My Views On Nuclear Power

Last night we learned that Cory Booker feels that nuclear power will be important in our response to global warning.

So let me give a short summary of my feelings about nuclear power. They haven’t changed since I wrote this in August 2017.

We need nuclear power. I think that we can make it work. But there are a lot of reasons we might not. The fear of radioactivity is a big one. It’s irrational, it comes from a lack of education, the media fan it, and it seems impervious to any sort of persuasion.

The belief that there is no way to deal with the wastes is related, but separate. The repository at Yucca Mountain would be just fine except for politics. Nevada has decided that it won’t take other states’ radioactive garbage. So there. I can sorta sympathize, but not really. We do have a lot of empty space out here in the west, and not many people.

The time it takes to build a new reactor and the cost overruns, as they exist now, are disqualifying. This seems to be a problem in all sorts of areas, though. The solution may have more to do with contracting practices and bad incentives than anything else.

The new, smaller reactors that are being developed may be part of the solution. But it will take time to have them ready to go. Older reactors should not be shut down simply because natural gas is now cheap. Booker is right about that.

Overall, don’t give up on nuclear power. Learn about what radioactivity is. The nuclear industry and its proponents at DOE have to do a better job.






236 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    Two words. Cold fusion.

  2. 2
    Hoodie says:

    What are your thoughts on thorium reactors?

  3. 3
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Coming up with a solution for the waste should not be this difficult but NIMBY.

  4. 4

    @Hoodie: If thorium reactors were a real prospect, India would have invented them long ago. India has only recently discovered uranium deposits within the country, but they have enormous reserves of thorium.

    And this brings up a reason why I don’t write a lot on nuclear power. There are fanatics out there, starting with the thorium proponents, who will attack anyone who disagrees with their preferences. They have done their own damage to the prospects for nuclear power.

  5. 5
    Baud says:

    Since Nevada is trending blue, I propose Utah or Idaho for the nuclear waste depository.

  6. 6
    waratah says:

    I worry about the underground water contamination. This might be because I live in an area that uses that water not only for personal use but agricultural use.

  7. 7
    Le Nettoyeur says:

    @Baud:
    Sorry, no. Cold fusion isn’t. If it was, the people doing the experiments would be dead, since even 1 Watt of neutron power steady state will kill you in a short period of time. The “excess heat” is the result of bad calorimetry. These are facts.

  8. 8
    Le Nettoyeur says:

    @waratah: Fracking in areas with water (like WV) is far more dangerous. Yucca Mtn, btw, is near the the Nevada Test Site. Lots of radioactivity underground, no water.

  9. 9
    germy says:

    Nevada has decided that it won’t take other states’ radioactive garbage. So there. I can sorta sympathize, but not really. We do have a lot of empty space out here in the west, and not many people.

    Could that change though, in the future? Climate change will cause all sorts of migrations away from the coasts.

  10. 10
    Baud says:

    In terms of fear, it does seem to be a problem that there seems to be a major nuclear disaster story about once a decade. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. That sticks in people’s minds.

  11. 11

    @germy: The West will still lack the water to support those migrations. Might even get dryer.

  12. 12
    Viva BrisVegas says:

    @Baud:

    I propose Florida. Nobody down there will notice the two headed alligators and three eyed fish.

    Besides, it’ll be under water soon anyway.

  13. 13
    lee says:

    Just as an FYI:
    Trump Administration secretly shipped waste to Yucca (warning auto-play sound)

    I think in general people are warming back up to nuclear. I get a lot less push back on FB when mentioning it especially when I mention Bill Gates is a proponent of it.

    @waratah: My dad was one of the last workers at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. His last project was to design and install ground monitors all around the area.

  14. 14
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Baud: They’re already overflowing with red waste.

  15. 15

    @Baud: Yes. Fear magnified by that fear of radiation I mentioned. More people died in the evacuation from the areas affected by the Fukushima meltdown than from the accident itself. And the decision to evacuate them may have been based on exaggerated radiation standards.

    We have gas lines blow up rather frequently, but people don’t freak out about that.

  16. 16
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    There are fanatics out there, starting with the thorium proponents, who will attack anyone who disagrees with their preferences.

    The proponents of thorium use in nuclear power generation emphasise how unsafe and dangerous and problematic existing nuclear power is, in part to make a case for their magical unicorn solution to public fear of all things nuclear and are shocked when their proposed nuclear power designs get tarred with the same unreasoning panic they’ve been encouraging so enthusiastically for decades. It doesn’t help that a lot of the grad student PowerPoints about thorium have a slide reading “…and then a miracle occurs” in the middle.

