israel/Palestine, Nigeria, Russia, and Zimbabwe because the country’s workers or trade unions face particular problems. There is no reason to leave out Iraq.

http://www.tuc.org.uk/international/index.cfm?mins=376

3

Belle Waring 04.09.07 at 9:36 am

it’s not that I think any and all condemnation of this kind of thing is useless, or that it’s purely a zero-sum game wrt opposing the policies of western governments. I just find the constant hand-wringing about how liberals criticize human rights violations by the US but never criticize brutal murderers in other countries to be silly (and also false). I think it’s obvious that people who blow up and gas civilians, or kidnap people and drill them full of holes, are evil and what they are doing is wrong. I don’t think I will have any impact on their actions by restating this obvious point. your point about supporting Iraqi trade unions and other organizations is a good one, though. I’ve been wondering about opportunities for charitable donation that would have an impact in Iraq. I would be interested to hear how you organized your book donation, and I would imagine lots of other CT readers would as well.

4

Anthony 04.09.07 at 10:13 am

I would be interested to hear how you organized your book donation.

With great difficulty. There isn’t an obvious way in which you can help develop links with Iraqi Civil society – but it can be done. The US seems to have better ways of doing this, and at least in the medical area run huge book donation schemes.

We went to an international professional/academic organisation and obtained contact details for the Iraqi professional/academic organisation. Once we had built up links with them, we organised a small group of people to help run the scheme – including Iraqis. We decided early on to supply new material – rather than getting people to offload old textbooks they no longer wanted, and the Iraqi academics choose the materials.

Shipping was done at cost price via DHL, who contacted us after we were featured in local newspaper story. The whole thing has been done without any government help. It has however, taken a long time to sort out; even the press release about the arrival of the books has been delayed because of my concern that any photos we use could be used to identify individuals.

5

Belle Waring 04.09.07 at 11:04 am

thanks, anthony, that’s really interesting.

6

novakant 04.09.07 at 12:03 pm

Sorry, but I don’t quite your argument re nuclear power, it seems to rest solely on the question of subsidies:

if it’s competitive w/o subsidies, you’d be happy to support it, if not, you would not, being concerned about the negative externalities.

But these externalities come with nuclear power, no matter if subsidised or not, and they have of such disastrous and existential potential consequences, that I wonder how economic competitiveness should be the deciding factor in allowing it or not.

Maybe there’s a disconnect here, because the discussion in Europe and the US about nuclear energy have been very different.

7

Rich Puchalsky 04.09.07 at 12:08 pm

“[…] I am a US patriot. This means I have a lot invested in our city on the hill image […]”

As long as people continue to be invested in this image, the same abuses will continue. The U.S. is neither uniquely good nor uniquely bad. The attempt to bring up Exceptional America when confronting the latest instance of torture or aggressive war always means that no lessons will be learned for next time — it will all be blamed on Bush, and 20 years from now we’ll be back to being the city on the hill again.

8

anon 04.09.07 at 12:14 pm

Is nuclear power carbon neutral? The construction and maintenance of the plant wouldn’t be.

Refinement of uranium ore might not be either if the power used was from natural gas or coal powered plants. The ore has to be extracted from a mine a well.

9

Belle Waring 04.09.07 at 12:17 pm

novakant: I just mean that if nuclear power will be a cost-effective way of generating clean power, I’ll support it, but not otherwise. nuclear power here in the states has never yet, AFAIK, been competitive with other forms of power without government subsidies. the various problems associated with nuclear power are serious, obviously, and you’d want to take that into consideration, i.e. are the externalities actually priced in. still, I think concerted work on the project will bring improvements and that the consequences of global warming are dire enough that the waste-disposal issues etc. are looking comparatively benign.

unrelatedly, I was really really happy when I found this dead-stock T-shirt in a South SF thrift store. I gave it to John, and he is chary of wearing it outside in case people think he’s insane.

10

Belle Waring 04.09.07 at 12:18 pm

I don’t know why I just said “here in the States” when I am actually in Singapore…

11

aaron 04.09.07 at 12:33 pm

How would nuclear subsidies compare to subsidies and protectionist policies in place in the coal, oil, and gas industries?

Shouldn’t you apply the same principle to recycling?

12

soru 04.09.07 at 12:33 pm

I don’t think I will have any impact on their actions by restating this obvious point.

That is clearly false, unless you believe something very strange about the people who commit, support and acquiesce to such acts.

You can even see why right-wingers detect anti-arab racism in such statements, as it one explanation. And perhaps, for some, the first that comes to mind: if the people involved were see an sub-human beasts, then soft power, international concensus repeatedly and calmly expressed, would indeed seem futile.

Like trying to train a shark to vegetarianism.

I’d assume the real reasons for ignoring such methods are more subtle – a certain defensive nationalism, a focus on domestic issues, an unfamiliarity with the mechanisms for international solidarity, or just generalised despair.

13

Shane 04.09.07 at 12:56 pm

I found the post to be interesting, but every argument addressed seemed to be utterly ridiculous on its own. If you are in fact encountering people who say this kind of stuff to you (I’m not saying you don’t; I’m sure most bloggers get nasty email from weirdos all the time), I really don’t think these need addressing.

On the nuclear issue, though I disagree. I support government subsidies for nuclear power in the form of a carbon taxes or credits. Instead of specifically subsidizing technologies, I think we should be taxing effects. In this case, we’d be subsidizing wind/solar/nuclear power all at the same time. MIT’s Future of Nuclear Power is a summary of how nuclear power could be used in the future as part of a long term solution to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Any fool who says that nuclear alone is the solution isn’t worth listening to. However, the scientific consensus is strongly behind nuclear as being safe and clean, emotional associations aside. After all, Europe uses a substantial amount of nuclear power and they don’t seem to have any problems with it.

Awesome tshirt, by the way.

14

franck 04.09.07 at 1:15 pm

France generates upward of 80% of its power through nuclear power, and has done so for decades. (Waiting to see right wing brains explode on this one – Nuclear Power Good! France Bad! Does not compute!) Saying we should ramp up renewables is correct, but there’s no way we can match our current energy needs with renewables, given current technology. So opposing nuclear power and pushing renewables means a _drastic_ cut in energy production.

We could largely solve the carbon problem with current technology, but it would take mass changeover to electric cars, phaseout of oil and coal plants, and their replacement with nuclear and renewables. It’s essentially a political problem.

You are also discounting the externalities of renewables. Look at all the trouble the Cape Wind project has had getting started.

Ultimately, we are subsidizing oil and coal plants now, by not including the costs of pollution and climate change in their costs. This idea of “no subsidies” is ludicrous, especially since renewables aren’t cost-effective without subsidies either in many cases.

15

franck 04.09.07 at 1:17 pm

One good reason to oppose nuclear power, in my mind, is the centralized state power a nuclear industry requires. That’s why it is favored in France, and I know that many linguisitic and ethnic communities in European countries got a lot of mileage out of opposing nuclear power plants. Wales is probably the best example.

16

fred lapides 04.09.07 at 1:21 pm

centralized state power? gosh. Thank the good lord that UK and USA do not have centralized state power.

17

perianwyr 04.09.07 at 1:33 pm


I’d assume the real reasons for ignoring such methods are more subtle – a certain defensive nationalism, a focus on domestic issues, an unfamiliarity with the mechanisms for international solidarity, or just generalised despair.

Er, no, I think it’s just a mystery why those who oppose the war have to restate the obvious every ten seconds as a matter of course, while it’s meritorious and exceptional for someone who supports the war to do so.

18

Sk 04.09.07 at 1:44 pm

Glad to hear that Belle is all for nukes-because they are coming regardless (wow, you really are part of the reality-based community…)

http://www.cera.com/aspx/cda/public1/news/pressReleases/pressReleaseDetails.aspx?CID=8711

See in particular:

“In the U.S., several dozen reactors are in various stages of proposal development;…”

Sk

19

John Emerson 04.09.07 at 1:51 pm

Me and the Latin American bureau editor for The Economist.

That man is a horrible cad — and you a married woman, too. And a mother.

20

a 04.09.07 at 2:10 pm

I guess the worst thing about responding to flippant criticisms is that one is flippant in return.

21

John Emerson 04.09.07 at 2:14 pm

Between utilities deregulation and the successful Republican attempts to discredit government by deliberate incompetence (Katrina), even if I favored nuclear power in principle, I’d oppose it. At least the French are rule-following statist technocrats.

22

James 04.09.07 at 2:37 pm

Regarding the negative externalities, safety, and central control issues, pebble bed reactors potentially change the story. China is prototyping one, and plans to add 30 in short order.

23

aaron 04.09.07 at 2:40 pm

I have a counter-intuitive appoach to conservation that demands thorough investigation.

24

lemuel pitkin 04.09.07 at 2:47 pm

“Why don’t feminists in the developed world care anything about the opression of women in Muslim countries, huh?”

Katha Pollit used to devote a couple of her Nation columns a year to the situation of women under the Taliban. It’s about the only place I ever recall the subject being mentioned before September 11.

25

Dan 04.09.07 at 3:01 pm

Carbon taxes are not a subsidy to nuclear power (see Shane’s comment above). As we say on our Carbon Tax Center website:
Charging American businesses and individuals a price to emit carbon dioxide (CO2) is essential to reduce U.S. emissions quickly enough to prevent atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from reaching an irreversible tipping point. It’s a bedrock economic principle that prices of goods and services should reflect (“internalize” as the economists say) all of the societal costs (such as pollution) that production of the goods or services imposes on society. Yet the prices of gasoline, electricity and fuels in general don’t include many of these societal costs, particularly their impact on global warming. The rapid transformation we need from a fossil fuels-based energy system to reliance on energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable fuels simply won’t happen without carbon taxes sending accurate and powerful price signals into every corner of the economy and every aspect of life.

For more information on carbon taxes, check out our website.

