Chances are good, gentle reader, that you are going to have to sit next to someone in the coming year who will assert that nuclear power is the solution to climate change. What will you tell them? There’s so much to say. You could be sitting next to someone who hasn’t really considered the evidence yet. Or you could be sitting next to scientist and Gaia theorist James Lovelock, a supporter of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy™, which quotes him saying, “We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear — the one safe, available, energy source — now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.”
If you sit next to Lovelock, you might start by mentioning that half the farms in this country had windmills before Marie Curie figured out anything about radiation or Lise Meitner surmised that atoms could be split. Wind power is not visionary in the sense of experimental. Neither is solar, which is already widely used. Nor are nukes safe, and they take far too long to build to be considered readily available. Yet Stewart Brand, of Whole Earth Catalog fame, has jumped on the nuclear bandwagon, and so has Greenpeace founding member turned PR flack Patrick Moore. So you must be prepared.
Of course the first problem is that nuclear power is often nothing more than a way to avoid changing anything. A bicycle is a better answer to a Chevrolet Suburban than a Prius is, and so is a train, or your feet, or staying home, or a mix of all those things. Nuclear power plants, like coal-burning power plants, are about retaining the big infrastructure of centralized power production and, often, the habits of obscene consumption that rely on big power. But this may be too complicated to get into while your proradiation interlocutor suggests that letting a thousand nuclear power plants bloom would solve everything.
Instead, you may be able to derail the conversation by asking whether they’d like to have a nuclear power plant or waste repository in their backyard, which mostly they would rather not, though they’d happily have it in your backyard. This is why the populous regions of the eastern U.S. keep trying to dump their nuclear garbage in the less-populous regions of the West. My friend Chip Ward (from nuclear-waste-threatened Utah) reports, “To make a difference in global climate change, we would have to immediately build as many nuclear power plants as we already have in the U.S. (about 100) and at least as many as 2,000 worldwide.” Chip goes on to say that “Wall Street won’t invest in nuclear power because it is too risky. . . . The partial meltdown at Three Mile Island taught investment bankers how a two-billion-dollar investment can turn into a billion-dollar clean-up in under two hours.” So we, the people, would have to foot the bill.
Nuclear power proponents like to picture a bunch of clean plants humming away like beehives across the landscape. Yet when it comes to the mining of uranium, which mostly takes place on indigenous lands from northern Canada to central Australia, you need to picture fossil-fuel-intensive carbon-emitting vehicles, and lots of them — big disgusting diesel-belching ones. But that’s the least of it. The Navajo are fighting right now to prevent uranium mining from resuming on their land, which was severely contaminated by the postwar uranium boom of the 1940s and 1950s. The miners got lung cancer. The children in the area got birth defects and a 1,500 percent increase in ovarian and testicular cancer. And the slag heaps and contaminated pools that were left behind will be radioactive for millennia.
If these facts haven’t dissuaded this person sitting next to you, try telling him or her that most mined uranium — about 99.28 percent — is fairly low-radiation uranium-238, which is still a highly toxic heavy metal. To make nuclear fuel, the ore must be “enriched,” an energy-intensive process that increases the .72 percent of highly fissionable, highly radioactive U-235 up to 3 to 5 percent. As Chip points out, four dirty-coal-fired plants were operated in Kentucky just to operate two uranium enrichment plants. What’s left over is a huge quantity of U-238, known as depleted uranium, which the U.S. government classifies as low-level nuclear waste, except when it uses the stuff to make armoring and projectiles that are the source of so much contamination in Iraq from our first war there, and our second.
Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel was supposed to be one alternative to lots and lots of mining forever and forever. The biggest experiment in reprocessing was at Sellafield in Britain. In 2005, after decades of contamination and leaks and general spewing of horrible matter into the ocean, air, and land around the reprocessing plant, Sellafield was shut down because a bigger-than-usual leak of fuel dissolved in nitric acid — some tens of thousands of gallons — was discovered. It contained enough plutonium to make about twenty nuclear bombs. Gentle reader, this has always been one of the prime problems of nuclear energy: the same general processes that produce fuel for power can produce it for bombs. In India. Or Pakistan. Or Iran. The waste from nuclear plants is now the subject of much fretting about terrorists obtaining it for dirty bombs — and with a few hundred thousand tons of high-level waste in the form of spent fuel and a whole lot more low-level waste in the U.S. alone, there’s plenty to go around.
By now the facts should be on your side, but do ask how your neighbor feels about nuclear bombs, just to keep things lively.
The truth is, there may not be enough uranium out there to fuel two thousand more nuclear power plants worldwide. Besides, before a nuke plant goes online, a huge amount of fossil fuel must be expended just to build the thing. Still, the biggest stumbling block, where climate change is concerned, is that it takes a decade or more to construct a nuclear plant, even if the permitting process goes smoothly, which it often does not. So a bunch of nuclear power plants that go online in 2017 at the earliest are not even terribly relevant to turning around our carbon emissions in the next decade — which is the time frame we have before it’s too late.
If you’re not, at this point, chasing your poor formerly pronuclear companion down the hallway, mention that every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle is murderously filthy, imparting long-lasting contamination on an epic scale; that a certain degree of radioactive pollution is standard at each of these stages, but the accidents are now so many in number that they have to be factored in as part of the environmental cost; that the plants themselves generate lots of radioactive waste, which we still don’t know what to do with — because the stuff is deadly . . . anywhere . . . and almost forever. And no, tell them, this nuclear colonialism is not an acceptable sacrifice, since it is not one the power consumers themselves are making. It’s a sacrifice they’re imposing on people far away and others not yet born, a debt they’re racking up at the expense of people they will never meet.
Sure, you can say nuclear power is somewhat less carbon-intensive than burning fossil fuels for energy; beating your children to death with a club will prevent them from getting hit by a car. Ravaging the Earth by one irreparable means is not a sensible way to prevent it from being destroyed by another. There are alternatives. We should choose them and use them.
That is one of the best analysis I have ever read on the nuclear power dilema
We are having a problem out here in the western USA. (WASH/OREGON). A group in Astoria, Oregon called “Rivervision” is actively campaining against the installation if a plant on the great Columbia River which would convert frozen imported natutral gas to a more natural form to be shipped to “wherever “in the country it wants send it. We people here call the group NO “LGN”. This LGN proposal if implemented would change the river we all love so much and and forever make it a complete tragedy, to say the least. It would sure be worth it, for your magazine to take notice what is happening here. The “Rivervision” web page # is this:
Much more information is available there.
Please check it out.
By the way, one of our near-by local neihbors is a off/on contributor to your magazine. He is “Robert Michael Pyle”
From, Donna M. Kust, of Chinook, WA 98614
And who’s such a subservient and palm-greased friend of the nuclear industry? Could it be that darling of pie-eyed progressives, B. Obama?
Thanks for telling me about Environmentalists for Nuclear
Energy. I joined up.
Question: How much coal company stock does Rebecca
Solnit own? Does Rebecca Solnit own a coal mine? Is
Rebecca Solnit married to a coal company executive?
Let’s review the facts. Rebecca Solnit has a degree in
English literature from San Francisco State University.
Rebecca Solnit has written a lot of books and magazine
articles about a lot of subjects, none of them scientific.
Rebecca Solnit is certified to know nothing
about physics and nuclear engineering. Rebecca Solnit should go back to school and get a degree in either
physics or nuclear engineering before running her pen.
Why is it that this lack of knowledge does not prevent
Rebecca Solnit from expressing her opinion?
Asteroid Miner has a degree in Physics from Carnegie-
Mellon University and more than enough graduate credits
for an advanced degree in engineering. Asteroid Miner is
retired after working for the US government as a scientist
and engineer. Asteroid Miner’s experience includes
research in nuclear weapons effects. Asteroid Miner has
NO connection with the nuclear power industry. Asteroid
Miner has never worked for the nuclear power industry. It
is just that Asteroid Miner would rather not go extinct
because of global warming.
“Fact” in Rebecca Solnit’s article: Rebecca Solnit is
paranoid about nuclear waste and nuclear fuel reprocessing.