    The Indian interest in thorium is conflated with them not being signed up to the NPT and hence theoretically barred from the world-wide nuclear materials, engineering and technology markets although several nations including the US have agreed to dodge around those restrictions over the years, accepting a pinky promise that the materials and other goodies being supplied won’t be diverted into India’s nuclear weapons programme.

    The small modular reactor (SMR) groupies are much the same, believing that their reactor designs won’t face the same sorts of legislative and legal obstacles to getting Construction and Operating Licences (COLs) that their bigger and more capable predecessors labour under. They are in for a disappointment, I fear and having a 50MW SMR power station with a couple of hundred licenced operations staff as required by law is going to be producing very expensive electricity.

  17. 17
    JR says:

    I know this is further afield, but what’s the untapped potential for US hydropower? Another controversial area, I know.

    I’m guessing that the best undeveloped sites are located in challenging areas distant from population centers, but it can’t hurt to ask.

  18. 18

    @lee: I’m monitoring the news about that plutonium shipment, may write something about it when some things about it become clearer. Right now it’s a shouting match between the State of Nevada and the DOE.

    It’s got to do with the plutonium that has been recovered from nuclear warheads taken out of service. Seems like nobody wants it in THEIR state, but it ain’t gonna dissolve into thin air.

  19. 19
    Another Scott says:

    I agree with what you say about fear mongering.

    But remember “too cheap to meter”. The promises of the proponents have always been over-the-top.

    The problem is, as you also say, the economics are all backwards. Unless Big Government invests in breakthrough concepts and designs, they’re not going to happen. So industry will keep pushing things that they “know” even with all the problems. And since the projects take so long and are so financially risky, they will continue to push new huge projects that they hope become “too big to fail”, which pushes the risk up even more.

    But, honestly, unless there’s a breakthrough in small, modular, intrinsically safe reactors, I don’t see a market for them, myself. Solar is so good, and wind is very compelling, and batteries and other storage technologies are making steady improvements.

    We need nuclear if we ever want to put people out at Mars and beyond. And on subs and large ships. Those are about the only must-have markets that I can see for it now.

    Keep fighting the fear-mongers.

    My $0.02.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  20. 20

    @JR: Hydropower is a big NOPE. Smaller dams are being demolished. It’s never had the potential to be a big part of our energy – IIRC, 1-2% max.

  21. 21
    Michael Cain says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Through November of last year, conventional hydro accounted for 28% of total generation in the Western Interconnect. Any realistic conversation about US electricity supply has to start from the US has three power grids, not one.

  22. 22
    MaxUtil says:

    Nuclear is expensive, the waste is a problem that we may have have a technical solution to, but not a practical one, and I’m not sure I’d call fear of radiation “irrational” exactly when we have a reactor still leaking it, years after an accident the facility was supposedly designed to handle.

    I suspect nuclear will continue to have a place in our post carbon energy future. But it continues to have the exact same problems it’s had my entire life and I can’t see it being more than a niche power source where alternatives are impractical.

  23. 23
    Michael Cain says:

    @Baud: Idaho successfully forced the federal government to sign an agreement that no additional nuclear waste can be brought into Idaho until the feds finish cleaning up the god-awful mess at the Idaho National Laboratory.

  24. 24
    MaxUtil says:

    @Michael Cain: Hydro is a lot bigger than many realize, but it’s not really expandable in any significant way at this point.

  25. 25
    chemnut says:

    I am an analytical/food chemist. Cheryl is right about the fear of radioactivity. My grad research was on irradiated meat. I was amazed at how many people seriously believed that irradiated food would become radioactive.
    BTW I have lurked here for years but this is my first time commenting.

  26. 26
    A Ghost To Most says:

    Solar, wind, and battery storage are the future. The economics are driving it. The costs and risks of nuclear are too high, except perhaps for thorium reactors.

    /TMI participant

  27. 27

    @Michael Cain: The power grids are a whole nother question I’m not qualified to address.

  28. 28
    Joe Falco says:

    Good lord, nuclear power is such a sore subject in Georgia. The nuclear power project there with Vogtle has been the forever project for years now, but I think it’s also revealed to some in Georgia how much power (no pun intended) Georgia Power has over any sort of accountability.