26

Adam Kotsko 04.09.07 at 3:25 pm

Another possible definition of torture: anything that is unbearable. So for instance, since most people can’t endure more than 15 seconds of water-boarding, it’s torture.

I would venture to say that in our quaint pre-9/11 world, that was basically everyone’s working definition of torture. I miss that world sometimes.

27

Hidari 04.09.07 at 3:50 pm

‘I don’t think I will have any impact on their actions by restating this obvious point…..That is clearly false, unless you believe something very strange about the people who commit, support and acquiesce to such acts.

You can even see why right-wingers detect anti-arab racism in such statements, as it one explanation.’.

Oh gimme a break. As Glenn Greenwald has been pointing out in Salon this week, ‘right wingers’ (and I assume by ‘right wingers’ you mean paranoid extremist nutcases like Glenn Reynolds) don’t give a shit about Arabs. They are perfectly capable of playing the ‘Oh, oh, oh, so you don’t care about Arab democracy? Eh, eh, eh? You know what that is dontcha? Dontcha? Dontcha? That’s racism that is! Simple racialistism. Yeah.’ But no one is fooled because within weeks (days in the case of Reynolds) they are equally capable of playing the ‘Arabs should be nuked till they glow’ card, or, in the immortal prose of the Instakiller: ‘More Rubble, Less Trouble’.

In other words, when trying to paint themselves as Good Guys they paint their enemies as racists, and when posing as Tough Guys they are perfectly happy to play the race card. All the time claiming that they are being completely consistent.

These are simply rhetorical devices to mask the real power games that are being played, and no one cares and nor should they. If anyone gives a toss what Reynolds (who has enthusiastically backed torture and murder, as long as it’s people he dislikes being tortured and murdered) thinks about anything, more fool them. And if any ‘right wingers’ want to argue about this: FIRST they clearly and openly dissociate themselves from the Monster Raving Loonie tendency of the Republican Party (as represented by Reynolds and other nutjobs), and THEN, and only then will I listen to what they have to say.

28

Jackmormon 04.09.07 at 3:50 pm

It’s about the only place I ever recall the subject being mentioned before September 11.

You didn’t get the endless mailing-list spam?

29

Duncan Young 04.09.07 at 4:17 pm

Here’s the nuclear paradox. While nukes have the potential to reduce emissions for countries that have them, the biggest potential for emissions growth is, by definition, in the developing world. And given how much the developed world is freaking out about Iran’s nuclear moves, wide scale nuclear development in politically immature states is not going to be encouraged. Indeed, the only economic longterm fission source are the fast breeder reactors, as they basically concentrate the economically prohibitive waste down to, well, weapons grade levels.

At the end of the day, the greatest existential threat to civilization is still nuclear weapons, not global warming for all its dangers. And the only useful counter to climate change is technology that can be exported (what that technology is, I dont know).

In short, we screwed.

30

roger 04.09.07 at 4:18 pm

I do wish defenders of nuclear power would talk about the whole system. Obviously, the system is not just centered in the nuclear power plant. The dangers of nuclear power are distributed in ways that the dangers of, say, natural gas are not. Plus, the time scale of danger from nuclear material is a teensy bit weird. You can clean up the Prodhue bay in Alaska from the oil spilled by a grounded tanker, and it might take a little time for the environment to recover for safe human use. On the other hand, we will have to wait, oh, 30,000 years before certain no go areas around the Hanford plant are safe. 30,000 years seems like a long time to me, but maybe I’m just a crybaby.

Any form of extraction has human and environmental costs – see what has been happening to West Virginia for the last seven years, for instance, as the Bush administration has pushed sub-Soviet style environmental management for coal mining in that poor benighted state.

But besides the dangers of uranium mining – which fall mainly on the third world, happily out of the picture of the nice domestic nuclear plant buzzing along – there are other hazards as well – since everything isn’t done at the plant. There are separate uranium enrichment facilities, for instance. You can look at their bright and shiny records in Paducah, Kentucky, and Piketon, Ohio, models of responsible disposal, if your idea of responsible disposal is to throw radioactive tailings in the ground water and lie about it.

Luckily, the Bush administration is pushing its all purpose response for problems such as these: de-regulation. The Clinton administration nicely privatized the enrichment of uranium, and the Bush administration is now cutting back on oversite, leading, of course, so we have bipartisan consensus here, so dear to the heart of Washington Post opeders: there’s a better and safer future for us all, with occasional patches of 30,000 year no go areas that anybody can live with.

31

Anthony Paul Smith 04.09.07 at 4:24 pm

“As long as people continue to be invested in this image, the same abuses will continue. The U.S. is neither uniquely good nor uniquely bad.” – Rich Puchalsky

I completely agree to the core of my being with what you said. I’m suprised that staunch secularists would ever embrace this image as it was first developed during the first Great Awakening and is fully imbued with the kind of bad, Protestant civil religion at work in contemporary America that people often confuse with theocracy (which is also bad, but different).

32

Louis 04.09.07 at 4:29 pm

Nuclear energy is surely a safer form of energy than coal. Should seriously consider building more nuclear plants.

33

franck 04.09.07 at 4:37 pm

roger,

I’m going to put on my iconoclastic hat here and mention that small no-go regions might actually be enormously beneficial environmentally. Just look at what has happened in the Exclusion Zone around Chernobyl. Regions where humans are prevented from going end up being paradise for all other forms of life on this planet.

Coal mining kills way, way more people than uranium mining, both in terms of direct deaths and deaths due to debilitating health effects. Coal also kills way more due to pollution.

There is no rule that says that we have to run our nuclear power industry the way Bush hacks want us to run it. You’re arguing against a straw man here.

34

Doormat 04.09.07 at 4:46 pm

Franck, I disagree that we cannot do with renewables what we can with nuclear. See Greenpeace’s technical report. This is specific to the UK, which has different circumstances to the USA I will agree, but they pretty persuasively argue that using the same amount of cash, all the gains of nuclear in the UK could be gained by energy efficiency, de-centralised power generation and moderate use of renewables. I’m with Belle here: given a pot of money, we should first spend it on things which don’t have obvious downsides! Now this applies in the UK, as no-one is suggesting a large scale move (like France) to nuclear, just a replacement of our current plants, so the pot of money is relatively small.

35

Jim Harrison 04.09.07 at 4:47 pm

If you run the numbers, you quicky discover three things about the future of nuclear power generation:

1. Nuclear power cannot solve either the energy deficit or climate change. Even if we go balls-out for nuclear power, we’re going to depend upon coal for the next hundred years or so. And that’s assuming that we also finally get around to serious conservation stepts and also develop renewable sources of power.

2. Nevertheless, the energy deficit and climate change will require us to build a great many nuclear plants. Nuclear isn’t sufficient but it is necessary.

3. The debate about the storage of nuclear wastes will eventually become moot, not only because the pressing need for power sources will make the risks seem more acceptable but because the wastes are actually a resource. We’ll eventually go in for reprocessing if only because the supply of uranium is not infinite. As the price of fissionable material goes up, reprocessed fuel will look very attractive. In fact, I expect we’ll eventually opt for building breeder reactors that produce plutonium on purpose.

36

lemuel pitkin 04.09.07 at 4:51 pm

I’m quite terrified of global warming. The dangers of nuclear power, while real, seem pretty manageable in comparison. And given that the greatest threat to world peace lately is US militarism, I’m not sure that increased proliferation isn’t at least partly a feature rather than a bug.

On the other hand, solar and especially wind power seem to be on the verge of being competitive with fossil fuels, without nuclear’s downsides. So yes, any subsidies should go there. In other words, I agree with Belle. (There should be an acronym for this — IAWB. Learn it and use it, CTers!)

37

Alan K. Henderson 04.09.07 at 5:08 pm

France generates upward of 80% of its power through nuclear power, and has done so for decades. (Waiting to see right wing brains explode on this one – Nuclear Power Good! France Bad! Does not compute!)

Yes, conservatives pick on France for its dominant leftist political culture, but they’ll give credit where someone they disagree with a lot does something right.

38

roger 04.09.07 at 5:09 pm

Francke, I must say, I knew blogs were powerful and commenters on blogs were awesomely powerful, but I have never heard the U.S. government dismissed so, well, cavalierly:

“There is no rule that says that we have to run our nuclear power industry the way Bush hacks want us to run it. You’re arguing against a straw man here.”

If I’d known that the people who put the rules in place and have a mighty good chance of electing the next president – so far, Republican candidates routinely outpoll the dems – and who also mightly influence the neo-liberals – hence, the reference to the changes made under Clinton – can be waved away because I say so, my life and arguments would be much simpler.

So, for my next trick, on the count of three, we will be out of Iraq! AIDS in Africa – sorry, we are now distributing all the medicines you guy need, free!

I’ll be back tomorrow to solve the rest of the world’s problems. No straw men allowed!

39

soru 04.09.07 at 5:21 pm

@Hidari: way to miss the point. It is precisely because, for some people, racism is an available explanation that they see it in others.

The dynamic is ‘if I believed that, it could only be because I also believed this other thing, which I am kind of tempted to’.

The same principle applies to nuclear power – they say ‘if i were against nuclear power, it could only be because I don’t consider global warming a serious enough threat to tolerate some minor dangers’.

Wheras comitted anti-nuclear types generally don’t believe that. They don’t see nuclear dangers as secondary, a matter of a worst-case small wars worth of cancer deaths, but as ‘existential’, planet-threatening.

40

franck 04.09.07 at 5:40 pm

Jim Harrison,

France went whole-hog into nuclear only thirty years ago, and they are 90% plus nuclear and hydro now. Why would the US need to rely on coal-fired plants for _a hundred years_?

There are downsides with renewables, which people seem to be ignoring. Loss of real estate, pollution due to solar panel production, wildlife loss, flooding to produce hydropower – these are all downsides. They can be mitigated, yes, but so can the downsides due to nuclear power.