The truth: Nuclear “waste” is valuable fuel if only people
like Rebecca Solnit would allow it to be used as fuel. We
could refuel our reactors from the “waste” in that mountain
“Fact” in Rebecca Solnit’s article: Rebecca Solnit thinks we
don’t have enough nuclear fuel sources.
The truth: If breeding is allowed, enough uranium and
thorium goes up the smokestack of an average coal fired
power plant to FULLY fuel 500 nuclear power plants of the
same capacity. A 1 billion watt coal fired power plant
burns 4 million tons of coal each year. If you multiply 4
million tons by 1 part per million, you get 4 tons of
uranium. Most of that is U238. About .7% is U235. 4
tons = 8000 pounds. 8000 pounds times .7% = 56 pounds
of U235. An average 1 billion watt coal fired power plant
puts out 56 to 112 pounds of U235 every year. That is
enough to keep one nuclear power plant of the same
capacity running for a year. There are only 2 places the
uranium can go: Up the stack or into the cinders. We Can
extract uranium and thorium from the smoke and cinders of
coal fired power plants.
“Fact” in Rebecca Solnit’s article: Rebecca Solnit thinks it
takes too long to build nuclear power plants.
The truth: Paranoid people like Rebecca Solnit cause a lot
of pointless delays and raise the price of electricity by their
protests. If the safety level of nuclear power plants were
LOWERED to the same level as coal-fired power plants,
the resulting [nuclear] electricity would be very cheap
indeed and nuclear power would be very efficient.
The truth: Besides carbon, coal also contains:
Aluminum Chromium Molybdenum
Antimony Cobalt Nickel
Arsenic Copper Selenium
Barium Fluorine Silver
Beryllium Iron Sulfur
Boron Lead Titanium
Cadmium Magnesium Uranium
Calcium Manganese Vanadium
Chlorine Mercury Zinc
The truth: We have only 200 years before we go extinct if
we keep on burning coal. See:
from the October 2006 issue of Scientific American
Article: “Impact from the Deep”
Compared to extinction, a few nuclear wars are minor
You could also talk about the economics of nuclear power. Last year the NJ Dept of Environmental Protection asked that the owners build cooling towers at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Ocean County, at a cost estimated to $600 million for the 600 MW reactor.
That same money, invested in wind turbines would build a 300 to 600 MW wind farm.
What is the true cost per watt to construct a nuclear power plant?
The cost for land based wind is $1.00 to $2.00 per watt. Offshore wind is about $3.00 per watt. The cost for photovoltaic solar is $6 to $8.
And wind and solar produce no greenhouse gases, no radioactive wastes, no mercury or other toxic wastes. There are no mines, mills, wells, etc.
And when you’re finished talking about economics you could talk about the national security implications of nuclear power.
Knowing the answer in advance makes it so much easier to write articles doesn’t it?
There are trade-offs with all energy-generating technology. As for wind farms, well not in my backyard thank you very much. They are noisy, an eyesore, use up lots of land and are a hazard to birds. Oh and what do you do when the wind doesn’t blow?
Ever consider the environmental effects of hydro power? Dams can destroy large areas of land.
And the previous respondent has addressed the nasty effects of coal-burning.
Ethanol? Well, it is a biofuel – but it eats up huge acres of valuable agricultural land. And the processing and transportation costs as well.
So, what is the answer? Probably all of the above (including nuclear dear reader), where appropriate.
Spare us from the fanatics.
Another problem with nuclear power is the proposed waste handling system of encasing it a zircon ceramic which was found to be lacking stability in a report in NATURE 2007 445, Vol 199. The claim was made that such encasing would last several millenniums before any deterioration effects, but the authors found evidence of effects in 10 years.
hmm.. isnt the SUN a nuclear reaction? of a sort? How come we cannot capture the power of the Sun Rain and Wind in some cheap form, and stop burning up thwe bones of the earth? I’m Just Curious.
Why do we have to live in a way that uses things up?
Arent we given such riches on this planet? What is the untapped power of photosynthysis when plants can move stones? What is the untapped power of the daily tide?
Save us from *all* fanatics. Please. Reamain life-long questioners and stay beautiful and FREE of old assumptions, folks.
Amatul in Boston
TO: Dr. James Singmaster, III:
Nuclear “waste” is valuable fuel that is being wasted. Nuclear
“waste” should be reprocessed into fuel and put back in nuclear
reactors. Plutonium is fuel made out of Uranium 238 that needs
to be used in reactors. Thorium should be likewise bred into
uranium and used as fuel. Any so-called “waste” that cannot be
made into fuel should be used as gamma ray sources to kill germs
in food to prevent spoilage. You do use a microwave oven don’t
you? Gamma rays are like microwaves but shorter in
wavelength. Yucca Mountain is a nuclear fuel mine. You have
been led astray by coal company propaganda.
Coal fired power plants put 100 times as much radioactive
material into the air as nuclear power plants. NATURAL
BACKGROUND radiation is 1000 times what you
get from nuclear power plants and 10 times what you get from
coal-fired power plants. All matter is “frozen” radiation. The
Universe began as pure radiation. As the temperature of the
Universe fell, it underwent phase changes analogous to freezing.
After several phase changes and a lot of cooling, some of the
radiation became “matter”. Eventually, some of the matter went
through two more phase changes and became solid. All matter is
still made of atoms and every atom still has a nucleus.
I have no connection with the nuclear power industry.
PLEASE GAMMA-RAY MY RASPBERRIES!
I am so tired of all the “fresh” red raspberries in the grocery
store being dark from mold. Red raspberries are supposed
to be light, bright red, not quite pink. Neither the shoppers
nor the grocers know what raspberries are supposed to
look like and taste like. They buy the moldy ones, thinking
that darker means riper. The dark ones lack the tartness
and taste that raspberries are supposed to have.
Raspberries are very high priced because they spoil very
quickly if not frozen. So Please, seal the raspberries in air
tight transparent containers and gamma ray them within 1/2
hour of picking them. I picked and ate wild raspberries as
a child. Thank you, FDA, thank you. Finally. I hope
that at least some of us are overcoming our paranoia
concerning all things nuclear. It has been half a century
Likewise for strawberries.
A really bad taste thing happens to milk. A lot of the store-
bought milk tastes of the detergent the farmers use to wash
the bulk tank. The detergent is very harsh and
intentionally toxic to kill germs. Detergent is a pseudo-
estrogen. The fact that the detergent is pseudo-estrogen
means that it is a gender bender. It makes boys into girls.
All of the milk that comes in plastic bottles tastes like
plastic. I will not drink it. I have the advantage of
knowing what milk is supposed to taste like, having tasted
milk that was still warm from the cow.
RE: Amatul Hannan:
Yes, the sun is a hydrogen fusion reaction. Since you live in
Boston, you have two fine local colleges, MIT and Harvard,
where you could get your post-doctoral degree in physics. Then
you could help do the research to invent the local hydrogen fusion
When there were only one Million or fewer people, the power of
photosynthesis was enough. Now there are more than 6.5 Billion
of us. We could go back to the Agrarian Age and use only the
technology of the years before 1700 or the Stone Age, but 6.5
Billion of us would have to die. The difference in population is a
factor of 6,500. The population of Boston is now many times
larger than the population that would remain alive if your wish
were granted. Please be more careful what you wish for.
TO: Donna M. Kust:
I think you meant LNG not LGN. Liquefied Natural Gas, not
frozen. And I think you meant http://columbiarivervision.org/ not
With what form of energy would you replace LNG? LNG is
cleaner than coal and petroleum and produces less CO2 per unit of
energy than coal and petroleum, and takes up less land area than
solar or wind. The only better alternatives are nuclear and a
hydroelectric dam. A dam on the great Columbia River would be
a great idea. Consider the alternative of coal: We humans go
extinct in 200 years. Or, you could pay 10 times what you now
pay for electricity. Be careful what you wish for. The Clatsop
County Planning Commission made the right decision.