  29. 29

    @MaxUtil:

    I’m not sure I’d call fear of radiation “irrational” exactly when we have a reactor still leaking it

    But the chlorinated hydrocarbons that other electrical plants have contaminated, say, the Hudson River, with are not a problem?

    It’s this repetition and magnification of fear of radiation as something that must stop nuclear dead in its tracks that I object to.

    ETA: To clarify that comment, I’m pointing out that past contamination by chlorinated hydrocarbons is hardly ever used to disqualify other types of electrical generation.

  30. 30
    lee says:

    The Navy seems to have a pretty good track record of safety are theirs much different than a commercial one?

    How much power can a Navy reactor provide as compared to a commercial one? Take a bunch of old Navy reactor specialists and let them run small reactors all over the country.

  31. 31
    JPL says:

    @Joe Falco: Yup! They still want taxpayer funds though. Finally they are taking baby steps to move away from coal. Just baby steps though.

  32. 32
    Frankensteinbeck says:

    I vividly remember having profanity thrown at me here during the Fukushima event. I committed the terrible crime of reading MIT’s nuclear scientist blog and passing on such tidbits as Northern Japan not being in danger of becoming a nuclear wasteland, America’s West coast not being in danger, and hydrogen explosions being a minor thing with a scary name. Yes, nuclear anything terrifies people beyond reason.

  33. 33
    MaxUtil says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: People do have an irrational fear of radiation, perhaps because most have no context within which to judge that risk. But I think it’s the scope and scale of nuclear accidents that break people out so much.

    In southern Germany, you still have to have a wild pig you catch tested for radioactivity before you eat it. Fukushima is still leaking and while I assume the amounts are small enough to basically blend into the background, there’s still something very concerning that they simply can’t stop it.

    We know how to fix a gas pipe and if one blows up in another country, it’s pretty unlikely that it’s going to be a problem for me 20 years later.

  34. 34
    bbleh says:

    I think behind the fear of radioactivity — which is embedded bone deep in at least 2 generations of Americans, for reasons good (like the superpower nuclear standoff) and bad (like radioactive bug bites causing superpower mutations) — there is a general distrust of the central government to handle a problem that will span thousands of years. (Compare this to attitudes in France.) It isn’t just ignorance; it’s distrust.

    I would add that I’m not as sanguine about Yucca Mountain. IIRC more recent studies have found evidence of groundwater tables above the levels of the repository within the last several thousand years, well within the lifetime of isotopes present in high-level waste. Part of the problem is indeed political, and Yucca was at least in part a political solution rather than a scientific one.

    All that said, I (somewhat reluctantly) agree that nukes are likely to be a necessary part of the energy mix, at least for high-demand uses (e.g., aluminum refining). We can reduce our dependence on central sources materially, and renewables can take a lot of the load (look what they’re doing in Germany), but I expect there still will be a need for a couple of massive generators like nukes.

  35. 35

    @lee:

    Take a bunch of old Navy reactor specialists and let them run small reactors all over the country.

    The light water reactor designs now in operation are based on the naval reactors. Admiral Rickover and his boys had a lot to say about reactor development in the early days, not all of it helpful.

  36. 36
    Betty says:

    My issue with nuclear power has always had to do with the private sector’s tendency to do things on the cheap and for the all too often human error. My fears were sort of confirmed in 1979 when I had to leave my home because I lived within the danger zone of Three Mile Island. It is worth noting that the governmental response was to tell people not to panic. I later learned that it was a mere coincidence that prevented a total meltdown. Color me skeptical.

  37. 37
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @lee:

    when I mention Bill Gates is a proponent of it.

    Damn. I was kinda leaning for it but now I have to full on libtard against it.

  38. 38
    Baud says:

    @bbleh:

    bad (like radioactive bug bites causing superpower mutations) 

    That’s not my fear. That’s my dream.

  39. 39
    Baud says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Yeah who wants to lose power for a couple of hours while the electric grid is updating? Strong pass.

  40. 40
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Frankensteinbeck:

    Yes, nuclear anything terrifies people beyond reason.

    I was living 8 miles downwind from TMI when they had their little oopsie.
    The brother of a friend of my fiance, an actual NRC nuclear engineer, told us to get the fuck out of Dodge.

    Mo nuclear, Mo problems.

  41. 41
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    And this brings up a reason why I don’t write a lot on nuclear power. There are fanatics out there, starting with the thorium proponents, who will attack anyone who disagrees with their preferences. They have done their own damage to the prospects for nuclear power.