41

Dave W. 04.09.07 at 6:00 pm

if Solzhenitsyn recounts some practice as one employed in coercive interrogations at Lubyanka, it’s torture.

I read what these putative “false executions” amounted to. While not-nice, I am reasonably confident that Solzhenitsyn would not have referred to the conduct as neither “false execution” nor “torture.” To do so cheapens these words through inappropriate usage.

42

dbw 04.09.07 at 6:24 pm

if they were really serious about CO2 production, those crazy hippies would support the construction of nuclear power plants. Bwa ha ha ha, in your face, Al Gore!

This sort of argument is usually aimed at people who claim that the consequences of the greenhouse effect are likely to be catastrophic in the not-to-distant future (like Al Gore for example).

Now, I never see anyone actually go on to advocate new nuclear power plants.

Seriously? I’ve seen plenty of people go on the advocate more nuclear power (the infamous Instapundit for example). But in any case, the people who make this argument often do not believe that the greenhouse effect will have catastrophic (or even significant) consequences, so there is no reason why they would go on to advocate nuclear power.

..I think we would be better off subsidising something like wind or solar power…

Wind and solar might put a small dent in greenhouse emissions, but if you want the 50-90% reductions that some greenhouse alarmists are calling for, the only viable option is nuclear.

“because nuclear power plants do have a wee negative externality problem, what with all the extra security needed, and that whole “radioactive” issue.”

Again, if you really think that the greenhouse effect is going to have catastrophic consequences, then these externalities are trivial.

Your position is fine if you don’t believe the greenhouse effect is going to have catastrophic consequences, but then the argument you are responding to is not addressed to you, and your response is beside the point.

43

a 04.09.07 at 7:46 pm

Franck – 10000 years ago the Pyramids hadn’t yet been built. In that time human beings have seen Alexander the Great, Caesar, Attilla the Hun, Genghis Khan, and Hitler, to mention only a few. Are you able to “mitigate” the disadvantage of nuclear waste lying around somewhere for 10000 years?

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Mark Shapiro 04.09.07 at 7:46 pm

It took me a while to get over “the friendly atom” and “too cheap to meter”. But nuclear not only requires subsidies, it is anti-market, and worse, anti-freedom. It requires central government regulation, bureaucracy, and security laws. It is the stepping stone to nuclear weaponry. No market in the world can provide the “right” amount of nuclear security, at any point in the nuclear fuel cycle.

As for the economics of clean energy, Amory Lovins has been crunching the numbers for decades (at the Rocky Mountain Institute, http://www.rmi.org). Energy efficiency and renewables lead the way and keep getting better.

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Jim Harrison 04.09.07 at 7:59 pm

Franck,

I’m not down on nuclear power. I’m simply pointing out that if you project energy needs over the next 100 years, you’ll find that nuclear simply can’t produce enough new power to make up for expected shortfalls. No one power source can. My thought, which a prediction and not a recomendation, is that the world will build and operate many more nuclear plants over the next 50 years or so, but most of the new capacity will be coal-powered plants with carbon capture and seqestration technology.

By the way, the fact that France gets most of its power from nuclear doesn’t mean that every country can get most of its power from nuclear. As more nuclear power stations are built, the price of uranium will go up–countries like France and Taiwan that are heavily into nuclear generation benefit from the current lack of competition. If I stand on a box, I’ll see the parade better. But that doesn’t imply that everybody can see better by standing on a box.

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Luis Alegria 04.09.07 at 8:22 pm

Ms. Waring,

Messrs. Franck and Harrison are the most sensible respondents on this thread, and to the extent of predicting the viability of nuclear power and its related issues, I agree with them completely.

As for the US track record on nuclear power – and this is a decentralized industry compared with France – speaking as someone with a foot in the US nuclear industry, the US has hands down the most effcient, cleanest and safest nuclear plant operations in the world, using thirty year old (at least) designs to boot. In fact, US nuclear plants are so well-looked after that their productive lives are looking like they will go twice as long as originally intended. The NRC has begun re-licensing plants to a presumed 60-year life.

And US nuclear electricity production costs ($/kw-hr)are lower than any save coal, and this includes the provision for decommissioning and storage costs.

The real problem with US nukes is not cost of operation, but construction costs and political risk. These go together, and only your side has the keys to remove this problem, not that I think it will happen.

I do not think this will be solved, because whatever noises are made by one or another individual environmentalist, the environmental industry as a whole (mainstream organizations such as the Sierra Club for instance) cannot accept this. They are a religious lot, and anti-nuclear is an article of faith. They are not and will never move, it would be like the Vatican denying the divinity of Christ. And because of the effective veto power of such a group (shades of ancient Polish Liberum Veto), until this band dies out I do not think you will see any nuclear power plant project break ground in the US for another generation.

As for liberation struggles in the third world – I am as it happens a former participant in one of these, that against our dictator Marcos. It was of extraordinary value for us to have the visible support, from 1983-86, of the US State Department (driven in part by Paul Wolfowitz, to whom, among many other influential analysts and career diplomats, we owe a great debt) and prominent politicians like former Congressman Stephen Solarz, who were often with us on the streets. And then there was the press, unequivocally on our side. The dictators men were on the rhetorical defensive from the first day.

But more than their direct influence in protecting our movement, even unofficially, was their effect on US official policy, because in the end that is what needs to be moved if one wants something done in this world. In our case that was decisively shifted by US public and institutional opinion. Of course Marcos was a bad man – but until the focus was on him and the movement against him, it was very easy to ignore him.

So do not despair at the utility of maintaining perspective and focus in denouncing things that other people do. There is no value in saying “but of course they are horrible, but its none of our business”. As the keepers of the only effective repository of power in this world, it is our business.

With such power comes the responsibility to use it – it must be used, as a moral imperative, even at the risk of errors, even in spite of US moral imperfections. There is so much, so horribly wrong with the world that the US can fix that obsession with what are really petty domestic problems is truly a failure of perspective. It is not better to worry about stains on the US image if that means doing nothing about horrors abroad.

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jet 04.09.07 at 9:57 pm

Jim Harrison,

Every country can indeed be just like France. As far as the next thousand years or so matter, uranium is wildly abundant. Japan has proven that uranium can be mined from sea water at about ~$800/ton. This is roughly 10 times the going price, but this process will most likely be improved. Even if sea water extraction costs stay flat, fuel prices are a tiny part of nuclear power costs (~70% of cost is interest on initial infrastructure costs).

As for externalities, coal and natural gas should be liable for their externalities also. An average coal plant will put more radiation into the environment than 3 mile did, while producing twice as expensive power.

France is only a special case in that they were right about nuclear power.

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jet 04.09.07 at 9:58 pm

Oh, and I meant to add Belle is the r0xorz. Loved the post.

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Hunter 04.09.07 at 11:26 pm

THANK YOU. While we’re at it:

1. I don’t “cheer” when things are going badly in Iraq. I mourn the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Every day I hope the “surge” will succeed. I lobby for other policies because I know the surge won’t.

2. I don’t think that George Bush is objectively “worse” than Osama Bin Laden. I choose to protest the former and not the latter because my actions and words can change the government where I live, not a fundamentalist radical in a sleeper cell.

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Brett Bellmore 04.09.07 at 11:50 pm

“Are you able to “mitigate” the disadvantage of nuclear waste lying around somewhere for 10000 years?”

Why not? Are you aware there are substances out there that have half lives of infinity? That’s right, they stay toxic FOREVER. Compared to your typical heavy metal toxin, radioactive isotopes are nice: They eventually go away! They don’t have to be guarded for eternity.

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Paul 04.09.07 at 11:53 pm

A “revenue-neutral carbon tax”?

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Jim Harrison 04.10.07 at 12:06 am

My understanding of the likely cost of uranium and other fissionable materials is based on projections that were produced by the nuclear industry itself, i.e. by people who have a vested interested in promoting nuclear power. Their scenarios include the use of thorium, reprocessed spent fuel, and even plutonium produced in breeder reactors.

Calculating the availability of mineral resources derived from hard rock sources is admittedly difficult. Unlike oil, which pretty much occurs in a geological setting or doesn’t, there are a whole range of concentrations of uranium in various deposits. That’s why you don’t read about “peak uranium.” At a higher and higher prices, lower and lower grade ores become exploitable. Tremendously expensive uranium doesn’t really help, however, especially if you use more energy acquiring it than you gain in burning it.

In any case, as I understand the economics of power production, the rate-limiting factor in building nuclear capacity, at least for the next several decades, is not fuel availability but the cost of new facilities and the political hurdles that obstruct projects.

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Brett Bellmore 04.10.07 at 12:45 am

“Tremendously expensive uranium doesn’t really help, however, especially if you use more energy acquiring it than you gain in burning it.”

True, but before you get down to that concentration, you’re mining ordinary granite, and pumping seawater, for “ore”. The limiting factor isn’t really the availabilty of fuel, which would last thousands of years, but instead the virtual certainty that fission will be technologically obsolete long before the fuel could run out. Probably before the century is out.

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franck 04.10.07 at 1:13 am

jim harrison,

So I think I understand where you are coming from now. Your projection of a hundred years assumes a political component that would prevent large outlays on nuclear technology or political will to force through a massive increase in nuclear power.

The fundamental restriction on nuclear power is not scientific or technical, it is political. This means it could be very, very difficult to overcome, as has been demonstrated on this thread. For many people, nuclear power is primarily a moral issue.

For me, I would prefer a mass switchover to electric vehicles and nuclear and renewable power to tide us over for the next fifty years or so until we can get efficient fusion power working. If fusion never comes, then at least we have dramatically reduced our carbon output and mitigated climate change. This is both technologically and economically feasible, but it might not be politically feasible.

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MQ 04.10.07 at 1:33 am

“A “revenue-neutral carbon tax”?”

