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May 15, 2005

When will Nuclear Energy be safe enough?

Like Mark Kleiman, I believe that the spectre of global warming is so serious that, in addition to curbing our energy usage, nuclear power should not be off the table. What's the good of worrying about how to keep the nuclear waste safe for hundreds of thousands of years if, at the rate we're pumping out greenhouse gasses and pollutants, there won't be much of a civilization left in a few thousand years?

Having said that, I also don't like the idea of energy cowboys, like the guys who ran Enron, blazing in lobbyists in a tow and building plants on the cheap. Nathan Newman raises a good point regarding the recent flurry of lobbying for government subsidies of nuclear plants:

But these proposed subsidies are chicken feed compared to the 1957 Price-Anderson Act, which limits the insurance liability of nuclear reactors in case of a meltdown. Yep, if there's a catastrophic accident, the taxpayer is stuck with the bill.

My view is that nuclear might be worth exploring, but if private industry thinks it's too dangerous to open a reactor without government-subsidized insurance, I'm sure as hell not going to bet on it. The day the nuclear industry agrees that Price-Anderson is not needed is the day I'll believe the technology is safe enough.

Amen. Or, we could just overcome our 'merican revulsion of gub'mint to realize that this is one technology that needs to be so closely regulated, it really might as well be nationalized. It is the only way we can make sure long-run safety concerns are above the profit motive. In addition, by having only one maker of nuclear power plants, you encourage uniformity, predictability, and economies of scale, especially in waste disposal. All of the above are good things when it comes to something as dangerous as nuclear power.

-- Battlepanda

May 15, 2005 | Permalink

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» More on the Costs of Nuclear Energy from sustainablog
Guest blogger Angela Oung brings up an interesting point in this post at Ezra Klein: the nuclear power industry has had limited liability for meltdowns for almost 50 years through the Price-Anderson Act. So, in the case of an accident, we taxpayers e... [Read More]

Tracked on May 16, 2005 9:46:21 AM

Comments

Ummm...question.

Do companies that profit from the power plants pay anything for this "Yucca Mountain" deal or other waste disposal efforts?

Posted by: Sandals | May 15, 2005 10:55:43 AM

The French allow only one reactor design. The costs of opening and operating a nuclear power plant there are, not suprisingly, quite low.

Posted by: Drew | May 15, 2005 11:14:50 AM

Fusion! The budget for fusion R&D is incredibly small. That's the real solution, and yes, it's do-able.

Posted by: Quiddity | May 15, 2005 11:58:48 AM

I read an article about nuclear pebble-bed technology in one of the fall issue of Wired magazine. It is being developed in China. Now I figured China really gets it about the importance of energy in their developing technology and they don't have a gov't married to the oil industry. It was so fascinating - the technology is totally safe - meltdown proof and the plants can be basically joined together like legos - if more energy is needed - another section is snapped on. I was so amazed at the history of the technology - it's been around a long time, that I put my and my husband's entire annual IRA contribution towards it. (Last year it all went to wind power.) I figure, it's a win-win. It has to work or we're all doomed anyway.

Posted by: melissa p | May 15, 2005 12:00:10 PM

Interesting idea, nationalizing nuclear power.

Curiously, there is a government agency that already has some expertise in this area, the Tennessee Valley Authority owns and manages nuclear reactors.
http://www.tva.gov/power/nuclear.htm

Posted by: beowulf | May 15, 2005 3:35:55 PM

Oy vey. We're going to build a LOT of nuclear power plants in the coming years--as oil gets more expensive, this will be a powerful entrenched special interest that will point out how cost-effective it's become in comparison.

And we won't invest in developing alternative energies, so barring a stroke of luck in a groundbreaking discovery, we're gonna nuke the US up.

In 150 years, we will be cursed by our great-grandchildren. And rightly so.

Posted by: theorajones | May 15, 2005 5:00:34 PM

tj, solar is becoming big here in CA, and it's one of the few things that Ahnuld and the Lege are working together on.

Plus, since we tend to shake, nuclear reactors aren't going to be built out here until we have ST:TNG technology(if ever).

My dad was involved in scuddling plans from SCE to built a nuclear plant that was "only" 50 miles from the San Andreas fault about 30 years ago.

Posted by: The Dark Avenger | May 15, 2005 6:37:22 PM

http://www2.rnw.nl/rnw/en/features/science/031215wheel.html

I read about this on SeeingtheForest

Posted by: Nancy | May 15, 2005 8:38:20 PM

Melissa,
See http://www.atomicengines.com/ for a workable pebble-bed gas turbine system.

Beowulf,
Nationalization is the way to go. Another government agency that already has a lot of expertise in nuclear power is the Navy. They run a couple hundred nuclear reactors with a very good safety record.

Theorajones,
A head-in-the-sand no-nukes policy could end up getting us the same curses. Pick your favorite worst-case scenario. Radiation poisioning from reactors, toxic-waste pollution from making solar cells or windmills, bird extinctions and the resulting loss of bio-diversity, along with all those towers, also from windmills, loss of wildlands to grow bio-feul producing plants, microwave radiation from space-based power systems, etc.

ALL options should be looked at, without political or marketing influence. The one that does the least damage, even if it does involve splitting a few atoms, is the best.

Posted by: William Bollinger | May 16, 2005 11:57:06 AM

Interesting discussion.

I am a huge fan of nuclear energy and have been writing about it for years, both on Atomic Insights (www.atomicinsights.com) and on a number of different mailiing lists, usenet forums and now in the blogosphere.

In addition, I have invested essentially all of my life's savings into Adams Atomic Engines, Inc (www.atomicengines.com) a tiny company that has been working on pebble bed reactor technology for about 14 years in the United States. (BTW - William - thanks for the plug of our web site.)

I would be happy to talk your ear off about the benefits that the technology provides, especially with regard to its incredibly low environmental impact.

When I was an engineering officer and communications specialist in the US Navy's nuclear submarine force, our mantra was "Remain undetected." I have always thought that the same sentiment is the mark of a true environmentalist. It is very similar to the idea of low impact hiking and camping where you carry out everything that you carry in and you make as few changes as possible in the natural environment. In other words, if your technology can be made so minimally intrusive that it is hard to find, it must be pretty darned clean.

Rod Adams www.atomicinsights.com

Posted by: Rod Adams | May 20, 2005 3:32:57 AM

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