To the several commentors on Ms. Solnit article: Now with various comments being made on nuclear power, warming and energy. two major points here and with all environmental reports and proposal have been ignored that have to be addressed to get anywhere. First though, we have to recognize that nature had set up a balance of energy from the sun to warm the globe allowing our basic environment with glaciers, icepacks etc.. Then a few centuries ago we began burning fossil fuels to release more energy as well as carbon dioxide, which also helped keep excessive energy trapped on the globe instead of being radiate out in space(black body radiation). With nuclear energy and hoped for fusion energy, we also are getting into creating more energy on the globe to add to the melting of ice and ever nastier weather.
So the first major point is that we have an excess of kinetic energy on the globe causing the flooding taking many lives lately and spoiling crops as well as the melting of ice. Unfortunately, all the attention is directed to carbon dioxide without anyone really stating the need is to actually remove carbon in some way if we want to get some control of global warming. But we also have to find a way to get remove some of the excess of kinetic energy on the globe
The other ignored major point is that we have our massive mess of organic wastes that also feeds energy and carbon dioxide to the globe’s surface as they biodecompose especially in composting. These are a biofuel crop wasted needlessly that can be, by a process called pyrolysis, converted into charcoal and some electric energy or a fuel. In pyrolysis, organic wastes such as food leftovers, disposable diapers, paper, wood and many plastics are heated up without oxygen to cause a distilling out of water, organic chemicals and possibly some hydrogen. The distillate could be refined to get a liquid vehicle fuel or perhaps be burned to fire the pyrolysis with exhaust gases passing through a turbine for electricity. The hot charcoal at probaly 1000degrees F would be past through a heat exchanger to generate steam for electricity. To use this system would be taking advantage of nature’s trapping of carbon dioxide in plants and would greatly reduce the costs of maintaining dump sites in which controlling leakage of germs and hazardous chemicals is the malor cost. Overal pyrolysis of our wastes would remove some carbon from converting back to that gas and generate some energy while eliminating the contaminating mess of our organic wastes with costs of many billions of dollars a year. And pyrolysis releases no carbon dioxide without putting it to work generating electricity.
Concerning the one comment on windmills, they are the only system that recycles the excessive energy already released in the envirnoment. Every other energy proposal involves adding more kinetic energy to the excess already causing nastier weather. Recently a much more efficient windmill system was put up in the San Francisco Delta with claims of much fewer problems for birds. Since we have thousands of electric power lines across the country, I don’t see much difference in aesthetics between the two. While they may take space, some type of farming can be done beneath them. Excessive electric power can be used to generate hydrogen by electrolysis of water, and the gas can be stored to provide backup for high energy use or low wind days.
Concerning nuclear wastes through further reprocessing proposed by Asteroid Miner, too much radioactive material will end up being around to be grabbed by a terrorist group to make a dirty bomb. If the wastes can really be reprocessed so successfully, why did the Yucca Flats idea ever get off the ground as the N-power people should have been very enthusastic about reprocessing. And leakage problems have recently been reported at several nuclear power plants.
Again we have to recognize that we have an excess of kinetic energy in the air that has to be remove to get some control of global warming. And we have those massive amounts of organic wastes going to waste uselessly with their trapped carbon escaping, while they could be helping us to get control of global warming by using the pyrolysis process.
The best alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels are solar, wind, goeothermal, conservation – negawatts, to use Avery Lovins’ term – and kinetic energy systems that harness the power in ocean currents and waves. These are good for the environment, and good for the economy.
It’s not just visionaries in startups like Akeena Solar, Evergreen Solar, First Solar, Marine Current Turbines, SunPower, Vestas Wind, and World Water and Solar Technologies that are building these systems. Visionaries in old companies like General Electric (which would build nuclear power plants if anyone would buy them) are also building these systems. GE is the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines. BP is one of the largest manufacturers of photovoltaic solar modules.
To put this another way, visionary engineers will design cool stuff they believe will change the world. Visionary management will build and sell this stuff when they believe it will enhance shareholder value, or to wax colloquial, when they see dead Presidents, when they smell money, when the hear bells going ‘Cha-Ching’
The visionary engineers of today are building solar arrays, wind farms, geothermal systems, and ocean current driven turbines. Some of them, I trust, support organizations like Greenpeace and Union of Concerned Scientists. Others read things like Business Week, Forbes, and the Wall St. Journal.
Dr. James Singmaster, III said: With nuclear energy and hoped
for fusion energy, we also are getting into creating more energy
on the globe to add to the melting of ice and ever nastier weather.
Asteroid Miner answers: Added heat is easily dissipated into
space if the greenhouse gasses are low. It is carbon dioxide
[CO2] we have to worry about, not total heat generated. If CO2
is high, the temperature increases even if we generate no further
heat. Switching from coal to nuclear reduces the carbon added to
the air because a 1000 Megawatt coal fired power plant burns 4
Million tons of coal each year.
Dr. James Singmaster, III said: [T]he need is to actually remove
carbon in some way if we want to get some control of global
Asteroid Miner answers: Green plants from pond scum to giant
trees take CO2 out of the air. If we slow our rate of adding CO2
to the air by 80% soon enough, the percentage of CO2 in the air
will stabilize and eventually start to go down. If we don’t do it
soon enough, we will trigger nature to release more greenhouse
gasses. If you saw Nova on PBS during the past week, you saw a
simulation of methane bubbling out of the Arctic Ocean in
response to a threshhold temperature being crossed. The methane
causes an additional 17? degree temperature rise. We don’t have
much control of CO2 removal except by planting trees. I suggest
not mowing your yard so that trees will grow there.
Dr. James Singmaster, III said: [T]oo much radioactive material
will end up being around to be grabbed by a terrorist group to
make a dirty bomb.
Asteroid Miner answers: Wrong. I don’t believe that terrorists
groups will be able to grab it. The place it goes that it isn’t
supposed to go is Israel. This happened in a small town near
Pittsburgh, PA circa 1970. A company called Numec [no longer
in business] “lost” half a ton of enriched uranium. It wound up in
Israel. Terrorists can’t compete with Mossad and Israeli dual
citizens who are CEOs of companies like Numec. Israeli nuclear
weapons are exact duplicates of American nuclear weapons.
Larry Furman: Did you check the price of solar cells, windmills,
batteries, controllers, power converters, etc.? The price per house
is something like $1 Million per house for solar cells alone, and
that provides adequate power 20% of the time.
Larry Furman: Check wind power safety at:
“Health, hazard, and quality of life near wind power
installations How Close is Too Close?
Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD*
March 1, 2005
A nacelle (generator and gearbox) weighing up to 60 tons
atop a 265 ft. metal tower, equipped with 135 ft. blades, is a
significant hazard to people, livestock, buildings, and traffic
within a radius equal to the height of the structure (400 ft)
and beyond. In Germany in 2003, in high storm winds, the
brakes on a wind turbine failed and the blades spun out of
control. A blade struck the tower and the entire nacelle flew
off the tower. The blades and other parts landed as far as
1650 ft (0.31 mile) from the base of the tower.
“Using biofuels to obtain the same amount of energy as a 1000
megawatt nuclear power plant would require 2500 square
kilometres of prime Midwestern farm land, Ausubel says. “We
should be sparing land for nature, not using it as pasture for cars
and trucks,” he adds.
Solar power is much more efficient than biofuel in terms of the
area of land used, but it would still require 150 square kilometres
of photovoltaic cells to match the energy production of the 1000
MW nuclear plant. In another example, he says meeting the 2005
US electricity demand via wind power alone would need 780,000
square kilometres, an area the size of Texas.”
To save energy on air conditioning, paint the roof of your house white.
Yo, Asteroid Miner, to save even more money on air conditioning put solar panels on the roof.
I didn’t realize you were writing satire, with your pro-nuclear posts and all, until you started questioning the safety of wind turbines.
Look at some of the posts at http://www.popularlogistics.com
Larry Furman: I am not writing satire. You will have to be more
specific about http://www.popularlogistics.com. I saw nothing
of interest there.
I can easily believe that the machine can come apart if a turbine
blade hits a solid object. The same thing happens with
helicopters. It would take only one occurrence of somebody
getting killed by falling machinery for the safety people to put
some severe restrictions on wind turbines. As far as I know, the
report I quoted is truthful. I wasn’t there personally. Can you
prove it is fake?