This refers to a carbon tax in which revenues are used for offsetting cuts in income tax, corporate tax, or my favorite candidate for cuts, the payroll tax. No net increase in revenues to government, but the tax burden is shifted to a ‘pollutant’.

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Jon H 04.10.07 at 1:44 am

roger writes: “On the other hand, we will have to wait, oh, 30,000 years before certain no go areas around the Hanford plant are safe. 30,000 years seems like a long time to me, but maybe I’m just a crybaby.”

Sounds awful, except we’d be ecstatic if we could store CO2 in one place that easily and for so long.

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Anarch 04.10.07 at 1:59 am

Are you aware there are substances out there that have half lives of infinity? That’s right, they stay toxic FOREVER.

Unless leptons are toxic, I think you need to issue a revised statement there…

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Jim Harrison 04.10.07 at 2:01 am

Franck,

I don’t discount the political angle; but the projections I’m looking at are, if anything, rather optimistic on that score. The more fundatmental problem is that ot costs a lot to build a nuclear plant. You can’t just stamp your feet and will a plant into existence, especially since the utilities are mighty nervous about assuming debt for capital improvements.

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Shane 04.10.07 at 4:54 am

One clarification I think is worth mentioning – very radioactive isotopes have short half lives, and very long lived radioactive isotopes tend not to be very radioactive.

Another, many radioactive elements are dangerous not necessarily because they’re radioactive, but because they are toxic. If there were a substance that had all the physical and chemical properties of plutonium without any radiation, it would still be far more toxic than arsenic, and we would want it nowhere near our groundwater, ever.

Finally, I mentioned way above the carbon tax as a way to accomplish what nuclear subsidies would, which is to make nuclear power competitive with coal, with the broader effect of effectively subsidizing every energy source with lower-than-average carbon emissions. I think that it would be best as a revenue neutral tax, as others have mentioned. Of course, we shouldn’t stop there, since there are more greenhouse gases than just CO2.

Nuclear power should be part of a comprehensive solution including conservation, efficiency, renewables, maybe carbon trapping, perhaps even a giant sun shield in the sky, using nuclear explosives to shift the Earth’s orbit slightly farther away from the sun, etc. Ok maybe those last few are unreasonable. But in all seriousness, we should be looking at broad solutions which utilize many independent strategies so that success does not hinge on any one component. Scientific American had an issue last year outlining like 13 independent strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions, none of which relied on the others, but none of which could do the job on its own.

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Valuethinker 04.10.07 at 9:28 am

Shane

The piece you are referring to is Socolow and Paccala’s ’15 wedges’:

http://www.stabilisation2005.com/Robert_Socolow.pdf

http://www.stabilisation2005.com/day3/Socolow.pdf

second reference has the powerpoint slides.

One wedge is building 1000 3rd Generation nuclear power plants, another is burying the carbon output of 1000 large coal fired stations.

You can quickly see (as you do note from your comments) the mammoth size of any one of these tasks.

Building 1000 3rd gen reactors would cost on the order of $4 trillion. And we would have to be building 26 a year from 2012 onwards. When Ontario Hydro was building Darlington Generating Station (4 smaller nuclear units) in the early 90s, it was the largest single construction project in North America.

One can easily see the US might replace its existing 84 nuclear power reactors with 3rd Gen units. The units would be bigger (1350MW average size v. say 800MW now) but overall electric power usage would also be higher. So 84 units, or 2.5 a year from 2016 (the first French 3rd Gen comes on line in 2016 at Flamanville, all being well). Which would match the speed of construction of the original 100 or so civilian power reactors in the US– roughly built between Shippingport (1959) and 1989.

So it will be hard for the US to beat its current 20% share of electricity from nuclear, as the existing nuclear reactors phase out.

MIT estimates a cost of nuclear power at 6.75 cents/ Kwhr, but then argues it can be reduced by 25%. 6.75 cents would put it in line in cost with new wind or cogeneration, and about twice the cost of coal fired plants (c 3.5-4 cents/kwhr) and gas fired (c 2.5-3 cents, but with current gas prices and supply, not economic in the US).

This assumes the government assumes the cost of long term waste disposal. The British decontamination and disposal liability for its civilian nuclear programme (one of the oldest in the world) is currently £70bn (present value) although insiders have told me it is actually more like £140bn.

The French system, no one knows, not even the French, how much their programme cost, because it was conducted by a nationalised industry, with strong cross subsidies from the state.

Complicating the picture, since the MIT study (2003) the price of construction of all power plants (including wind farms) has gone up by at least 30%. And of course there is almost no capacity in the world nuclear manufacturing industry (as no one has been recruited in the last 20 years).

The best place to put nuclear reactors is on the sea coast (they obey Cornot’s law, ie the ratio of incoming water temperature to outgoing water temperature determines the efficiency of the plant). France had to shut down reactors during the heat wave of 2003, because the rivers ran too low.

The coasts of the US are also the hardest places to site reactors, due to concentrations of people. And in Britain, the reactors are sitting on coastal sites that likely will be under water by 2100, at least part of the time.

Similarly although China and India have ambitious programmes, it’s very unlikely that more than 10-20% of their electric power will come from nuclear, in any reasonable timeframe. China has something like 20GW capacity of civilian nuclear power planned or operating, and is fast on track to have a total power system of around 1,000 GW (vs. 800 for the US), 80% of which is coal. So even scaling the Chinese system 10 times (and assuming no further growth in consumption) you get to 20%.

(I’m automatically discounting the post 2050 period. If we have not stabilised CO2 levels at around 500-550ppm by 2050, then we are toast anyways, in fact we may be doomed at a much lower level, but we don’t know until we get there).

One can be reasonably optimistic about the likelihood of new power technologies in the post 2050 world (although we still generate electricity pretty much as we did in 1950, and with very similar thermal efficiencies) but still have great concerns about our ability to adjust, fast enough, in the meantime.

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Valuethinker 04.10.07 at 9:52 am

http://carbonsequestration.us/Papers-presentations/htm/Pacala-Socolow-ScienceMag-Aug2004.pdf

rereading Socolow, he says 700GW of nuclear power.

Which is less demanding than my number (1.35 TW ie 1000 large stations).

So doable, but also only 1/8th of what needs to be achieved in terms of carbon mitigation.

(if you don’t believe in global warming, you would never go for nukes, under any circumstances. A coal fired station can produce electricity for half as much, the cost of cleaning up the pollution is a fraction of that, and the US has 250 years of coal supplies)

All the logistic, political, locational and waste issues surrounding that kind of scaling up in the USA remain open.

I think the apposite question is: ‘The French can build the world’s highest speed train service (pace the Japanese). Has/can the US do the same thing?’

If your answer is no, then you want to think quite carefully about the differences in French society, politics and use of technology from American. Because the challenges of covering France in TGVs were very similar to the challenges of getting France’s electricity from nuclear power.

The decisions to go for nuclear power and the TGV were both taken in the early 1970s, in response to the energy crisis.

On French nuclear power see

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/french.html

On US nuclear safety see

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/search.html

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dave heasman 04.10.07 at 10:32 am

I’d be happier with nuclear power in the UK if a normal commercial insurance company could be found that was prepared to underwrite the risks that it would underwrite without flinching for any other industrial project.
It has been suggested to those enthusiastic about nuclear power that they should pool resources and set up an insurance company to do just that – it should be a licence to print money. But they have never done it.

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Brett Bellmore 04.10.07 at 10:56 am

“If there were a substance that had all the physical and chemical properties of plutonium without any radiation, it would still be far more toxic than arsenic, and we would want it nowhere near our groundwater, ever.”

Perhaps, but plutonium is fuel, not waste. A rational nuclear system would be burning it, not burying it. Once you use all the fissile and fertile elements in the “waste”, there’s not a lot left.

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albert 04.10.07 at 11:39 am

A rational nuclear system would be burning it, not burying it.

I assume by this that you mean one vastly different from anything in place at present, because present nuclear technologies create waste that is more radioactive than its inputs.

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Valuethinker 04.10.07 at 11:45 am

65. albert

I think a liquid metal reactor could be ‘cooked’ to burn most of the atomic waste. You would still get a highly radioactive residue, but of much smaller volume. However the process has safety challenges.

This was the technology used in the French Super Phenix breeder reactor, but that was eventually scrapped. No one has made the process commercial, and safe.

The fact remains that about 70% of the world’s reactors are derived from Admiral Hyman Rickover’s submarine technology ie Pressurised Water. Add in the CANDU and Boiling Water systems, which are very similar, and you are closer to 90%-95% (the balance being Russian graphite reactors, and British Advanced Gas). That technology was developed in the late 1940s, and so has almost 60 years of development and operating experience behind it.

We’re not going to shift from that technology in a hurry. We would need at least 20 years of development and testing of a new reactor technology.

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Valuethinker 04.10.07 at 11:47 am

Dave heasman

The Price Anderson Act remains a model for what we will have to do, when we start burying CO2. ie indemnify the industry for the rest of time against the risk of leakage (beyond a certain level of damages).

There are market failures out there, things private markets will just not do. If we want to have those industries and technologies, government has to intervene.

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Erich J. Knight 04.10.07 at 1:17 pm

Terra Preta Soil Technology to Manage the Carbon Cycle

After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology
can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

Below is my review of these efforts in the Academic and private sectors, please forward this to all the experts you know, if you think it merits their time and support.

Sen. Byrd and Sen. Rockefeller of W VA and Rep. Udall had very positive responses to Terra Preta soils technology proposals presented to them.

Could you please consider looking for a champion for this orphaned Terra Preta(TP) Carbon Soil Technology.

