Sunday, July 31, 2005

I have one word to tell you, just one word. Neutrons

Neutrons are my friends, and they should be yours too!

In the United States, we derive about 21% of our power generation capacity from a source of abundant energy that pollutes very little in comparison to the amount of power generated. That energy source is nuclear energy. More electricity is generated from Nuclear energy than any other source except coal in this country. This energy source is NOT subject to the price of oil, nor is it subject to embargoes, drought or lack of wind. The volume of toxic waste generated by this energy source is a small fraction of the next cleanest source (Natural Gas) and orders of magnitude less than coal. Coal, even so called "clean" coal, is the filthiest, most polluting, most TOXIC form of energy on the planet. And here is a little surprise for you, did you know that your average coal fired power plant releases more radiation into the environment in a year than Three Mile Island ever did? Not to mention the sulfur, mercury, and CO2 it releases. Here is a breakdown of what percentage of your power comes from what energy source (1998 numbers, sorry don't have access to later numbers in which NG increases it's market share) from the EIA-DOE website:

With all it has going for it, why is Nuclear power so underutilized in this country? France gets over 70% of it's energy from Nuclear power, surely we are more technologically advanced than a bunch of snail eaters. Well, it all comes down to perception. The Russians crapped in everybody's wheaties when they built those unsafe monstrosities and then let one catch fire and blow up. Sure, we've had nuclear accidents here in the states too, there was the famous TMI unit 2 that almost melted down. I need to stress here, ALMOST, but it was brought under control and shut down without releasing significant amounts of radiation and without harming anyone. Then there was the government operated research reactor in the 50's that killed it's operators, all three of them, but it didn't melt down. It was running full blast but was still stable when the relief crew found the bodies. One of the control rods blew out, driven by a steam bubble, and impaled one of the operators that was trying to manually withdraw it. It was a one-of-a-kind research reactor and the rods often stuck in the hole and had to be manually withdrawn, the operator accidentally pulled the rod out too far and the instantaneous steam bubble generated shot the rod out of the hole. The other two guys died of radiation exposure when they entered the reactor chamber trying to shut it down. Chernobyl DID melt down, and because the Russians never gave a damn about safety, it was all about plutonium production after all, the power generated was just a byproduct, there was no containment system AT ALL. And of course there was that stupid Jane Fonda flick that came out about the same time TMI has it's problems. What was that movie called, was it "The Pepsi Syndrome" or something like that? I forget....

Anyway, the "environmentalists" just went apeshit. Never mind that Nuclear Power still had the best safety record of ANY power generation system, not counting Chernobyl AND the best environmental record even when INCLUDING Chernobyl. Facts and logic have nothing to do with perception you understand. As a result, not a single new reactor has been completed in this country since the early 1980's. Reactors don't run forever. They have a finite lifespan before they need to be shut down. We are entering the time period when a number of the oldest reactors must be shuttered. That number will only increase as time goes on. Are we making plans to replace them? No we are not. In an interesting twist of fate, the environmentalists got exactly what they wanted, and now realize they screwed up and are now clamoring for MORE nuclear power. These flippin liberals could not find their arse with both hands and a road map! For once, I agree with them, Nuclear power is the only logical choice. "renewable" sources cannot come CLOSE to supplying the power needs of the 21'st century, sure we should use what we can of them, but anyone who thinks wind power alone can supply our energy needs just hasn't looked at the numbers.

But what about all that nuclear waste that is deadly for thousands of years?
Well, does anybody in the audience know how long Mercury is deadly for? Anyone? Did I hear FOREVER? Your Right! Come to the head of the class! Guess what the biggest producer of mercury is! Anyone? Did I hear Coal fired power plants? You are a WINNER!