Have you tried to install a wind turbine in your back yard? If
you live in a city, I think you will have real problems with your
Everyone talking up carbon dioxide removal by plants needs to wake up to the fact that nature converts the fallen leaves, flower parts seed hulls and older decaying trunks back to carbon dioxide with the releasing of energy in time. So massive plantings of trees may have some initial effect on levels of that gas but will not have any long term effects unless we imitate what nature did eons ago. She buried plant debris in bogs and other wet areas without oxygen and created coal.
I should have pointed out this in my previous comment Sept. 7, that the charcoal formed in pyrolysis should not be burned but be buried mainly to imitate what nature did to cool down the globe to allow the existence of glaciers, permafrost and icepacks. We actually have a huge excess on the globe of bioactive nitrogen, mainly from excessive fertilizer use, that ought to be speeding plants in their growth and uptake of carbon dioxide. But such speeding up appears not to have occurred to any extent suggesting that plants can not take up much more carbon dioxide that they are now doing. But trees or plants of the legume type, not needing nitrogen fertilizer, could be farmed to grow rapidly, and then be harvested and chopped for pyrolysis as described before to get some energy with burying of the charcoal to get real carbon removal. Such carbon removal also means some heat energy removal in time to help cut global warming.
Concerning the mentioned hazards of windmills, why have we allowed airplanes as they crash taking lives and damaging property. I think that car accidents always will take many more lives and cause much more damage than windmill mishaps. So first let’s call for banning cars to not only stop their emissions, but also to stop the loss of thousands of lives. IT WOULD SAVE YOU THOUSANDS ON CAR INSURANCE MORE THAN THE GEICO GECKO COULD EVER OFFER..
Dr. James Singmaster, III, you are quite right about decaying
trunks turning back to carbon dioxide. It is very difficult to get
people to not burn them. The city doesn’t want them in the
landfill or in streams where they may clog the drain pipes. As for
putting charcoal back in the earth, that is only a dream. People
won’t do it. A way to sequester wood needs to be invented, or the
CO2 removal is temporary. I would pass a federal law to require
cities to accept wood and leaves as trash to be put into landfills.
Things rot very slowly in landfills, providing at least temporary
sequestration. And wood and leaves that rot at least don’t become
smoke. Whether a landfill could ever become coal, I don’t know.
New ideas are needed on this. Over the long run [many
centuries] the earth will sequester the carbon in the ocean bottom
as limestone. The only thing to do is to not dig up the coal in the
first place. That is why coal fired power plants have to be
replaced and very soon. The only way to replace coal fired
power plants with 99% carbon free energy and keep the power
plants in the same place and space is to make them nuclear.
Industrial processes, including the manufacture concrete, are the
second largest source of carbon dioxide. The first step in
concrete making is heating limestone [calcium carbonate] to drive
off the carbon dioxide to make calcium oxide. The sequestering
process is reversed. Coal is burned to make the heat, but the
limestone is the greater source of CO2. Heating the limestone
with electricity still makes most of the CO2.
You are also correct that motor vehicle and aircraft accidents kill a
lot of people. The difference from windmills is that everybody
got a car before the safety people got a foothold in government.
If cars were a new invention, they would be banned. If you look
at the National Safety Council statistics on the Odds of Dying
from X, you will find that the things people are afraid of are not
the same things that they will actually die of. People are afraid of
nuclear power accidents even though nuclear power accidents
didn’t even make the list. Zero Americans have died recently in
nuclear power accidents. That is one reason why everybody in a
technological society needs an education in science and math.
Everybody needs to be able to believe and understand the
statistics rather than act on instinct. Since it hasn’t happened,
windmills have the problem of being severely restricted due to
safety concerns. By the way, you missed a better comment. You
should have said that windmills should be redesigned so that only
the turbine blades rather than the whole machine would come off
if a blade struck something solid. The blades should be variable
in pitch so that they could be “feathered” [pitched to zero effect]
in high winds.
Al Gore’s Live Earth Pledge has a fatal flaw: “the capacity
to safely trap and store the CO2.” There is no safe way to
confine trillions of tons of CO2 at high pressure for ever.
For Ever is a lot longer than the 100000 years that people
want nuclear “waste” to be stored. The CO2 WILL
leak out and suffocate millions of people. CO2 is denser
than air and displaces air at ground level. CO2 has caused
suffocation in Africa. See:
“Cameroon’s ‘killer lake’ degassed”
“More than 1,700 people died after deadly gases spewed
from Lake Nyos 15 years ago. ”
“In August 1986, the lake released a cloud of carbon
dioxide which hugged the ground and flowed down
surrounding valleys to suffocate thousands of local villagers
The rare phenomenon also occurred at Lake Monoun in the
same volcanic zone two years earlier killing 34 people. ”
The CO2 storage facilities proposed by Al Gore, besides
being prone to leak, will be a target for terrorists. A
terrorist has only to cause a leak to kill more people than a
nuclear bomb would. Leaks are very easy to cause in high
pressure containers. CO2 storage is a silent disaster
waiting to happen.
The pledge Should read: “I will learn enough about nuclear
physics so that I will no longer be paranoid about nuclear
power. I will advocate the replacement of coal fired power
plants with the newest nuclear power plant designs.”
I [Asteroid Miner] have no financial or other interest in
nuclear power and no connection with the nuclear power
It is HOT CO2 that goes up smolestacks. Being hot it is
less dense so it goes up and disperses. Stored CO2 is cool.
A gas gets colder as it leaks out from high pressure to low
pressure. That is the secret of air conditioning. CO2 at
the same temperature as air is denser than air because CO2
is a heavier molecule than N2 or O2. The cold CO2 will
stick to the ground and suffocate people and other animals.
No other gas is required to explain the deaths in Cameroon.
Here in the US, more CO2 will leak out into areas with
more people, so the death toll could be in the millions.
The Live Earth Pledge reads:
-To demand that my country join an international treaty
within the next 2 years that cuts global warming pollution
by 90% in developed countries and by more than half
worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a
-To take personal action to help solve the climate crisis by
reducing my own CO2 pollution as much as I can and
offsetting the rest to become “carbon neutral;”
-To fight for a moratorium on the construction of any new
generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to
safely trap and store the CO2;
-To work for a dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of
my home, workplace, school, place of worship, and means
-To fight for laws and policies that expand the use of
renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil
-To plant new trees and to join with others in preserving
and protecting forests; and,
-To buy from businesses and support leaders who share my
commitment to solving the climate crisis and building a
sustainable, just, and prosperous world for the 21st century.
To Asteroid Miner; Concerning your comments, the pyrolysis process would convert our massive amounts of organic wastes costing billions of $ to maintain in dumps into charcoal, aka inert non-gaseous carbon, and some energy and possibly some fuel. The same would be true with wood harvested from large scale forest wind break operations resulting in a carbon removal system while generating jobs and perhaps reducing problems with increasing wind eroision of soil; something the UN-SEG report warns about. We can not be conned with carbon-energy recycling such as bioethanol or biomethane, that does not actually remove some carbon in some way from the globe surface. Our organic wastes are a biofuel crop wasted to be giving off that gas and some energy as they rot costing mega bucks for dump upkeep that could be saved by pyrolyzing the wastes as described.
Burying wastes to decay to coal is what nature did, but we can go one up on her by using pyrolysis to get some energy as well. True, if we burn the hot distillate to heat the pyrolysis, we will be giving off some of that gas, but the hot exhaust can be run through a gas turbine to generate electricity. Perhaps during the day, a solar furnace system can be set up to heat the pyrolysis chamber.
Concerning windmills, a very new system was recently put up in the CA delta that is claimed to be 15 times more efficient than older ones and with slower speeds that lessen bird mishaps..
We have to re-establish the energy-carbon dioxide balance of a few centuries ago, when the sun was the only supplier of energy, to beat global warming. So we should utilize the wind that has extra energy now added from past fossil fuel burning. And we should use the pyrolysis process to be removing carbon dioxide that nature has trapped for us in plants ,especially in our organic wastes costing so much in unneeded dump upkeep.