The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.
Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Biomass by 2030
by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
http://www.ases.org/climatechange/toc/07_biomass.pdf

The organization 25×25 (see 25x’25 – Home) released it’s (first-ever, 55-page )”Action Plan” ; see http://www.25×25.org/storage/25×25/d…ActionPlan.pdf
On page 31, as one of four foci for recommended RD&D, the plan lists: “The development of biochar, animal agriculture residues and other non-fossil fuel based fertilizers, toward the end of integrating energy production with enhanced soil quality and carbon sequestration.”
and on p 32, recommended as part of an expanded database aspect of infrastructure: “Information on the application of carbon as fertilizer and existing carbon credit trading systems.”

I feel 25×25 is now the premier US advocacy organization for all forms of renewable energy, but way out in front on biomass topics.

There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture , I forgot the % that is waste, but when you add all the other cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG, the balanced number is around 24 Billion tons. So we have plenty of bio-mass.

Even with all the big corporations coming to the GHG negotiation table, like Exxon, Alcoa, .etc, we still need to keep watch as they try to influence how carbon management is legislated in the USA. Carbon must have a fair price, that fair price and the changes in the view of how the soil carbon cycle now can be used as a massive sink verses it now being viewed as a wash, will be of particular value to farmers and a global cool breath of fresh air for us all.

If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP website I’ve been drafted to administer. http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of G. I. T. , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who’s back round I don’t know have joined.

Thanks for your attention

Erich J. Knight
Shenandoah Gardens

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abb1 04.10.07 at 1:41 pm

The Valiant Red Army liberated Afghan women back in 1980.

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lemuel pitkin 04.10.07 at 3:40 pm

The quality of the comments on this thread is really quite astonishing. Shane, valuethinker, franck — thanks! Even jet and Brett Bellmore are talking sense. Best blog post ever, or at least in a while.

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Valuethinker 04.10.07 at 4:32 pm

lemuel pitkin

You are welcome. And second re the contributions of others.

I try to preach a gospel of reasonableness about global warming here, on Tim Lambert’s Deltoid, on The Oil Drum (I’m not a peak oiler, but there are very smart people there) and on Mark Kleiman’s blog (when it had comments).

I’ve even had bashes on Jane Galt and Marginal Revolution, but the tide of Global Warming denialism is usually too strong there.

I’ve been asked to do a guest piece on GW and what to do about it, for a blog, which I have yet to write.

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Brett Bellmore 04.10.07 at 5:29 pm

Albert, plutonium doesn’t need a special reactor design to be incorporated into nuclear fuel; It can simply be incorporated into the fuel of normal metal oxide reactors, substituting for part of the uranium. This isn’t currently done much out of proliferation concerns, not technical ones.

Achieving maxium burnup of the fertile isotopes in waste might require special reactors, but that would become economic given enough waste.

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ellipsis 04.10.07 at 5:57 pm

One of the reasons that all sorts of people play the “gotcha” games our hostess decries is lack of trust. There’s also ego-one-up-manship, but let’s discard that.

I ask those of a liberal/left tendency, how many times have you automatically assumed racist intent whenever a conservative of any stripe has addressed crime, or social-welfare, or any other issue that can remotely be connected to minority groups? More than once, eh? And didn’t you justify that distrust by recollecting “Well, conservatives fought against civilrights in the 60’s, so they need to prove themselves not racist!” or something similar?

The left has a long history of supporting pretty much any dictator who mouths Socialist slogans. Look up Beatrice and Sydney Webb, or Lytton Streachy, or Walter Duranty, or Roger Baldwin; these were people who if alive today would be solidly left/”progressive”. They also are people who went to great lengths to defend Stalin and his regime, even after it was obvious what was being done to the people of the USSR. Similar “pilgrims” who all but deified Mao Tse Tung can be found; I met some myself in the late 1970’s. Castro has been, and still is, defended by far too many on the Left. You can even find some, such as Anthony Lewis of the NY Times, who defended the Khmer regime of Cambodia for quite some years after it was obvious what they were doing.

This is the history, whether you like it or not. You surely don’t like the notion that lefties have been stumbling from dictator to dictator, looking for some idol to worship, but to those of us outside of leftism…it often appears that way.

Lather, rinse and repeat this point on other issues; it was the left that shut down, via political efforts, all new nuclear power construction in the late 1970’s. The vast majority of green-left people still oppose nuclear electrical generation; you can see the comments on this thread. So really, it’s not all that unreasonable for someone outside your own submovement, to assume that you, like the vast majority of green-lefties going back to the Carter years, oppose nuclear power with intensity. Sorry if the history isn’t what you’d like it to be, but there it is.

Please put some of that well known empathy to work. Try to understand why some people don’t trust you, heck, even ask them once in a while. Not all those who answer will have spittle and foam flecking their lips, some might even have reasons that you had not considered. And since you are all very open minded people, always ready to consider alternative viewpoints, I’m sure it won’t be difficult at all to realize that not everyone in the 20th century who endorsed leftism was as highminded and clear thinking as you are. Many of them were convinced, utterly convinced, that Lenin, or Stalin, or Mao, or Castro, or Ho Chi Minh, or Pol Pot, or any of some of the others was The One Who Would Make True Socialism Work, and as true believers, their minds were made up & they did not wish to be distracted with facts.

You might even consider that one, just one, of the True Facts you hold could, maybe, possibly, be wrong…

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RobertP 04.10.07 at 7:24 pm

There is absolutely no need for nuclear power in the US because there is a simple mature technology available that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.

I refer to ‘concentrating solar power’ (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source.

CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient ‘HVDC’ transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in the US.

A recent report from the American Solar Energy Society says that CSP plants in the south
western states of the US “could provide nearly 7,000 GW of capacity, or about seven times
the current total US electric capacity”.

Further information about CSP may be found at http://www.trec-uk.org.uk and http://www.trecers.net .

Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from http://www.trec-uk.org.uk/reports.htm . The
many problems associated with nuclear power are summarised at http://www.mng.org.uk/green_house/no_nukes.htm .

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Luis Alegria 04.10.07 at 7:54 pm

Mr. Valuethinker, et. al.,

I have a problem with these estimates of the relative cost of nuclear power generation, and required investment, which is the principal element of nuclear costs. They are all based on what I think are inflated estimates of nuclear plant costs. Historical numbers are very poor guides to this, as these were in the past enormously inflated by politics and litigation.

I don’t see why a nuclear plant of modern design should cost much more than the equivalent capacity in coal plants.

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kharris 04.10.07 at 8:03 pm

BW says – “I don’t think I will have any impact on their actions by restating this obvious point.”
To which soru responds – “That is clearly false, unless you believe something very strange about the people who commit, support and acquiesce to such acts.”

Not really so clearly false. This seems to require adopting the line against which Belle argues. Our emotionally satisfying statements about torture, women’s rights, Castro and the like, which may never reach the ears of “the people who commit, support and acquiesce to such acts” are of debatable influence beyond our own borders. Claiming this view is “clearly false” hardly demonstrates it to be so.

I can see that some right-wingers want to detect anti-Arab racism in such statements, but I think those same right-wingers are gratified by finding fault in the behaviors and beliefs contrary to their own. Why have an honest debate when you can just fall back on racism?

In fact, I think the motive for much of the bating that Belle has described here is mostly just self-stroking. This falls into the category of “limbic politics.” There are utterances that are emotionally satisfying, to make or to hear, however dubious the practical impact. In some cases, they have little objective meaning. Politicians and their minions, however, are ever-alert for things they can say to draw votes and checks, denigrate their opponents and draw the attention of pundits and reporters. Scooping great wads of indignation into a political statement is just a great way to draw attention.

Insinuating that racism or bolshevism or shallowism (“a focus on domestic issues, an unfamiliarity with the mechanisms for international solidarity”) lies behind failure to see things the way a debating opponent insists we see it has worn thin by now, hasn’t it? It has been used so often for low political advantage that it has acquired its own rhetorical pong.

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stuart 04.10.07 at 8:08 pm

I definitely see possibilities in modern nuclear power, i.e., pebble bed systems where flow of coolant is what causes the reaction to happen – coolant stops flowing, reaction stops going.

Moving to a cookie cutter standard design and making loads of them would also massively improve the costs here of course, in most places existing nuclear power plants were in large part designed from scratch as the technology matured, making it all so expensive.

Still you have to factor in the human equation – that is that the more safe something is considered, the more safety corners will be cut to save money or because someone has a bad day and can’t be bothered to do their job right today because there are four redundant safety systems behind them that will catch any problem they miss. This would probably also explain stuff like TMI and Chernobyl – if people have worked in a place for a decade and more, they tend to become blase about any risks even as they gain experience and seniority.

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Jason 04.10.07 at 8:22 pm

If there were a substance that had all the physical and chemical properties of plutonium without any radiation, it would still be far more toxic than arsenic, and we would want it nowhere near our groundwater, ever.

As near as I can tell, that’s not actually true, although it’s pretty widespread. One of my physics teachers in college made the claim for instance.

Wikipedia has a good overview of this you might want to check out, with one of the sources used here.

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Luis Alegria 04.10.07 at 8:26 pm

Mr. Stuart,

Experience means safety.

TMI was new, operating for only about four years prior to the accident. Experienced operators would not have made those mistakes, and the US now has dozens of plants that have been operating for thirty to forty years with no accidents. We have an institutionalized industry, and that makes for safety.

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stuart 04.10.07 at 8:48 pm

Maybe thats true, I was just thinking out loud, but its something in my experience thats all too common – rare events however serious they might be and the constant potential for serious incidents in the background all the time tend to wear down a safety concious ethic especially with money on the line.

Assuming you are right then the next question is will it remain true of nuclear plants set up in developing nations to avoid them having to set up coal/gas/oil electricity generation as they industrialise. If its going to avoid the big growth areas for CO2 production in the next couple of decades something needs to step in to avoid the fossil fuel approach in those countries. Many of the renewables are geographically or otherwise limited, so nuclear clearly becomes a potentially important tool here, but if you need experienced operators to keep things safe, how are you going to train them or get them to move to all these various locations – especially as I can’t imagine there is exactly a large pool of experienced nuclear technicians and engineers sitting out of work.