    Yeah… It’s hard even to talk about the subject because the obsessive nuclear fans will swarm you. I think they’re actually worse than the people with irrational fears of nuclear power.

    I was deeply uncomfortable with the way e.g. Germany moved to shut down all their existing nukes after the Fukushima accident; it seemed like a really bad idea from a global-warming perspective. It’s true that the sheer amount of power a nuke plant can generate (especially an already built nuclear plant) compensates for a multitude of sins, from a damage-per-kWh point of view. But the spectacular damage a major huclear accident does cause, when it happens… I do understand why you wouldn’t want one of those to happen in your country, ever. Even if the actual body count is low, making a whole region more or less permanently uninhabitable is something.

    The irritating thing about the nuclear stans, to me, is the way they talk down renewables in a way that at this point in history really seems irrational. For a long time their line was that nuclear power was real whereas grid-scale renewables were an impossible, expensive pipe dream. Now that that’s no longer true, though, they regard the fact that renewables are exploding right now, while nuclear languishes, as the result of some sort of unfair cheat involving government subsidies (and they fall back on grid-scale storage as the impossible expensive pipe dream, because there isn’t a lot of it yet). They’ll bring up out-of-date factoids, like claiming that every watt of renewables needs to be backed up by a watt of natural-gas plant (it’s way less than that now).

    Their economic comparisons usually involve ignoring that there is such a thing as an experience curve, and assuming that power storage will always cost the same as it does now. Sometimes they’ll demand a halt to all deployment of renewables because they regard them as a dangerous distraction from the nuclear future.

  42. 42
    Al Z. says:

    I’m sympathetic to this argument, but I think opposition to nuclear power is as much idealism as fear mongering. It’s like our attitudes towards agriculture; many have this idealized view of farming where the small organic family farm is seen as the ultimate good and large, factory farms are bad. But most people aren’t working in farms and consumer demands and just the plain reality of feeding this planet means that the large industrial agricultural system is a necessity. Similarly we idealize certain types of energy like solar and wind, but energy demands necessitate large scale power sources. And whether it’s agriculture or energy – externalities exist and need to be mitigated but global warming is too big a threat not to consider all non-fossil fuel alternatives.

  43. 43
    Le Nettoyeur says:

    @MaxUtil: Nuclear accounts for 20% of US electricity and 80%+ of France’s. 10+ x hydro.

  44. 44
    BR says:

    Physics professor Tom Murphy has one of the best breakdowns of all possible energy alternatives and their benefits and drawbacks:

    https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2012/02/the-alternative-energy-matrix/

    He writes a lot of other interesting things about energy as well, like:

    https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/

    https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/10/the-energy-trap/

  45. 45
    bjacques says:

    . I’m not averse to the idea of nuclear, probably from the last vestiges of Narry Niven / Jerry Pournelle fandom, or the nearest atomic pile to me being over 100 miles away. But maybe we should save this conversation for when Democrats have control of the White House and Congress again? I wouldn’t trust the current government with a spent Bic lighter, especially with Former Texas Governor Goodhair in charge of the DOE.

  46. 46
    MaxUtil says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I think that’s a fair comparison. People are terrible at evaluating and comparing risks and radiation has certainly been given boogie man status far beyond a rational level.
    But I think part of what differentiates people’s reactions is that we somewhat expect a ‘normal’ industry to be a little bit poorly managed, maybe a little corrupt. But nuclear facilities are supposed to be designed and run by literally the best and the brightest and they can’t keep the things from failing or fix them after the fact.
    That distinction isn’t particularly fair or rational either. But frankly, if nuclear scientists and engineers can’t make it work, who is?

  47. 47
    Victor Matheson says:

    So, I have taught a semester long class on energy economics multiple times. I pretty strenuously disagree with Cheryl on this issue.

    I do agree that nuclear clearly gets a bad rap with regards to waste/radioactivity. The waste problem is clearly NIMBYism. But NIMBYism is still a reality.

    I used to think the safety issue was also overblown. Three Mile Island was an non-incident but expensive. Chernobyl was disastrous but the scientists there had to try really hard to get that plant to blow up. But then we had Fukushima. Eventually you have to say, no matter how idiot proof you make something, humankind will figure out how to make bigger idiots.

