Wednesday, March 16, 2011

No Nukes

After growing up in the 70's and 80's, fresh from the danger and lies of Three-Mile Island, and later Chernobyl, I thought that I was getting over my fear of nuclear power.
I was starting to believe the claims of some commentators that things are/can be different now. Technology is better, nuke plants are safer... yadda yadda... and all that.

With all this Japan stuff happening now, and I still see attempts at disinformation, incomplete facts, actions not matching the rhetoric...

I've come to the conclusion that it is all bullshit. Nothing as potentially deadly as a nuclear reactor can be assumed 'safe', and anything with this level of potential danger is not, and should not, be considered a viable source of power.

I'm joining the hippies now and coming down fully on the "NO NUKES" side of this debate. I may be wrong. But I'd rather be wrong in opposing nukes than be wrong in supporting them. It's an easy choice for me now.

23 comments:

Bike Bubba said...

It's all about relative risks, my friend. On the one side, you've got the prospect of a 9.0 earthquake shaking cooling systems off their foundations while a tsunami drenches the backup generators. On the other, you've got the reality of Islamic militants and the Russians with their hands around all that oil, coal mine disasters (and pollution), dam disasters.......

....and then worst of all, Washington DC. Ya just can't get safe this side of Heaven!

Foxfier said...

Odd, I see total disinformation, fear mongering, actions totally opposite of what folks say... and it makes me support nuke power more.

The damage from their power generation is smaller because it was nuke plants that were hit, and the plants that were having trouble are old and were going to be retired. When a record-breaking event, in the top five in RECORDED HISTORY, isn't enough to cause a deadly disaster with the most feared and hated form of energy... there's gotta be something to it.

Brian said...

Argh, Blogger just ate a very long comment...

Short version: nukes are part of the solution, but we can't nuke our way off of fossil fuels, because we're talking about over 300 gigawatts of capacity and most nuclear plants generate about 1. Even if you assume improvements in capacity and no growth in demand, that's still a hell of a lot of plants and you have to find places to put them that are close to water for cooling, not on fault lines, and remote enough to satisfy the NIMBYs. No one is going to pay for that until fossil fuels are a lot more expensive...step one is taxing carbon emissions.

Brian said...

Correction--my math was based on an ongoing discussion on another blog, and it has been pointed out that each reactor has about 1 gigawatt capacity (newer ones maybe as much as 1.5), and that most plants have 3 or 4 reactors running. So that cuts the number of plants needed accordingly, but it is still not trivial when weighed against the other constraints.

Foxfier said...

??

Nuke is already 20% of our power, and we've never forced a conversion by raising taxes on the prior source of power.

How about we stop letting people do harassment lawsuits and make it less expensive to build nuke power, rather than try to raise the expense of coal in a silly and round-about manner?

Foxfier said...

Converting the KW to GW on that page, nuke is supplying 800,000 GW right now. (4 trillion kilowatts = 4,000,000 gigawatts* .2)

Brian said...

I used the exact same page. Those are kW hours, which is energy (or work, if you prefer.) The capacity of a plant is measured in power, which is the rate (in watts or derivations thereof). So to determine the capacity needed to meet a given amount of consumption over a given period of time, you have to divide energy consumed by the period of time. So...

Total US consumption = 4 trillion kW*h in a year

(4 x 10^12 kw*h / (365 d/yr * 24 h/d)) / 1 yr = 4.6 x 10^8 kW capacity.

4.6 x 10^8 kw x (1 GW / 10^6 kW) = 4.6 x 10^2 GW = 460 GW total capacity. 20% of which is 92 GW. 69% of which (45% coal + 23% naural gas + 1 % petroleum) is 317.4 GW.

Brian said...

Taxing carbon is only "silly and round about" if you believe there are zero negative externalities to carbon emissions.

Mr. D said...

You live in Southern California, Gino. Earthquakes are a real thing to you. So I get that.

To Bubba's point -- here in Minnesota, the risks associated with nuclear power are significantly easier to manage. We don't have 9.0 earthquakes and even the worst tornado wouldn't topple a nuclear plant. I guess what I'd say is this -- no sense in being categorical. As Brian points out up the thread, nukes are part of the picture but shouldn't (and won't) be a solution, although I would part company with Brian on the matter of carbon taxes.

Perhaps some day we can solve the real problems associated with solar and wind power, which is developing batteries that are large enough and sophisticated enough to store power in a way that takes the inherent unreliability of the sun and the wind out of the equation. From what I've read, we're still a long way away from that, although maybe someone else knows better.

Mr. D said...

Taxing carbon is only "silly and round about" if you believe there are zero negative externalities to carbon emissions.