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abb1 04.10.07 at 9:19 pm

I read somewhere that the French government is notorious for concealing information from the public, when it comes to problems with their nuclear power stations. Whether it’s radioactive leaks, pollution, technical emergencies – it’s all pretty much a state secret.

Apparently, in the aftermath of the Chernobyl incident, when most European countries declared various degrees of emergency, the French official kept pretending that nothing happened for a long time. Supposedly because it’s a taboo to talk about levels of radiations there.

Well, it’s true, the Chernobyl thing happened long time ago, but is the French government any better now in this respect, or is this just a natural feature of any state with a lot of nuclear power stations? I suspect it might be the latter.

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Keith M Ellis 04.10.07 at 9:42 pm

“Now, I never see anyone actually go on to advocate new nuclear power plants.”

The comments in this thread prove you wrong on this count. The leftist culture in the US has changed a lot in the last 25 years and there’s a much greater acceptance of nuclear power today than there used to be. I think it’s a combination of people being lest reflexively anti-nuclear (perhaps this was partly a function of the nuclear anxiety related to the Cold War?) and because the awareness of global warming related to the burning of hydrocarbons has made nuclear power look much better in contrast.

Finally, this sorts of collective claim of hypocrisy is one of the most tempting yet pernicious and dishonest arguments people make. I think you find these argument made by people of all political affiliations. They’re tempting because we tend to think of our ideological enemies in stereotyped ways and as abstracted, composite personalities holding a cluster of views. Therefore, we’ll often find two of those views in contradiction and claim hypocrisy. It’s pernicious and dishonest because, in truth, when you look at actual individuals and their beliefs, there’s always a large number of examples of people who do not hold both contradictory beliefs. This argument is a straw man, it’s accusing a non-real person of hypocrisy.

After become much more aware a few years ago of how harmful this argument is to civil discourse, I resolved to avoid the habit of thinking this way and making these arguments. I urge everyone else to do the same. People ought to consider how obvious it is to them, as this post demonstrates, how dishonest these arguments are when their opponents make them yet how easy it is to act the same way when the shoe is on the other foot. In every thread on every left-of-center thread blog you’ll find numerous comments exorciating a composite, imaginary conservative for inconsistency and hypocrisy.

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Luis Alegria 04.10.07 at 9:45 pm

Mr. Stuart,

No doubt you will have accidents in the third world. I come from such places, I have no illusions about the likely competence of such operators.

One useful lesson of TMI is that a good safe design can make up for bad operators, at least in maintaining public safety. TMI was almost a worst-case – or probably was in fact a worst case. Every active system failed, leaving only the plant design to prevent a real danger to the public. But the design succeeded.

And then there is the value of having a pool of experienced operators and an institutional knowledge of best practices, that has been built up over these decades. There was no such thing in 1979. New plant personnel can learn from real experts now.

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DILBERT DOGBERT 04.10.07 at 10:21 pm

Read “Curve of Binding Energy”. Think about the plutonium economy then think again about using nukes. To keep track of the plutonium we will have to develop technology capable of counting atoms and accounting for each and everyone of them. Good Luck with that.

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Mark Shapiro 04.10.07 at 11:22 pm

Convince yourself that nuclear power is a great idea. Then consider Iraq. Consider Iran and North Korea. Nuclear power is a casus belli. next, recall the case of Jose Padilla, wherein our own government used the fear of a dirty bomb to abrogate the constitution and torture a U.S. citizen. It is proper to say that the problems of nuclear power are political, as long as you remember that “political” includes peace vs war, and the preservation of constitutional rights. The founding fathers were suspicious of concentrations of power, without having any inkling of nuclear power.

Nuclear power could be terrific as long as it is controlled forever by the right people, by good people. In other words, nuclear power is just fine in a utopia.

I used to be reflexively pro-nuclear. But the devastating arguments against it aren’t liberal. They are conservative.

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Luis Alegria 04.11.07 at 12:38 am

Mr. Shapiro,

The horses have long since bolted in most countries where nuclear power will be wanted. Both China and India can already make all the nuclear weapons they want, and of course the US and every other developed country has all the necessary nuclear infrastructure already. We are already running all the risks you bring up with repect to re-processing.

As for nuclear power plants, its perfectly possible to have them without the remainder of the nuclear infrastructure. A lot of used fuel rods aren’t very dangerous on their own.

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Mark Shapiro 04.11.07 at 1:29 am

“The” horses may have bolted, but why breed more? We certainly should not favor India’s nuclear plants– we want to counter proliferation, not feed it. And if the newer technologies make nuclear more cost effective, more people, in more countries, will want it. Is it not far preferable to make efficiency and renewables more cost effective?

Someone please help me complete this sentence: “Nuclear power is good and desirable, and therefore Iraq, Iran, and North Korea . . . . “

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Brett Bellmore 04.11.07 at 2:02 am

Somebody please help me complete this sentence: “Dinner ware are good and desirable, and therefore Hanible Lector…”

You’d be hard put to justify the existance of stone knives and bearskins, if you applied the “North Korea” standard. The problem here isn’t nuclear power, it’s Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

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lemuel pitkin 04.11.07 at 2:34 am

Any rational person in the developed world has far more to fear from climate change than from nukes in the hands of Iran/North Korea/tomorrow’s Official Enemy.

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paul 04.11.07 at 3:17 am

The environmental movement has so far utterly failed to develop a coherent approach to replacing carbon producing power sources. Wind and solar are not such a coherent response without a massive breakthrough in battery technology, because variable sources are inadequate to provide base-load power. Also, they too have negative externalities: wind kills birds and destroys views, and many solar panels are loaded with gallium arsenide, a highly toxic substance that is apparently rather tricky to dispose of.

All this wouldn’t be so bothersome if the environmental movement merely failed to provide realistic alternatives, but in fact, many environmentalists actively move to block new wind installations (I’m looking at you, Robert jr.) and nuclear power plants, spread hysteria over nuclear waste, and otherwise actively work against the cause they are trying to advance. As such, it is perfectly legitimate to demand why they are blocking the only things that have any realistic chance of replacing carbon-emitting power plants.

The answer, in my opinion, is that too many environmentalists flunk basic and economic knowlege, which is why so many people believe it is practical to replace a coal-fired turbine that pumps out 1,000 megawatts with a solar installation that will, in peak sun conditions, produce about 1 kilowatt per 150 feet of space, twelve hours a day; or wind farms, which average less than 1 megawatt per turbine in prime spots. In addition, the core of the environmental movement are people with a whole host of linked views about things like capitalism, consumer culture, and so forth; they find solutions that support, rather than changing, the existing system much less emotionally interesting than radical conservation strategies. Unfortunately, the latter are a thoroughgoing political failure, but the environmental movement has strenuously resisted adjusting to this reality. (Some leaders have, God bless them). As long as this attitude persists, the environmental movement is blocking change that could and should happen; it is perfectly legitimate, nay necessary, to tax them on this.
http://www.janegalt.net/archives/009737.html

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Mark Shapiro 04.11.07 at 5:45 am

I don’t mind North Koreans (or anyone) having knives or bearskins. Nuclear weapons I mind. (They’re WMDs.)

But rather than fear either nuclear weapons or global warming, I simply prefer a clean energy system. Efficiency, renewables, and conservation get us away from both carbon and nuclear. Why not focus our efforts on the energy system we’d like all our fellow humans to adopt? We lead everyone up the learning curve.

Don’t take my word for it. Amory Lovins at http://www.rmi.org has been showing the way for decades. And I know that as I’ve become more efficient, the air gets cleaner, and I get richer, tax-free.

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abb1 04.11.07 at 8:48 am

North Korea having nuclear weapons is bad, but the US and other very powerful countries having nuclear weapons is even worse, because they are the ones who have reason to hope to be able to use nuclear weapons and get away with it.

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Valuethinker 04.11.07 at 1:13 pm

luis alegria

I can paraphrase you the MIT study on nuclear power (can’t crack the pdf, so you’ll have to look up the actual words yourself):

‘ there’s not a lot of research done on why nuclear power plant costs rose so much’

It wasn’t just politics or changing safety regulations, it was incredible overoptimism by the programme managers and utilities: the history of that is common throughout the life of the civil nuclear industry.

As I’ve also argued (comments re France) it’s impossible to assume, if you are building a complex and hazardous technology in a country like the USA, that somehow safety and political concerns are going to be *less* than they were historically.

The reality is nuclear is a complex technology (I was closely associated with reactor construction– the utility managed a $30bn writeoff). Complex technologies have a history of poor performance.

You’ve probably read Charles Perrow’s ‘Normal Accidents’? Failure is inevitable in complex, close-coupled systems. The question is how bad the failure is, and what are the consequences?

TMI was hardly a worse case accident. It was an accident, made worse by incompetence. Worst case could be a lot of things:

– imagine a scenario where 5 guys with boxcutters hijack a 767 out of JFK and fly right over a nuclear power plant, before smashing their plane into another building? Suppose they had diverted and hit the nuclear plant? Even if the containment vessel survives (I’ve not heard of any studies into the ‘spalling’ effect ie internal concrete fragmentation) the loss of external cooling and control systems could be catastrophic. And the concrete will be heated to 1200 degrees F. Helen Caldicott’s nightmare scenario is they hit the swimming pool.

A fanciful scenario you might say, and very unlikely but one of those AA flights did fly over a nuclear plant, on its way to its rendezvous with history.

– Another worst case would be an actual melt by the core, down through the base of the thing. Even if the containment vessel weren’t breached above ground, the radioactive material could get to the water supply.

Yes the industry has learned a lot since TMI. However a GE Boiling Water Reactor was shut down last year, in Illinois, with 2/3rds of the shielding eaten away. It’s not a failure free industry by any stretch of the imagination.