A windmill “farm” of 15 windmills was built across the street from my home, approximately 200 ft. away. I have children ages 11 and 5 and I’m concerned for their health as well as mine. I have migraines, fibromyalgia, and ulcerative colites, and the fibromyalgia and migraines have gotten much worse since the windmills have gone operational.
Does anyone have specific health-related windmill information?
Armed with her Degree in English Literature, author Rebecca Solnit lectures us on why nuclear power is so bad. Has she ever viewed a conventional coal or oil fired power plant belching black smoke, or inhaled its fumes when the winds are wrong? How many have died prematurely from carcinogens in power plant or automobile emissions, or from the mining of coal or extraction of oil, or from Gulf Wars 1 and 2, which were all about oil? How many will eventually die from global warming caused by carbon emissions? Now tell us how many have died from nuclear accidents of any sort, including Chernoble and Three Mile Island? Nuclear power will be safer by orders of magnitude.
France, Switzerland, Japan and other nations decided decades ago that nuclear was the better of the options, or the lesser of the evils, however you wish to phrase it. They concluded the problems of plant safety and nuclear waste disposal could be dealt with, and they went ahead and built the plants. What does Ms.Solnit comprehend that the scientists of these nations did not? Going forward, whether we go nuclear or not, many other nations will, so the nuclear genie is out of the bottle anyway.
The population of China and India combined is alone ten times that of the USA, and they all want a better living standard. Who can blame them? It is almost laughable that we Americans consume 40% of the world’s oil and fossil energy resources, but comprise only 4% of its population. Yet Mr. Chaney declares this inequity “non-negotiable”. As Peak Oil appears to be real, it is obvious we are on a collision course with the rest of the world.
I do not fear global warming or nuclear power plant accidents so much as a serious future war over fossil energy resources between powerful nations, one that could make Iraq minor by comparison. It could even escalate into nuclear war. But instead of embracing the nuclear power advantages, most American “environmentalists” like the author continue to oppose it. They are in a dream world, naively believing billions of people can all retreat back to the land, grow our own food, and use only windmills and solar for all energy needs.
Nuclear power plants could eventually produce electricity to run our society and power all-electric mass transit by day. During night and weekend off-peak hours, they could produce electricity to charge the batteries of plug-in electric cars, and produce hydrogen by electrolysis. The stored hydrogen could heat our homes and be transported to heat and power the larger buildings and factories. The infrastructure will take decades to put in place, and we must begin now without more delay.
I see this solution as our single best hope, along with serious conservation, a modest contribution by solar and wind, and population control.
Hey Asteroid Miner, where do you buy photovoltaics? Baghdad?
The price of PV Solar is $7 to $8 per watt in NJ, installed, without factoring in rebates, tax refunds, SREC or incentives. That’s $50,000 $80,000 for a house for a system with no moving parts that will last 40 years. This sounds like a lot of money, but you’re talking 10-15% of the price of the house. And converting the roof from wasted space to useful physical plant.
Given the value of the SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) and the price of utility power, these systems will pay for themselves in 5 to 8 years.
And it converts an operating expense into an equity investment.
Look at what Akeena, Ausra, World Water, First Solar, and Sunpower are doing.
Akeena, http://www.akeena.net, has just announced some new photovoltaic designs that promise to lower the price.
Ausra, Inc., on the web at http://www.ausra.com, is building utility scale solar plants to produce electricity for $0.10 to $0.12 per kwh.
Northeast Energy Consultant,
You start with an ad hominem attack on Ms. Solnit, then an ad hominem support for the French and the Swiss. Both are false arguments.
When praising Europeans for using nuclear power, lets not forget the Russians. Nuclear power works great there … been to Chernobyl lately?
But if you’re so gung ho on Europe, note that they are way ahead of us on clean sustainable energy. Look at what they are doing with photovoltaic solar and wind turbines in Spain, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and Denmark.
Solar power provides the energy inputs for photosynthesis. Without it there would be no food.
If you counter that solar power is really nuclear power because the sun is an (uncontrolled) fusion “reactor” I would concede the point. And add that 146 million km (91 million miles) is about as close as I want to be to a nuclear plant.
You are correct. I forgot to mention Russia, when I credited France, Switzerland, Japan for the wisdom to embrace nuclear power decades ago, She is now planning to build many large nuclear power plants…this despite Chernobyl and the fact that Russia possesses vast gas and oil reserves. So are China and India. They have decided against the polution of coal and oil plants, and that fossil fuels, particularly the oil, will be depleted faster than we imagine. Regarding nuclear, while several hundred thousand people a year are killed and maimed on our highways, that does not mean we must never build another automobile.
Our society should indeed install photovoltaic and wind turbines wherever feasible. A chunk of my investments are in PBW, i.e. the Wilderhill Clean Energy Portfolio.
Ms. Solnit is a great writer. She should use that talent to research and write a follow-up article: on a realistic estimate of how much of our energy needs can be met by photovoltaic, wind, and other renewables. She should not just conclude renewables are preferable to nuclear. We know that already. Her research should also include Peak Oil, and the impending struggle to divide up the remaining fossil fuel reserves between all nations. Here are some good websites: http://www.peakoil.net/ and http://www.theoildrum.com/ , to name only two.
When all the facts are in, this hypothetical new article may conclude that yes, nuclear can play a strong role, and perhaps James Lovelock used good judgment to switch sides.
Some supreme irony I actually witnessed a few months back: the hugest SUV I have ever seen had three bumper stickers. The first said “this vehicle has a 5.7 cubic inch hemi and proud of it”. The second said: “May God protect our troops. And the third said: “No nukes”. What a fascinating disconnect from reality!
Wait… you make the point that Nuclear Power cannot solve our climate change problems because it will take a decade or more to implement plants on a large scale.
Do you believe that we can lower our emissions on a large scale any faster?
Please… be realistic!
The only kind of person who could see your arguments as cohesive would be someone who is caught up in the mindset that nuclear power is inherantly scary and dangerous. Anyone who has taken a college level (or even high school) level course that talks about nuclear energy would know better.
Also, the problems revolving around the development of new nuclear power plants are not primarily due to investors being unwilling to take risks.
The problem is that because of the stigma surrounding nuclear power, any new facility must purchase an incredibly massive insurance plan. Normally this insurance would be unaffordable, but luckily the price-anderson act provides government backed insurance rates to nuclear power companies. Unfortunately, even these rates are unaffordable.
It is our country that makes new nuclear power facilities infeasible, not the nature of nuclear power itself nor the skeptisism of investors.
Nuclear doesn’t require insurance – that’s one of the problems. Making it “safe” makes it more expensive. The Price Anderson Act, by which the government shoulders the risk – or puts it on the taxpayers – is socialism.
Re Tim Kaler’s comment —
It’s not the engineers who design, build and work at the plant. They are dedicated professionals who do a good job. To my knowledge, there have only been two incidents like Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island.
People don’t trust nuclear power because rather than keep it’s act clean, the nuclear industry fires whistleblowers.
For example, The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported, on October 31 that Kerry Beal, a whistleblower who exposed overworked and exhausted guards at the Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant, was notified this week by owner Exelon Nuclear that he “did not meet the selection criteria” for continuing to work at the plant.
Beal filmed guards sleeping at the plant only after his efforts to notify Wackenhut (Exelon’s Peach Bottom security contractor) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of the regular occurrence of sleeping guards were met with inaction. http://popularlogistics.com/2007/12/02/peach-bottom-nuclear-power-plant-whistleblower-fired-project-on-government-oversight-10312007/
Why not use solar, wind, ocean current, and geothermal? These are clean. No toxic wastes. No massive insurance requirements. No sleeping guards and whistleblowers to fire.