The simple fact is that in actual volume, High Level Nuclear waste from Civilian Reactors is miniscule compared to the tons of pollution generated by your average coal fired plant. So the question is what to do with it? Well, the DOE has designed casks that are expected to survive for nearly 10,000 years. These casks can survive being run over by a speeding locomotive or an 18-wheeler combined with a deisel fuel fire for several hours. These things are as indestructable as current technology can make them. The DOE has found a mountain in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a desert in the middle of the least populated state in the union no less, to bury this stuff in. It's not like we're going to have tourists coming to visit the place by the thousands. So what exactly is the problem? It certainly beats letting it rain down on your back yard tomatoes doesn't it? BUT NOOOOOO! The Nevada State government is raising nine kinds of hell and has been for years. Thankfully, it would appear that they have finally lost the war, and soon Yucca Mountain will be in business, only 20 years behind schedule...

If Congress really wants to do something useful, they should make it easier and cheaper to build new nuclear power plants. A lot of companies and investors lost thier shirts when the NRC froze all lisence applications in the 70's after TMI. There needs to be some assurance to future investors that the government is not going to pull the rug out from under thier feet. And Greenpeas needs to get behind this.


Blogger Rorschach said...

Here are a couple fine links for anyone that cares to learn more. Both are run by the Nuclear Energy Institute:

August 02, 2005 12:54 PM  
Blogger wayne said...

The environmentalists will own or have stock in the nuclear energy business. Their friends in Congress will make sure that the "sincere environmentalists" stay in the loop as a way of keeping us nasty capitalists in line.

August 02, 2005 3:00 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

I left more comments at lST. There is also a link that goes into more detail about the tailings problem. You gave this whole issue short shrift. You should have Fleshed it out before pontificating

August 02, 2005 5:43 PM  
Blogger Kathy Herrmann said...

Good article. Make that The China Syndrome, though!

August 02, 2005 6:31 PM  
Blogger Pigilito said...

"average coal fired power plant releases more radiation into the environment in a year than Three Mile Island ever did".

I think I remember reading once that some people fleeing TMI ended up in mountains made up of granites(New Hampshire?), where they were exposed to more radiation (becasue uranium is the most abundant trace element in those granites) than had they remained in place

August 03, 2005 1:23 AM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

Pigilito, you nailed it. The Texas Capitol building is made of red granite and my Ex-Exxon geologist neighbor gets a kick out of the fact it is radioactive enough to be considered low level nuclear waste. But yet thousands of people walk through it every day. So many people have NO CONCEPT of background radiation levels. Many houses in many parts of the country are filled with dangerous levels of radon gas because it leaches out of the bedrock naturally and the house traps it. Most people don't even know that a mantle from a coleman lantern is slightly radioactive, as is thier very own bodies. People fear what they do not understand, especially when the media make radioactivity out to be one of the horsemen of the apocolypse or something. Individual persons can be quite logical and intelligent but put them in groups and they can be abjectly stupid most of the time.

Ted, feel free to share your thoughts on the issue here. This is supposed to be a discussion after all. I can see where in situ leaching could be a problem depending on the solvent used. I still think it is Hydroflouric acid which is also commonly used in acidizing oil wells, but I'm unsure of that, perhaps Roaring Tiger or Pigilito could elaborate a bit since they are both either current or former geologists. Granted they work(ed) in the oil biz, but certainly they have some clue on this.

RT, I knew it was actually "The China Syndrome", if you followed the link, you'd find it links to a transcript of a Saturday Night Live Skit that spoofs The China Syndrome.... I've always thought that there's nothing that drives a point home better than making your audience laugh a bit. I was expecting the audience to realize I was yanking thier chain a bit. But now that you mention it, there is an entire generation who has no clue who Hanoi Jane was or what "The China Syndrome" was about. Maybe that expectation was unrealistic.

August 03, 2005 8:28 AM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

BTW, how many of you recognized the origin of the title of the piece? Was I being a bit too subtle?

August 03, 2005 8:32 AM  
Anonymous James Aach said...

I think the readers of this commentary will be interested to know that there is a techno-thriller novel about the American nuclear power industry written by a longtime nuclear engineer, which is available at no cost on the internet. This book provides an entertaining and accurate portrait of a nuclear power plant and how an accident might be handled. “Rad Decision” is currently running as a serial at, at no cost to readers.

If you like what you read, please pass the word.

James Aach

November 07, 2005 8:07 PM  

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