The 3rd Gens will be another jump up in scale and difficulty. Hopefully better designed, and with less cost inflation. But I’m sceptical of arguments that it will cost *less* than the median reactor of the previous generation. And they will be *new* reactors and *new* technology.

I would dispute that a nuclear plant is no more difficult than a supercritical coal plant to build. The thermal tolerances are higher, and you have radioactivity. In an SC plant, you shut it down when you have a problem, that can be harder to do in a nuke. And the tolerances to things like leaks are zero.

As I say, complicating the MIT study is that construction costs for new power plants have risen by 30% since 2003.

Nukes are out there. They are an option, despite all the safety, waste disposal and proliferation problems. My main point is that if you look at the scale of the problem as Socolow and Paccala illustrate it, nukes are at best 1/8th of the solution.

In a world without carbon taxation, no one would rationally build nukes, in the absence of the subsidies the UK government is talking about and the Bush 2005 Energy Act has entrenched. You would build super critical coal fired stations (CCGTs in some places and for peaking power).

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Valuethinker 04.11.07 at 1:30 pm

stuart

You can scale the nuclear industry. The South Koreans mastered the technology (and are selling and building Canadian designs to the Chinese). The engineers in China and India are there (and their best engineers are certainly better than the average North American engineer, in fact we get many of our best engineers from India and China).

But I doubt, as I have argued upthread, that you can build anything like 1000 3rd Gen power reactors in the next 44 years.

500? Yes I can believe that. That would be a capacity roughly double the existing world nuclear electricity base. (say 337GW now v. c. 675 GW then).

(one of the points of the ‘Third Generation’ was that it would be ‘inherently safe’. The industry doesn’t like the term, because it implies that they are ever *not safe*. They would be safe because in the case of loss of cooling system, they would ‘scram’ themselves down to shutdown. *however* this turned out to be uneconomic. To make the reactors cost competitive, they had to be scaled up in size (about 30% higher rated capacity than the largest existing units) and that means that they are safer than existing units, but not ‘inherently safe’).

Say 100 each in the US and China, 50 in India. 250 in all the rest of the world. I must admit I think the local politics of trying to build and license 100 3rd Gen reactors in the US defy imagination.

And then there is the waste disposal problem.

As I say on alternate nuclear technologies, I have heard these come and go so many times– colour me sceptical. We’ve made our bed in pressurised water, and we will lie in it, on nuclear technology, for at least the next 20-30 years.

A lot of the ‘cost savings’ from new nuke technologies presume no containment vessel (eg the pebble bed technology).

To which all I can say is:

– what if someone fires a guided anti-tank missile into the reactor?*

– what if 5 guys with knives hijack a jetliner and ram one into the reactor?**

– what if someone builds a bunch of mortars using steel pipe welded into the base of trucks, and fires them at the reactor?***

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superph%C3%A9nix#Rocket_attack

**
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11%2C_2001_attacks

***
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrack_buster

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JimHopf 04.11.07 at 7:35 pm

If we had a carbon tax or cap-and-trade policy, nuclear WILL be able to compete with other sources w/o subsidy. The only energy source nuclear can not compete with right now is dirty, conventional coal, and that’s just because coal’s massive external costs are not accounted for at all, whereas nuclear is essentially held to a standard of perfection.

Even with the Energy Policy Act of 2005, nuclear is, at best, AS subsidies as all the other sources (fossil and renewable) and these subsidies only apply for the first few reactors. After that, nuclear goes back to being the only unsubsidized major source of power.

Nuclear’s external costs truly are “wee”. The most recent and comprehensive study on the external costs of various energy sources is the “ExternE” study performed by the European Commission. A summary of the results can be found at:

http://www.externe.info/

The study’s results show that whereas coal and oil’s external costs are ~4-8 cents/kW-hr (enough to double their price), nuclear’s external costs are a fraction of a cent, similar to most renewable sources. Fossil fuel plants cause ~25,000 premature deaths in the US alone, every single year (hundreds of thousands worldwide). Western nuclear power has never killed anyone, or had any measurable impact on public health. Even the consequences of an absolute worst case accident or terrosist attack on a nuclear plant would be smaller than the ANNUAL environment and public health effects of fossil fuel plants.

I’m not sure what is meant by “nobody is actually advocating more nuclear plants”. Plenty of us are; some quite strongly. If you mean utility/business interest in building new plants, license applications are being prepared for ~35 new plants, right now.

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Western Dave 04.12.07 at 3:45 am

Can we stop using TMI as a benchmark for nuclear accidents? It’s not even top ten in the US in terms of material released. In terms of one-time releases, the Churchrock spill was way worse, Rocky Flats had a number of bad spills, and we haven’t even gotten into long-term things like Hanford. They are still birthing mutant sheep in New Mexico from the Churchrock spill in NM. Eric Mogren’s work on the Grants, NM clean up showed just how expensive uranium is compared to coal when remediation is factored in. And does anybody really think this Yucca Mountain thing is gonna work? Yeah, Montana’s got some problems with the heavy metals, but they are still having an easier and cheaper time cleaning up the mess.

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Mark Shapiro 04.12.07 at 4:29 am

jimhopf –

The externe study (thanks for the link) didn’t include the cost of subsidies, and probably worse, specifically excluded rying to estimate the risks or costs of proliferation.

And if you want to reduce CO2 emissions, there are faster, cheaper ways to do it (see comments above).

But maybe the thing that should concern me most is the implicit assumption that we need unlimited power generation capacity. This assumption drove the regulated utilities for a century. Why have I never heard a conservative (or a libertarian) complain about that? Is there some problem with supply and demand?

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Valuethinker 04.12.07 at 5:33 am

mark shapiro

The history of our civilisation to date is that we always need more energy.

Vaclav Smill’s excellent text on energy tackles this one, whether it really makes us better off. Past a certain point, no. There are countries with 1/4-1/2 the energy of use of Canada or US (per capita) with the same or higher life expectancies at birth and lower infant mortality rates.

http://www.amazon.com/Energy-Crossroads-Global-Perspectives-Uncertainties/dp/0262693240

but to date, we have continued with compound growth in energy usage as societies.

Although, for example, a 2007 fridge uses only 25% as much energy as a 1980 fridge (who knew?) to date we have tended to keep the 1980 fridge in the back room and use it to cool beer. Our cars are more fuel efficient, but we drive further every year. Our homes are better insulated, but a 2006 US home is 60% bigger than a 1970 US home.

(one striking exception. California. California does not use more electricity, per capita, than it did in 1980. Despite all the new electronic gizmos in the homes, TVs with instant on in the bedrooms, computers etc. I don’t know how much of this is greater efficiency, and how much simply structural shifts in the California economy)

That said, even California has had growth in power demand due to population growth.

The real problem is what to do about China and India. Both have rapidly growing economies and huge coal reserves.

http://web.mit.edu/coal/

has an excellent chapter on electrical energy in China, and an appendix on India.

In both cases, we need to fully develop carbon-sequestering clean coal technology, and then help them acquire it.

In neither case will nuclear likely be a huge share of electricity generation. As I say elsewhere, I can see 100 Chinese reactors along the coast (roughly 1/8th of likely demand) but it’s hard to imagine they’ll get around to building 200 or 300, say.

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Mark Shapiro 04.12.07 at 10:15 pm

valuethinker –

You hit the crux:
“The history of our civilisation to date is that we always need more energy.”

That assumption certainly drove utility planning for a century. A corollary was cheap waste disposal forever. Oh, well.

So how do we convince China, India, ourselves, etc. to leave all our fossil energy in the ground where it belongs?

One: energy efficiency – better refrigerators, lights, trains, etc.

Two: renewables – solar, wind, biofuels, etc.

Three: conservation – fewer lights, etc. This is the admittedly the hardest, but the best, since it conserves all material resources. So can we please stop insisting that we (6 billion people heading to 9 or 11 billion) need to dissipate more energy?

Subsidizing an expensive, anti-free-market energy source (with security burdens) just subsidizes and promotes consumption. But as we drive down the cost of efficiency and renewables the world will follow.

China doesn’t pirate videotapes anymore. Not because they became virtuous, but because DVDs were so superior.

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Hugo Farnsworth 04.13.07 at 12:16 am

Google for “EROEI nuclear.” Nukes are EXPENSIVE in terms of energy investment. Added to the problems of dollar cost, waste disposal, and weapons proliferation, nukes just do not make any sense at all.

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JimHopf 04.13.07 at 12:53 am

On Subsidies:

Whether or not the ExternE study included them, subsidy arguments do not weigh against nuclear.

In the US, with the Energy Policy Act of 2005, nuclear went from being the only major source with no significant subsidies to having subsidies that are merely on a par with other (fossil and renewable) sources. As for Europe, it is very clear that, on a per kW-hr basis, renewables’ subsidies are much higher than nuclear’s. Their fossil fuels are almost certainly heavily subsidized as well.

In a sense, this is all moot anyway. The whole subject of this discussion is how to reduce CO2 emissions (I thought). If this is true, nuclear’s costs vs. fossil fuels are largely irrelevant anyway, as fossil fuel use will be required to decrease. As for renewables, intermittentcy will limit their overall contribution to ~15-25% of annual generation, at most. Thus, under any system where CO2 emissions are required to decrease, a large expansion of nuclear is virtually assured, barring laws that specifically prevent it.

BWT, no fossil plant with CO2 sequestration scheme will be even remotely competative with nuclear. The studies I’ve seen suggest that sequestration will roughly double the price (i.e., add ~5 cents/kW-hr or more) of coal generated electricity, after accounting for the energy lost in shipping and compressing the gas.

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JimHopf 04.13.07 at 1:02 am

Western Dave,

The cases you list all involve the nuclear weapons complex and have absolutely nothing to do with commercial nuclear power. US nuclear plants have not made any messes; all of the wastes have been completely contained.