Several points in the recent comments on Reasons Not to Glow need further commentary. First, why isn’t Asteroid Miner a multimillionaire hired by the nuclear industry that has embraced his claims and put them into action to have all our power supplied by nuclear reactors already? Must be some problems somewhere such as where are the wastes going to go and will some terrorist group get a hold of some for a dirty bomb. As I pointed out in Comment 7, a problem with storage of radioactive wastes has developed with the encasing material claimed to last 10,000 years at least having been found to be deteriorating in 10 years.
Also we have to be careful about pushing fresh nuclear energy after old fossil fuel energy that left carbon dioxide creating the greenhouse effect. That gas will still be around cutting off the natural escape into space of some heat energy from any power source. That will keep the greenhouse effects of melting, increasingly active weather and ocean deterioration going to get worse.
I have in comments, 12 and 23, outlined using pyrolysis on the massive mess of organic wastes that cost megabucks to maintain in dumps, where they biodegrade to give off greenhouse gases(GHGs) that includes methane and some nitrogen oxides as well as carbon dioxide. Asteroid Miner claimed that burying the charcoal formed by pyrolysis would be problematic, but then proposed that some means of removing those wastes in a deep burial would provide a somewhat long term benefit in cutting GHG emissions. Why not, for permanent removal, be burying just charcoal especially to fill in messy old mines while getting some energy when organic wastes are pyrolyzed.
Another major environmental problem looming soon to be as bad as global warming is pollution of water ways and the extra costs of getting clean water from ever dirtier supply sources. This pollution is mainly generated by mishandling of organic wastes so setting up the pyrolysis process for the organic wastes could be a major means of cutting our water pollution problems. Billions spent on maintaining dumps properly sealed to prevent pollution seepage would not have to be spent as the organic wastes when pyrolyzed would have all germs and almost all toxics destroyed. A couple toxics come out in the distillate, but can be trapped.
I also again stress the rapid development of wind mills to get electricity free of GHG emissions and to get recycling of already released energy. Very recently, an even more important step for getting clean energy was reported by scientists from the Max Planck Institute as they indicated a catalyst to split water using sunlight to get hydrogen.
But hydrogen and windmill generated electricity will not remove any of the GHG and heat energy overloads on the globe that will still be causing global warming’s effects.
So I again stress the need for using the pyrolysis process on the massive organic waste mess to get reduction of the heat energy and mainly the carbon dioxide overloads and also to cut pollution getting into our water supplies.
Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA
One of the good things about nuclear power and the growing radioactive waste problem – from a long term ecological perspective – is that it may, theoretically help the alleviate the problem of all the plastic in the biosphere. Despite the fact that 72% of Americans – about 236 million people – believe that plastic is biodegradable, it isn’t biodegradable. There are no organisms in the biosphere that ‘eat’ plastic.
The volume of plastic is growing, probably exponentially, each year. There are plastic sacs to carry stuff – brand new stuff, garbage, useful stuff that is neither brand-new nor garbage. There is plastic stuff that is used to buy plastic stuff. There are plastic toothbrushes, plastic boxes for new toothbrushes, plastic containers for toothbrushes, plastic alphabet blocks to plastic zoo toys. It’s like that guy said in “The Graduate” “Plastics – The future is plastic.” Much of this stuff winds up in the oceans. There is a large nexus of plastic swirling around the Pacific.
The problems with radioactive wastes is that they emit ionizing radiation. And this stuff changes molecules. Ionizing radiation can knock hydrogen ions – protons, if you remember your high school chemistry – off of things like DNA, or things like protein. And when DNA changes, interesting things happen. Somethings those “interesting” things are called cancer. Other times they are called “mutations.”
I suppose that it is statistically likely that eventually an atom of radioactive waste will emit a particle that will ionize some bacterial DNA, or plankton DNA, of an organism floating in the midst of some plastic, and this organism, will, figuratively speaking, wake up, look around, and go ‘Lunch!’ Then it will eat, gorge itself, and reproduce. And there will be 2 bacteria that can eat plastic. Then 4, 8, 16, 32, … 1,024, 2,048, … and then millions and millions. This could start tomorrow, or in 10,000 years.
God knows that the non-biodegradable plastic will be around, the radioactive wastes will be around, and so will the bacteria. I don’t know about humans.
Einstein once said, “God does not play dice with the universe.” This may be true. However, I know that it is definitely true that people in this corner of the universe we call ‘Earth’ like to play God with the environment, and with other people. The Egyptian Pharoahs considered themselves to be gods. As did the Roman Emperor Caligula, who died shortly after proclaiming himself a god. (So while it may be true that God does not play dice with the universe, it appears to also be true that God has a finely tuned sense of irony.) In more modern times, the French Kings considered themselves to be gods – as did their subjects. As did the Emperors of Japan, even into the 20th Century. People say disparagingly of Doctors and scientists like to play god.
So suppose some scientists try to kick start this process. Take bacteria, plastica and mutagenic agents, put them together in salt water – and wait. Use some radioactive wastes (in a lead beaker) or better yet use genetic engineering and biochemistry to engineer metabolic pathways to degrade plastic.
My apologies – only 40% of Americans – 120 million – believe that plastic is biodegradable. It is 72 % of Americans that don’t know that plastic is made from oil. That’s still 236 million people.
At least according to Treehugger. (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/04/70_of_americans.php)
Al Gore, in Earth in the Balance, Plume, 1992, observed:
“Almost every discussion of substitutes for fossil fuels includes an argument over the role of nuclear power in our energy future. In fact, some opponents of positive action to save the environment try to cut short discussions of global warming with a dismissive reference to the political difficulties involved in building new nuclear reactors and expressions of exaggerated frustration with envrionmentalists, who, they imply are the principal obstacles to adopting nuclear power as the obvious subsitute for coal and oil.
“Of course, uncertainties about future projections of energy demand and economic problems like cost overruns were the major causes of the cancellation of reactors by utilities, well before accidents like those at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl heightened public apprehension. Growing concern about our capacity to accept responsibility for the safety of storing nuclear waste products with extremely long lifetimes also adds to the resistance many feel to a dramatic increase in the use of nuclear power.
“In my own view, the present generation of nuclear technology, light water-pressureized reactors, seems now rather obviously at a technological dead end. The research and development of alternative approaches should focus on discovering, first, how to build a passively safe design (whose safety does not depend on the constant attention of bleary-eyed technicians) that eliminates the many risks of current reactors, and second, whether there is a scientifically and politically acceptable means for disposing of – in fact, isolating – nuclear waste.
“In any event, the proportion of world energy use that could practically be derived from nuclear is fairly small and is likely to remain so.”
XB Cold Fingers,
Agreed, Government shouldering the risk of Nuclear Power is socialism. So?
Government building roads and airports everywhere is also socialism, and a direct subsidy to the automobile, trucking and airline industries. But try subsidizing AMTRAK or mass transit, and many say it must sink or swim on its own.
Socialism is also subsidies and tax rebates for the solar and wind energy you tout, subsidies I agree with by the way.
Socialism is also when the fossil fuel industry has society pay for the cost of “externalities” from using its product. These costs include military to guard oilfields and sea lanes, diseases and deaths from bad air and from mining and extraction, and future costs of global warming. These are all expenses we bear in our taxes and medical bills. To repay society, a carbon tax is completely justified.
It seems when it is our favored idea, it is not socialism, but a prudent expense by society. If it takes government assuming the risk of nuclear power to attract investment, I believe the benefits make it a bargain.
In opposing nuclear, you say: “Why not use solar, wind, ocean current, and geothermal?” I agree completely, except estimates I have read say renewable sources cannot come close to meeting our needs.
First, the notion that one needs a science/engineering degree to speak on policy issues is BS plain and simple. Instead of worrying about the author being parnoid or fearful (it often is quite raitonal to be afraid) why not addrreess her arguments?
And since much of the discussion presumes we can build nukes easily and quickly, why not consider the proposal in Scientific American this month that we can also quickly build large scale solar installations? See:
Watts Barr, the last reactor built in the US, came online in 1996. Construction started in 1973. If we start building nuclear plants today, they will be ready to produce power by 2031. Practically tomorrow.
So why are we arguing?
Nuclear is dead.
By the time any new nukes are built there won’t be any oil other than biodiesel. But we will be using solar, geothermal, and wind. If you think about it we get all our biological energy – the energy from food – from solar power via photosynthesis.