    However, the real killer is the costs. It costs over $10 billion to build a 1000 MW nuclear plant and rising. It costs at most $1.5 billion to build a similar size solar farm and falling. Of course, a solar farm is only 20% efficient while a nuclear plant is over 95% efficient, but even after account for the fact you need 5 solar farms to generate the electricity of one nuclear plant, the capital costs are still lower. Plus no operating costs, 100% clean, much less NIMBYism, fast construction, super long lifetime. There is a storage problem, but that problem is rapidly getting cheaper and given the cost differentials, that gives you a lot of room to play.

    Basically, my view is that nuclear would have been a great option as a bridge to solar/wind/other renewable had we made a real effort to decarbonize 15 years ago (before solar was ready for prime time). At this point it probably doesn’t make sense to ever build another nuclear reactor again (except for specialized purposes like ship/sub propulsion) because the better future technology is already here. (And wind is easily as cheap as solar.) Of course, given they are already in place, we should continue to use all of our existing plants to the end of their useful lives as Cheryl says. But there is really no reason to ever build another new one.

  48. 48
    MattF says:

    My view is similar to Cheryl’s, but with a specific added twist– I don’t think nuclear engineeers have really dealt with the risks and perils of the prolonged, high energy density inside reactors. The energy flux really is intense and dangerous down inside an active nuclear reactor- and the various specific dangers that arise from that are structural, organizational, and, incidentally, political. This seems like a central fact to me, and I’d like to see some designs that recognize that fact.

  49. 49
    Immanentize says:

    @Baud:
    Pilgrim Nuclear, which is being decommissioned, was always one mistake or component failure away from disaster too.

    We remember the way old reactors broke down, leaked, automatically shut themselves down, were inundated by weather, etc. I think the idea of “pocket reactors” really reduces the risks, but many more would have to come on line to meet the output of the big old disasters in waiting.

    ETA. I do think the odd risks of climate change have worried people too. Not in terms of nuclear power utility, but in the Fukushima sense — where is a safe place to build in a world of increased weather events, severe weather, earth quakes, etc. Nuclear power so far needs LOTS of water for cooling….

  50. 50
    Cermet says:

    Sorry but when you said

    The fear of radioactivity is a big one. It’s irrational, it comes from a lack of education, the media fan it,

    you lost me. Your entire thinking is flawed. To say fear of radioactive issues are in any way or manner not justified demonstrates either an amazing lack of knowledge or not paying attention to what has happen over the years. The Japanese accident is massive, that reactor design is currently used here in american, and that mess in Japan will take fifty or more years to deal with if and when they can figure out how to address that nuclear nightmare. Worse, the still burning cores of at least two reactors are still going and exposed to the open environment. Ignoring the famous breeder reactor accident that could have destroyed Detroit in the early 60’s (thank god we abandon that design), and the irrelevant (for us) Chernobyl reactor accident, the fukushima daiichi disaster proves most enriched fuel boiling water reactors are very capable of terrible radioactive disasters. People’s fears are totally justified of the radioactive issue and the media, if anything, has down played that accident. This bypasses the fact that all reactors put out a lot of very radioactive gases that are simply vented to the open air up a ‘smoke’ stack – no one bothers to notice all reactor plants have these smoke stacks. The companies keep the radioactive levels within ‘allowable’ limits by simply blowing more air into the stack to dilute the large amount of dangerous gases. A little trivia that is overlooked about radiation from power plants.

    That does not mean nuclear fission power isn’t a useful source of low carbon energy, just the current designs are outrageously expensive, and very prone to issues if their coolant is ever stopped. These issues can be overcome if we use the Candu reactor design – needs no coolant flow to be safe. Far cheaper fuel and cheaper to build since they require far fewer safety systems. While the heavy water is expensive, that cost is a well understood factor so the plants overall cost doesn’t run away like current american design reactors – the best example is the recent abandonment of the partly built reactor in SC. But that is another issue.

    As for nuclear waste, that isn’t the issue most people think – it can be dealt with in the near future via high neutron sources like an ITER type reactor (convert the stuff into low level waste. That is very doable if we decide to deal with the waste in that manner. Far, far cheaper to bury but that is a political call.)

  51. 51
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Through November of last year, conventional hydro accounted for 28% of total generation in the Western Interconnect.

    That’s great if you only want electricity in November. The rest of the year? Oops.