On a per unit energy basis, the environmental/health effects of coal mining are much higher than those of uranium mining, due to the vastly larger amount of material being extracted. On top of that, whereas the effects of coal mining are much smaller than the effects of the coal plants themselves (through air pollution), the effects of uranium mining are essentially the only effects from nuclear power overall, with the power plants having no effect on public health at all. They do use water, and reject heat (hot water), but so do all thermal plants.

Coal plant emissions cause ~25,000 deaths every year, and coal mines have enormous environmental impact. Nothing in the entire nuclear production cycle comes anywhere close to that, even before considering global warming.

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JimHopf 04.13.07 at 1:11 am

Western Dave,

The cases you list all involve the nuclear weapons complex and have absolutely nothing to do with commercial nuclear power. US nuclear plants have not made any messes; all of the wastes have been completely contained.

On a per unit energy basis, the environmental/health effects of coal mining are much higher than those of uranium mining, due to the vastly larger amount of material being extracted. On top of that, whereas the effects of coal mining are much smaller than the effects of the coal plants themselves (through air pollution), the effects of uranium mining are essentially the only effects from nuclear power overall, with the power plants having no effect on public health at all. They do use water, and reject heat (hot water), but so do all thermal plants.

Coal plant emissions cause ~25,000 deaths every year, and coal mines have enormous environmental impact. Nothing in the entire nuclear production cycle comes anywhere close to that, even before considering global warming.

Myself, and the great majority of the scientific community knows that Yucca Mtn. “will work”. The scientific analyses showing this have been completed, and the license application will be filed next year. The whole “issue” with Yucca is that there is a tiny (

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JimHopf 04.13.07 at 1:15 am

Western Dave (continued),

(Oops. Sorry about Post #102)

Myself, and the great majority of the scientific community knows that Yucca Mtn. “will work”.

The scientific analyses showing this have been completed, and the license application will be filed next year. The whole “issue” with Yucca is that there is a tiny (

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JimHopf 04.13.07 at 1:19 am

(trying yet again….)

Myself, and the great majority of the scientific community knows that Yucca Mtn. “will work”.

The scientific analyses showing this have been completed, and the license application will be filed next year. The whole “issue” with Yucca is that there is a tiny (

105

JimHopf 04.13.07 at 1:44 am

Concerning Proliferation:

Building additional nuclear power plants in the US, or in any other nation that already has plants, will have absolutely no impact on weapons proliferation, period. Introducting nuclear power to new, less stable, developing nations may increase the risk somewhat, but even this is debatable.

Spent fuel is no more useful for making weapons than raw uranium ore in the ground. Spent fuel reprocessing is at least as technically challenging as mining and enriching uranium. Look at Iran. What is it doing? It is mining its own uranium and enriching it itself. They could do this whther or not they have nuclear power. And no, nuclear power is not aiding them by providing an “excuse” for enrichment, since nobody believes that anyway. Once again, even if Iran has a reactor, this will do little to advance their position, as spent fuel reprocessing is harder than the enrichment that they are already doing.

If you want to reduce weapons proliferation, what one needs to do is stop selling fuel cycle (i.e., enrichment or reprocessing) technology to developing and/or unstable/untrusted nations. The problem is that we can’t seem to get Russia and China (and even Western Europe) to stop doing that. THAT is the real problem! Fuel cycle technology, not power plants, is the concern.

Personally, I’m less enthusiastic about spreading nuclear power to every small, developing nation in the world. Instead, I think that the developed countries should use more nuclear power, and save the “easier” sources, like natural gas, for the developing world.

The great majority of world air pollution and CO2 emissions comes from advanced economies that already have nuclear power. Thus, we can get most of the clean air and energy security benefits of nuclear even if we don’t give the technology to any new nations (thus eliminating virtually all proliferation risk).

In fact, I believe that using more nuclear in the developed world will have the effect of reducing the number of nuclear plants build in the developing world, thus reducing anyu associated proliferation risk. Using more nuclear here will reduce the strain on world oil and gas supplies, delaying the point when they start to run out, and reducing their world market price. This will reduce the incentive/need for developing countries to start their own nuclear power programs.

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JimHopf 04.13.07 at 2:09 am

ValueThinker:

Concerning LWR plant security, crashing a commercial jetliner into a nucler plant has virtually no chance of causing a significant radiation release:

http://www.nei.org/documents/eprinuclearplantstructuralstudy200212.pdf

Other types of attack are unlikely to cause a large release as well. Chemical plants will always be an infinitely better target, with a much higher chance of success AND a larger possible consequence.

Most proposals for pebble bed reactors w/o containment involve burying the reactor underground, which would largely neutralize most attack scenarios.

In any event, is the risk of release from a large-scale attack (on either reactor type) zero? No. But one thing that is clear is that even a maximally successful attack will produce consequences that are lower than those caused ANNUALLY by fossil plants. Coal plants cause 25,000 deaths annually in the US alone; hundreds of thousands worldwide. Credible estimates for Chernobyl’s total eventual death toll range from ~100 to 10,000. The maximum possible release from any US plant, even in the event of an attack, are at least one order of magnitude less than Chernobyl. For large LWRs, the lower potential source term is due to strong (remaining) defenses and a non-flammible core. For the HTGR, the reactor is a factor of 10 smaller than Chernobyl.

So what would you rather have, a tiny chance of an event causing a few thousand eventual deaths, or a 100% chance of 10 times as many deaths every year. Oh yeah, and global warming on top of that. The choice couldn’t be more clear.

Finally, in terms of the number of reactors built, if we limit CO2 emissions, coal will become more expensive than nuclear (if it can be used at all). Gas will be way more expensive. Why do you find it so hard to imagine nuclear winning most of the market share in terms of new power plants, especially under the above (expected) conditions?

You say you can only imagine ~500 reactors being built in 44 years. Back in the 70s and 80s, the world build ~400 reactors in less than half that time, despite the fact that the technology was older and less mature, and the world’s GNP was much lower. Furthermore, the need to go nuclear was much less pressing, as there was no GW problem. That is, other options like coal were much less limited (not at all limited, in fact). Given all this, assuming that reactors are built at the same rate they were back then (~20/yr.) should be considered a lower bound assumption.

There is no reason to believe that all developed countries can not now do what France did 30 years ago. The only real argument against this would be limited uranium supply, but this is hogwash:

http://www.americanenergyindependence.com/uranium.html

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JimHopf 04.13.07 at 2:18 am

Hugo,

The energy inputs and net CO2 emissions for nuclear power are both very low, and are equal to or better than most renewable sources.

The overall energy inputs for nuclear are only ~1-2% of the total energy output. Nuclear’s net CO2 emissions are ~2% those of coal and ~5% those of gas. This is similar to renewable sources like solar and wind. The real point, however, is that for both nuclear and all renewable sources, the net CO2 emissions are essentially negligible compared to those of fossil fuels.

The above data on energy inputs and net CO2 emissions is taken from the following studies:

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf100.html

http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull422/article4.pdf

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Hugo Farnsworth 04.13.07 at 5:01 am

jimhopf,

I am confused. I was referring to EROEI (energy return on energy investment), i.e., the amount of energy required to get a new producer of energy up and running. This is one of the reasons why solar power is so unattractive.

For nuke power, uranium must be mined, transported, refined, transported, enriched. The plant must be built, which requires a lot of expensive metals and fabrications. And then there is the ugly business of decommissioning a reactor vessel at some time in the future, and the disposal of waste. The world nuclear website you cited sort of glosses over this.

About 100 miles from where I live was one of the most dangerous nuke power plants ever built. B&R took a lot of shortcuts, was relieved, and Bechtel completed it. It had never run @ full power due to concerns about safety until a decade ago. It was the subject of an ugly CBS 60 Minutes expose a few years after initial construction, during its startup.

The plant has cleaned up its act, and is now a record setter in the US in many areas. But, essentially, it was built twice. My electric bill during the summer last year was incredible, despite its record-setting output. It’s highly doubtful if it will ever pay off in dollars or in energy investment.

Unfortunately, for the US, nuke power is the only card i can see that can be played. If we could get over our love affair with the automobile, this would not be necessary.

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JimHopf 04.13.07 at 9:21 pm

hugo,

The EROEI for nuclear is somewhere between 50 and 100, based on the WNA study’s results (which show that total energy inputs are ~1-2% of total output).

If you look at the blue-green tables on the webpage, they give total the energy inputs, in petajoules, for one 1000 MW nuclear plant. Dividing the total of the energy inputs by the energy output of the plant gives the energy input fraction, or the EROEI.

The tables include all of the things that you talk about in your 2nd paragraph. The analysis accounts for all energy inputs associated with all parts of the nuclear production process, including uranium mining, processing and enrichment, along with plant construction, operation and decommissioning. Nothing is “glossed over” (especially considering the fact that the website is only giving a summary of results).

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J Thomas 04.14.07 at 6:33 pm

Paul #90, Thank you for giving us a perfect example of what Belle was describing. While your post doesn’t present a very good argument it’s a fine study object as we puzzle over this kind of fallacy.

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J Thomas 04.14.07 at 6:52 pm

About nuclear waste, it makes perfect sense to me to attempt to recycle U235 and P239 from spent fuel. But then we get lots of other contaminants, and some of them have such bad effects that recycling of spent fuel is limited.

Why not increase the shielding in nuclear plants to the point that nuclear waste could be stored surrounding the reactor? The reactors need to be shielded anyway. And they could absorb neutrons. Neutrons head off in all directions and often they eventually get absorbed by some nucleus in some atom in the shielding, and likely make it radioactive. Better to do that to stuff that’s already nuclear waste. Who knows, it might sometimes do some good.

And the natural place to store the nuclear waste from a decommissioned reactor? Inside a new reactor, of course. Fold the waste storage costs into the reactor costs and it’s harder for them to get skimped.

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