Everything has externalities to some extent. The question is whether or not addressing the externalities of carbon emissions justifies the very real pain it would cause to everyone who relies on carbon-based fuels, i.e., everyone.

Brian said...

"The question is whether or not addressing the externalities of carbon emissions justifies the very real pain it would cause..."

Yep.

I've recently changed my answer to that question.

I don't see a long term, sustainable solution that doesn't involve everyone paying a lot more for energy. I am optimistic that innovations will bring costs down in the long run (as they always have), but that doesn't preclude the need for some serious outlays in the short run.

Brian said...

...and by "the short run" I mean probably the next few decades.

Foxfier said...

Kilowatts per hour IS power over time.

Kilowatt= unit of power.

Much simpler to just use the actual output, since we have it and actual output is much better for real life situations. (When does anything work out ideally? I didn't know that coal plants had such a horrible % capacity in practice.)

Funny, at 104 we already have a quarter of the world's reactors; looking at the net outputs listed, we should see what France and Germany are doing-- they get 1.6 GW per, as opposed to 1.16.

Foxfier said...

Taxing carbon is only "silly and round about" if you believe there are zero negative externalities to carbon emissions.

If you're claiming that it's to get us off of fossil fuels, it is silly and round about-- like passing a law to ban pub signs, rather than ban pubs.

Your belief that there are 1) negative externalities and 2) they're bad enough to try to tax out of existence is a separate issue.

Brian said...

Nope...a "kilowatt hour" is power (rate) multiplied by the time energy is consumed at that rate. This isn't my opinion, it's physics.

Brian said...

I'm not arguing for taxing fossil fuels out of existence...as I've already pointed out, the alternatives don't exist to replace them feasibly.

I'm arguing for bringing the price of fossil fuels in line with their actual cost, to make the alternatives more competitive, and to fund their development.

Foxfier said...

"I'm not arguing for taxing fossil fuels out of existence, I'm arguing to tax them so that people don't use them because I believe they cost more than they really cost."

I don't know why I even bother trying to argue with anyone....

FYI, in normal English-- which is what I (apparently mistakenly) thought this was being spoken in-- "over time" means "in a given amount of time." That is, you use a kW in an hour, it's 1kWh.

If I'd known you were using proper terminology, I wouldn't have disagreed with you.

Brian said...

I don't know why I even bother trying to argue with anyone....

Me neither.

If I'd known you were using proper terminology, I wouldn't have disagreed with you.

So...do you want to walk back that 800,000 GW figure?

Look, you challenged me on my math, and I showed you my work. I don't really know how else you expect me (or anyone) to respond to that.

Gino said...

i've learned not to fervently argue scientific matters with a scientist.

Vanesa Littlecrow W. said...

Gino: My problem with nuclear energy is not its safety record. My problem with nuclear energy is the fact that clean-up is next to impossible on the rare safety failure.

I'll stick to fossil fuels, solar and biomass thank you very much.

Bike Bubba said...

Vas, clean-up isn't that difficult. To draw a picture, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are today thriving cities. Nature knows how to deal with uranium.

The trouble I see with nuclear isn't as much safety or cleanup, but rather whether we can get things to be cost-effective without eliminating the safety checks we've put in--the ones that have allowed Fukushima to have only minor releases of radiation so far despite a 9.0 earthquake.

To draw a picture, a 1960s era Nat'l Geo. article about nuclear power admitted that it wasn't yet cost effective--and that was of course before the hippies started suing nuclear power into oblivion here. There is some serious thinking and design needed in this regard.

Regarding the current debacle, I wonder if we could pump a metal slurry into the reactor (lead flakes maybe?) that would start to cover the core and stop the reaction. Fukushima is as good as shut down anyways.....

Vanesa Littlecrow W. said...

Bike Bubba,

I don't dispute the fact that Hiroshima/Nagasaki are thriving cities. That doesn't change these facts: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7917541

The interesting about the breakdown of radioactive materials is that it takes forever and has a wild variety depending on what their provenance is. So, the same radioactive waste that was destroying everyone's thyroids eighty years ago, could be giving an entire population free preventative chemo for breast cancer AND higher rates for liver cancer simultaneously, as it breaks down. It's pretty interesting, actually.

Cement and a huge buffer zone is what they used for Chernobyl and it worked pretty slick, even if the beautiful forest there is still radioactive and abbreviating the life of mammals. Too bad humans aren't able to live in the hot regions that still remain.

In other words, we don't have sufficient information for large scale implementation based upon long-term risk and predicted half-life.

Gino said...

they way i see it...
its like playing russian roulette.
twenty bempty cylinders is certainly safer than playing with five empty, but is it wise?

once again: i'd rather be proven wrong in opposition than be proven wrong in support.