    It’s a problem with renewables, the energy they supply is intermittent and generally unreliable. People quote the lowest price for solar and wind generation and then mention “oh, and there’s some storage we haven’t included in the price but you’ll need quite a lot of it if you want your lights to come on reliably”.

    “Oh, and we need to spend more on long-distance high-capacity distribution lines to spread the risk of localised reductions in generating capacity due to weather.”

    “Before I forget, we’ll also need more wind turbines and solar panels to fill up that storage you had to pay for as well as supplying the instantaneous local demand and supplying power to other areas that are lacking at the moment.”

    Mostly those problems of intermittency are dealt with by fracking and burning fossil carbon gas in fast-response gas turbine generating plants when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. This adds CO2 to the atmosphere and increases global warming.

  52. 52
    BR says:

    @BR:

    Just to follow up; Tom Murphy notes in that first link that one of the biggest problems we face is moving away from the liquid fuels that oil provides. That is a real loss, and we probably should look into sugarcane ethanol biofuel for making up some of it. Corn ethanol in Iowa is clearly ridiculous, but growing sugarcane along the Gulf Coast (where they have refineries too) makes a lot of sense given their subtropical (and soon to be tropical) climate. The efficiency is much higher, so much so that Brazil has been relying on it for a majority of their fuel.

  53. 53
    kindness says:

    Jesus and I want to like Cory. Why the guy has to keep uttering stupid stuff, I don’t understand.

  54. 54
    Michael Cain says:

    The original DOE plan for waste storage called for a large repository in the East, where most of the waste was/is being generated, and a much smaller repository in the West. A long list of candidate sites was developed. Every single candidate was eliminated by politics, not science or engineering. The list was reduced to Yucca Mountain alone in a closed Congressional committee meeting, with no representation from Nevada, under rules that kept the amendment from being debated on the floor of either the House of Senate. When a reporter asked the committee chair what had happened, he famously answered, “We screwed Nevada.”

    Hanford and INL are environmental disasters. It remains unclear whether the former Rocky Flats site is as clean as promised, or will remain that way (turns out no one accounted for burrowing rodents bringing contaminated soil to the surface, or native plant species picking up plutonium and incorporating it in their leaves). WIPP leaks into the atmosphere from time to time. The federal government has consistently lied about nuclear waste disposal in western states.

    Do you really blame Nevada for not believing this time will be different?

  55. 55
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Victor Matheson: The nuclear stans like to insist that the high cost of plants is because of unreasonable safety regulations that they claim are disproportionate to those in any other industry. And it may be so, but I just can’t see selling nuclear on the grounds that it’d take off if we just didn’t need to make it so damn safe.

  56. 56
    Shantanu Saha says:

    @MaxUtil: Tell that to anyone who tries to catch and eat fish in the Hudson River, 40+ years after GE was mandated by law to stop dumping PCBs into it.

  57. 57
    gratuitous says:

    @waratah: Indeed. Living downstream from the Hanford reservation is an exercise in a peculiar form of Russian roulette. But I guess the Columbia River watershed isn’t really THAT important to the people who matter.

  58. 58
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Victor Matheson:

    Three Mile Island was an non-incident but expensive.

    Tell that to the people who were living there. Can I watch?

  59. 59
    Immanentize says:

    @Robert Sneddon:
    What do you think of micro-hydro systems like Austria built?

  60. 60
    MattF says:

    @Shantanu Saha: Yeah, once upon a time the Hudson River was teeming with sturgeon. Edible sturgeon. Le sigh.

  61. 61
  62. 62
    MaxUtil says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Yeah, at the end of the day, cost is what is stopping nuclear from expanding. Now those costs may be somewhat inflated by people’s fear. But with the environment we’re in, nuclear is usually the most expensive option.

  63. 63
    W. Kiernan says:

    I would be willing to consider nuclear power if there were an insurance company in the world which would be willing to privately insure a nuclear power plant at any price, but as far as I know there is not.

  64. 64
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @kindness:
    Yeah, he dropped a couple of ticks with me.

  65. 65
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @lee: The nuclear power industry has lots of ex-USN naval reactor people who are head-hunted by the reactor operators as well-trained professionals, to the point where the USN has serious problems with specialist retention — a CVN needs a couple of hundred nuclear-qualified engineers, technicians, operators etc. to run. It still takes several years to get fully licenced as a civilian power station operator though.

    It’s not the reactor operations that’s really a problem although it’s an expense the operators have to meet to get permission to generate power.