Concerning energy needs and global warming, I pointed out in comment 36 that our organic wastes are a biofuels source that we waste after nature has so nicely trapped carbon dioxide for us in plants. We, unfortunately, let those waste reemit that trapped gas and other GHGs especially in composting that is getting much play as forming black gold. In other parts of the world, the mishandling of those wastes is in many poorer countries creating from germs and toxics in mishandled wastes a problem of water supply pollution that may soon be causing in those countries more problems than global warming. I urge readers of this discussion to check the comment 36 and to start calling for the development of the pyrolysis process to be used on organic wastes to stop them from biodegrading to give off GHGs and from polluting water supplies.
Larry, What I am afraid of is a ‘night of the living dead’ scenario! The problem is that talk of nuclear power as viable combined with a large portion of fear clouds the discussion in ways that prevent clear, innivative thinking.
Dr. JS, I think the alternaive energy position is large enough for all sorts of options.
}}; No other option that can reduce the overload of carbon dioxide or stop the polluting of water supplies by organic wastes. Hydrogen may not be very far away as a major fuel as German report indicates that a process may be at hand using sunlight and a catalyst to split water.
BUT that will not reduce the overload to ease global warming nor will it help in controlling water pollution from organic wastes.
Dr. J. Singmaster
It is tiresome to keep encountering these same empty arguments against nuclear energy, all of them recitations of misinformation from political hacks trying to pull live money into their dead organizations.
Nonetheless, one patient individual has taken the trouble to rebut the argument, such as it is, point for point. The rebuttal can be seen at this website
It is disconcerting to constantly see people who have no knowledge of science write anti-nuclear rants.
So far there is no reliable way to dispose of nuclear waste.
The mining of Uranium ore is a poluting activity.
The supply of that ore is not unlimited.
It has gotten very expensive and will become even more so
Government subsidies will be needed.
On Thursday, March 6, 2008, I attended a seminar on solar and wind power at the Atlantic City Utilities Agency clean energy plant. It’s a small plant: 7.0 MW of wind and 0.5 MW of solar, it provides about 1% of New Jersey’s power. On the way back I drove into the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Ocean County, NJ, to look around and to get a visceral feel for the place.
There are armed guards outside the nuclear reactor. There are watchtowers, presumably with armed sentries. They really don’t want people looking around, “getting a feel for the place”. They looked me over, looked at my driver’s license, searched my car – looked in the trunk, looked under the hood, looked in the front seat, the back seat, under the car, and then escorted me out of the complex. I felt like Arlo Guthrie in “Alice’s Restaurant”.
There are no armed guards at the clean energy plant. There are wind turbines, photovoltaics, and operators. The operators are happy to talk to people, they show you how much power the plant is generating, and tell you them how the plant works. They tell you how people park under the solar arrays – keeps the snow and ice off the car in winter, keeps the cars cool in summer.
As I see it, electricity is raw power. The various energy alternative technologies to generate that power offer choices about the society in which we live. On the one hand: polluting fuel based technologies of the past – nuclear, coal, oil, natural gas. On the other: renewable and sustainable clean energy technologies of the future – solar, wind, geothermal, hydro. And in the middle, what Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute, calls “Negawatts” – conservation, using less power to do more.
The fuel based technologies are expensive and polluting. Nuclear needs government subsidies, special legislation that eliminates insurance, and its own a special bureaucracy, the NRC, that is charged with managing the industry so it operates in a safe manner. (Altho when the NRC fires whistleblowers and ignores public opinion, it seems that it is more “Nuclear Rubberstamping Commissars” than Nuclear Regulatory Commission.)
The fuel free technologies are inherently clean – no fuel, no greenhouse gases, no toxic wastes, no radioactive wastes, no mercury, no oil spills, no coal mining disasters, no fuel to buy from people like Achmadinejad in Iran, Chavez in Venezuela, or Putin in Russia. They are elegant; we don’t need evacuation plans just in case of a catastrophic failure. They are not terrorist targets, so we don’t need armed guards outside wind farms or solar arrays.
I see it as a matter of time.
Look thru this blog. From Rebecca’s article on, the posts criticizing the technology are calm, rational, and focused on the technology or the economics of the industry. Those on the other side, like posts 46 and 47, tend to be illogical, emotional, ad hominem attacks against the people criticizing or questioning the nuclear power industry or the technology.
I can understand nuclear engineers and nuclear physicists defending their job, their life’s work. And I know many are dedicated, hardworking professionals.
However, I would feel a whole lot more comfortable with nuclear power if the NRC did it’s job in regulating the nuclear industry; rather than fire whistle blowers, ignore citizens, and rubberstamp industry desires.
And if the industry had to buy liability insurance, rather than rely on the government to say “we want this technology, therefore don’t worry about insurance. In the event of a disaster, we’ll handle it.” And stick the taxpayers with the bill.
And if there was a way to truly dispose of wastes.
But the fact remains that to run the plants with a modicum of safety (ignoring the problems of radioactive wastes¬, thermal pollution, and the greenhouse gases produced during the fuel cycle) costs a lot of money. This conflicts with the industry’s goals of delivering higher profits and increased shareholder value, and conflicts with the government’s goal of lower taxes. This is the real reason no nuclear plants have been planned and built since the 1980’s. There are easier ways to make money.
I think the discussion so far is not dealing with the scope of the energy problem or the rate at which non-carbon energy sources need to be implemented. If we are to avoid catastophic increases of CO2 how much energy are we going to nead, and how soon will we need it? There were three billion of us and most of us lived agrarian lives,and now there are six, going on nine, or more,with most of us living urban lives. What’s the verdict, doc? How bad is it, and how long do we have?
Seems to me that if we can get past the subprime mortgage crisis, which we will, any new homes in CA.AZ, NM, UT, MT, TX, FL and other states where there is an abundance of sunlight need to seriously add the cost of photovoltaics to the cost of the house. Built into the home at the time of construction it may add between $20-30,000 ( not sure where anyone got the 1 Million figure) to the cost of a home. Paid out as part of a 30 yr mortgate on a 400-750,000 home it is really a small price to add power to the grid.(and not be in any way part of pollution in making, production, no waste at all)
Its an investment, it takes one out of the problem and into the solution area. Compared to sitting around waiting for the gov’t to do something it has given me a feeling that I am part of the solution.
Until nuclear can get rid of its pesky waste problem, which it hasn’t in 50+ yrs, its a non starter…
Solar works well everywhere in the US, except for a few places like Seattle, not just California, Arizona, Florida, but New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, etc.
At $6 to $8 per watt, we’re talking $24,000 for a small 1000 sq ft home to $80,000 for a larger 2500 sq ft home with, say a swimming pool, or $150,000 for a McMansion, looking at 10% of the value of the home.
As Sue Morgan said, when you amortize this over 30 years, and when this eliminate your electric bill you’re way ahead. You swap out an ‘operating expense’ for an equity investment.
When you factor in the external costs of fossil fuel and nuclear, greenhouse gases, radio active waste, defensive infrastructure, and what an ecological economist might call ‘External Values’ of clean energy – you don’t need armed guards outside a solar array or wind farm, they work the day after a storm, they enhance bio-diversity because they don’t disrupt the environment … well, it’s a no-brainer.
One of the points she makes in the article is radiation poisining. However, this is not true. In fact, if you live near a coal plant you get more radiation than if you live closer to a nuclear power plant. Also radiation measured in reuntgen equivlaent man unites (rem) is found throughout the world. Radon seeping up from the soil gives off 200 rem per year more thana 1/3 recommended by the US at 500 rem per year. On the EPA website look up my my radiation intake and see what yours is. And many backups installed on nuclear plants do work and it was human fault that caused mistakes. A Three mile, worker shut off water entering chanm]mber when in fact there was no water in the chamber and the temperature was raised. Chernobyl there ukraniana running tests without proper training and a poorly designed nuclear reactor RMbK.
With a world food crisis all ready getting out of hand with even Chavez of Venezuela adding his voice against bioethanol to go along with IMF and world bank officials and United Kingdom’s chief environmental scientist, everyone’s first concern for our survival ought to be for stopping bioethanol subsidies so that millions of tons of corn can become available. I urge readers to contact your Congress persons especially Speaker Pelosi at firstname.lastname@example.org, to say that Bush’s contention that bioethanol is a national security need is BS. To hell with food as being a national security need, let Americans eat mud cakes like in Haiti seems to be his attitude. Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA
Florida Power & Light wants to spend $12 to $18 Billion, assuming no cost overruns, to add 2200 to 3000 mw of nuclear capacity in 2018 or 2020 to their aptly named Turkey Point installation.
If $12 Billion builds 2200 MW, then we are looking at $5.46 per watt of capacity. Similarly, if $18 Billion builds 3000 MW, we are looking at $6.00 per watt. That’s about what it costs to install commercial scale PV solar, and about four times what it costs to build land based wind farms, and twice what it costs to construct an offshore wind farm.
And it takes a whole lot less than 10 or 12 years to install solar panels and build wind farms.
About the pollution from mining, does Rebecca understand that extracting the minerals from which we extract silicon uses the same. Not to mention the fact that we don’t receive metals like manna from heaven in building windmills, or any “renewable energy” source, so since any power plant which somehow uses electrical induction or silicon has some sort of mining behind it? What really makes nuclear any different? The difference is, you get an immense output of negligibly intermittent electrical power, which, just like solar and wind, does not generate GHG emissions, sulfur dioxides, nitrogen dioxides, or smog in its generation process, which in fact is the kind of power we need to sustain ourselves beyond the status of the third world.
Mass production and manufacturing, which consume plenty of electricity, are the means by which we can even hope to live with even the biofuels, or the other energy sources. Even though France, as many of you said, does have renewable, It depends on nuclear as its foundational source of electric power, and this generation so long outweighs solar and wind power. If you want to know how our food supply is better than the Third World, try living in the farmlands where I live, and watching the tractors plant, plow and harvest by the truckloads. It’s all done by a few people, and more effective than any subsistence farmer.
For those who argue so much for solar, there’s plenty of electricity involved in producing pure silicon from minerals, that unless you find a substantial, non-intermittent source of electricity, that does not emit during the generation process, there will still be a fossil fuel dependency.
The facts are pretty simple
Nuclear will be the workhorse for easing many environmental problems during the coming decades, and while this solution isn’t eternal, it is until we find more powerful processes than nuclear fission to harness energy, and a more dense energy source than Uranium.
I have never read such a disgustingly one-sided, and ill thought out argument. The rejection of nuclear power in all forms is not only unreasonable it is extremely ignorant. Just look at the progress being made with Terra Power and the traveling wave reactors they are developing. Not to mention modular development and even processes for complete liquid fusion. You reject not a means of generating power, but an entire field of science. You site three mile island as a disaster, when in reality the events of three mile island only proved that the safety precautions put in place by the United States Government.
What really upsets me about this article is the thoroughly misleading idea that United States nuclear power plants are worse than any other form of energy, no American has ever died, or even been critically injured by any form of radiation from an American nuclear power plant. Meanwhile coal powered plants emit literally one hundred times the radiation of nuclear plants into the environment and that is when they’re generating the same amount of energy, less than 25% of our energy in this country comes from nuclear power, almost all of the rest is from coal , so do the math on how much radiation we are putting into the environment versus how much we need to even if we sustain our current habits. Rebecca Solnit is an embarrassment to the real green movement. I think somebody drank the Koolaide when The China Syndrome was released.
Love the fanatics with pens, especially ones with little knowledge over an issue.
This country will continue to have an increase in the need for energy. These “green” energy sources such as wind and solar are nice to try and off set our dependence one specific energy source, but they do not produce what we need. Nuclear power has the highest start up cost, but produces more energy than any other process out there. Much less radioactive waste than coal plants, and the waste in nuclear plants can be used as a fuel. Its an obvious win to anyone intelligent. The problem comes in the down sides, corporations running it make a profit and human error. The worst nuclear accident from a power plant was Chernobyl. In which 30-50 people died and in the surrounding area a 1-4% increase in cancer was found in the passing years. Seems like a relatively low number of people dead from the worst ever accident. Which was completely operator error since they pulled the rods further out of the reactor than the engineers who designed it said was safe and that is was not surrounded by a containment building.
As a student going studying nuclear engineering learning about energy in general and looking at efficiency of the different types nuclear is a clear winner.
AND thank you Obama for seeing that!!
Tommy: Sorry to say that nuclear energy be it fission or fusion keeps adding trapped energy in the atom to become kinetic energy of molecules in the biosphere. So temperatures will keep rising in air water and even soil.
The problems in Japan accent the hazards that are obviously worse, but some still think that they can be overcome to make N-power viable. But the heat energy released from nuclear sources will keep adding to the overload that we already have in the biosphere. So the weather will keep worsening even if we got completely to N-power.
We have to get negative energy and carbon
and we can do that by realizing that our organic wastes are a resource; basically, they
are already harvested biofuel crops that we let decompose to reemit trapped CO2. Worse we let germs, toxics and drugs escape from those biowastes to pollute the biosphere.
I have made many comments on various blog posting on Dotearh and Green NYTimes and elsewhere so I won’t go onto details about using pyrolysis on our biowaste messes. They contain probably more energy than we can get from even doubling the useless bioethanol foolishness being foisted on us.
Nuclear is an Unclear winner.
Dr. J. Singmaster
No alternative energy system is going to save our bacon against the challenges of population growth. Nuclear may work as a partial short to medium term stop gap but can you imagine with even some serious world wide increased commitment nuclear power keeping up with the needs of 200,000 new folks each day, much less substituting in a major way way for fossil fuel? Ask the Chinese who project massive fossil fuel use well into the future and they are the alternative energy kings, and that includes hydro and nuclear.
As for solar and wind, no serious projection I’m acquainted with has them ramping up in time to save us from ghg overload, even if they somehow solve the intermittency problem. Long term, they may be the solution, but we will have gone over a lot of global warming tipping points before that.
As sad as it is to say, without a serious turnaround in population growth we are in all likelihood taking it over the cliff unless there is a plausible alternative scenario that I don’t know about. And yet this population elephant is practically taboo I guess because it raises questions we don’t want to address and it doesn’t offer us a nice manageable techno-fix which is where most environmentalist’s psychological comfort zone is located.
MORE TREES, LESS PEOPLE!
TOOLS FOR NEED, NOT GREED!
A crew of 4 can install 5 KW per day, 100 kw per month, 1.0 MW per year, working 5 days per week, 200 days per year – 10 months. Two months off for training vacations, holidays, etc. Multiply that by 1 Million people, 250,000 crews and we lower unemployment and develop / install 250,000 megawatts or 250 gigawatts of nameplate solar in a year. If we put 250,000 people to work installing solar and another 250,000 people to wirk manufacturing solar then we install at a rate of 62.5 gigawatt a per year, 250 GW in 4 years. If you add six months to a year of training and scale up time you have 250 GW in 5 years – by yrar end 2019. Factor in rain, snow, weather and cut the productivity rate by 25% and we’re talking about 200 GW by 2019 or 2020, with 500,000 people working and a corresponding cut in unemployment.
So the assertion that “no alternative energy tech can be scaled up quickly” is incorrect.
And the hard facts about population is that 1.2 million people died from air pollution in China in 2010, up from. 650,000 in. 2006. If that’s a trend then the rate is doubling every 6 years. That means people will die at a rate of 2.4 million per year in 2016, 4.8 million per year in 2022, 9.6 million per year in 2028 and corresponding numbers in the intervening years. I’ve written about this on PopularLogistics.com . “The Bitter Years Return.”
The Chinese authorities may be aware of this, and seem to be slowing the development of new coal and accelerating the development of new solar and wind but my guess is they are not really cognizant of the ramifications. They are, after all, still building coal plants and still burning coal in their existing coal plants.
It looks to me like the UN’s population growth projections are flawed in that they don’t take into account the effects of pollution in China.