  66. 66
    joel hanes says:

    Liability

    Tepco is in serious trouble, as are its leaders.
    Most utility companies are not at all interested in being exposed to that kind of consequences for a blunder.

    My mom was once on the board of a regional utility.
    They all breathed a sigh of relief when they managed to sell their nuclear facilities to a company that specialized in operating fission plants.

  67. 67
    Dmbeaster says:

    Yucca Mountain failed because the site and design could not satisfy the applicable standards for a safe repository, both as to design and geologic stability. To try and evade the problem, the various federal agencies simply tried to lower the applicable standards. They wanted the design to be limited to only ten thousand years of adequacy (even though high levels of radioactivity last at least 300,000 years), and they wanted to eliminate geologic stability as the essential component for the long term design.

    Call it NIMBY if you want, but Nevada state officials were doing their duty in challenging the site.

    These deficiencies were challenged in court, and the challenges upheld in 2004. No one has solved the design problems. The only alternative to continue is to lower the design standards to plainly inadequate standards.

    No one has solved the waste problem. There is no future for this technology unless a solution is found, or we just let the waste slowly poison our environments over thousands of years. Most of the world is disposing of high radioactive waste in crappy ways that will over time escape and pollute the environment.

    The nuclear power industry exists in the US solely because it is not responsible for either catastrophic loss arising from a major accident, nor is it responsible for its waste. The US government picks up the tab on both, thereby providing a gigantic subsidy that has allowed the industry to exist. Before it becomes labeled as a great future alternative, we should be realistic about its true cost.

    That is the current future of nuclear power.

  68. 68
    RAVEN says:

    Seems like a good time to promo this

    In the radioactive Dead Zone surrounding Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4, a defiant community of women scratches out an existence on some of the most toxic land on Earth. They share this hauntingly beautiful but lethal landscape with an assortment of interlopers—scientists, soldiers, and even ‘stalkers’—young thrill-seekers who sneak in to pursue post-apocalyptic video game-inspired fantasies. Why the film’s central characters, Hanna Zavorotyna, Maria Shovkuta, and Valentyna Ivanivna, chose to return after the disaster, defying the authorities and endangering their health, is a remarkable tale about the pull of home, the healing power of shaping one’s destiny and the subjective nature of risk.

  69. 69
    lee says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: After reading that, it seems Shaw was the culprit not Rickover. Rickover certainly had his issues but Shaw was the one that actually shutdown the programs.

    Was Shaw a Navy person? It doesn’t say in the article and I’m not familiar with him.

  70. 70
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @W. Kiernan: Actually insurance companies do insure nuclear power reactors. From RationalWiki’s page of all things nuclear:

    in the U.S. there are three tiers of insurance. The first tier is $375 million of insurance coverage for each reactor. The second tier is a $12.6 billion insurance pool shared between all nuclear operators. The third tier is the government. If an accident happens, damages are first covered from the individual insurance. Damages above $375 million are satisfied from the shared pool. Finally, damages above ~$13 billion are covered by the government.

    They go on to mention that dams don’t have to have any insurance at all for catastrophic failure, probably because a little excess water never hurt anyone.

  71. 71
    Victor Matheson says:

    @A Ghost To Most: TMI was literally a non-incident according to every epidemiological study. And that should come as no surprise since a tiny amount of radiation was released.

    Not saying it wasn’t a huge incident in terms of fear or publicity. And it certainly did a lot to doom the industry (although the industry was probably already doomed at the time). But as for being a disaster, it is probably the biggest non-disaster disaster in history.

  72. 72
    brantl says:

    All of the people that I know of that are nuclear power proponents come up with nothing when it comes to waste storage. Storage gets foisted on society’s dispossessed. I ain’t buyin’ it. The places that they want to store this stuff, are physically unstable, in reference to nuclear material’s half-life. Sorry, it’s bullshit.

  73. 73
    lee says:

    @Dmbeaster:

    France solved the waste issueWe can solve it as well.

    The waste of other types of power generation have not exactly been solved either (e.g. Global Warming).

    I do wish the US had the ability to do more geothermal. That seems to be a pretty clean way to generate power.

  74. 74
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Dmbeaster:
    Yep, and the costs of solar, wind, and battery storage continues to drop.

    Give it up. We can do better.

  75. 75
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Another Scott:

    But remember “too cheap to meter”. The promises of the proponents have always been over-the-top.

    Otherwise intelligent people should stop spreading this shit around. The quote is attributed to Lewis Strauss, a high-functioning imbecile who somehow ended up in charge of the Atomic Energy Commission. It is very likely that he was referring to fusion power – with which he was almost as obsessed as with the persecution & ruination of J. Robert Oppenheimer – but couldn’t come out & say it because controlled fusion research (Project Sherwood) was highly classified, even unto its very existence. Read this & be edjumicated.

    Slightly O/T, but there is (what I presume to be) an urban legend involving a scientific conference in the 1950s attended by the major players in controlled fusion. The government wanted to bring them together for a project review, but because it was still highly classified they couldn’t do it at the conference site, so they rented a movie theatre some distance away for a morning session, & sent the principals over in 2s and 3s via taxi.

    Imagine their surprise when they disembarked & looked up at the theater marquee, which advertised a double feature: TOP SECRET and MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST. :^D

    (I will have more to say re molten

  76. 76
    Victor Matheson says:

    @Robert Sneddon: But the whole point of Kieran’s post was that insurers don’t really insure nuclear plants. They insure only the first $375 million of the risk. Anyone will insure something where the payout risk is limited. But if the payout is a tiny fraction of the potential cost of a disaster, that insurance is meaningless. It would be like having a health insurance plan that is capped at $500 of annual medical costs. Worthless if something actually goes wrong.

    And no private insurer would cover a plant if they had to actually cover all of the costs in the case of a potential accident. And even if they did promise to cover all costs, they would immediately file for bankruptcy in the event of a Chernobyl/Fukushima type event and therefore wind up covering only a fraction of the damage anyways

  77. 77

    @Victor Matheson: You may turn out to be right. But all the projections I’ve seen (and believed) depend on some nuclear in the mix. The land required for solar and wind is their weak point.

    I think the expense and timing can be dealt with, although the incentives that currently exist on contracting and the poor oversight by contracting parties are going to have to be cleaned up, and that may be a bridge too far.

  78. 78
    joel hanes says:

    @Cermet:

    To say fear of radioactive issues are in any way or manner not justified

    IIRC, coal mining kills far more people every year, but people aren’t afraid of coal mining.
    Humans are bad at accurately evaluating comparative risk, especially in the case of rare and spectacular events.

    That said, I feel that the window for nuclear has passed.

  79. 79

    @MattF: This is pretty standard nuclear engineering. Can you be more specific about your concerns?

  80. 80
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Victor Matheson: I think you should take that argument into any bar in South Central PA. I really would like to watch.

  81. 81
    Kristine says:

    If we start up nuclear again, we need to have the waste storage facility up and going beforehand.

    I live in a town that will need to store the waste that was once slated for Yucca Mtn on-site in above-ground casks for the foreseeable future. Somehow, it’s not safe to store in Yucca Mtn, but it is safe to store in the midst of a densely populated area 45 miles from Chicago. When the plant was constructed in the late 60s/early 70s, the town was assured that provisions for dealing with the waste would be made. So much for that. Now for-profit companies are performing the task of tearing down old plants. I don’t believe tasks like that should be for profit, because once that becomes a factor, corners get cut.

    I understand irrational fears, but they’re hard to overcome. My Dad died at home from pancreatic cancer, and one of the men who dropped off his meds asked if he had worked at the local nuke plant. I said no, and he replied that he had been making a lot of deliveries to men who had worked in the plant who were also dying of cancer. You aren’t going to convince people like him that the two aren’t related.

    You can argue that PCBs and other compounds related to the energy industry cause cancer, but they usually aren’t accompanied by photos of people with cancerous growths, sloughing skin, etc. If we revive nuclear, it better be an overall damn sight better process than it is right now.

  82. 82
    CarolDuhart2 says:

    Another thing to consider is that nuclear safety relies on a fairly strong central government to inform about and protect waste. States and provinces seldom have the manpower or political strength to prevent intrusion on sites, especially faced with the power of developers, farmers, and whoever else wants the land for other purposes.

    Considering that the oldest civilization (not government, just civilization) is no more than 6k, how can we assure ourselves that future political arrangements will even be able to read the warnings, let alone keep people from digging up the waste? Maybe if it was buried a mile deep in some decomissioned coal mine, far away from casual encounter, it would be more reassuring.

    There are also other externalities as well. Uranium is like any other mineral, finite, requires processing and transport. Wind and solar can be tapped and utilized at the point of use, is available forever and anywhere. Yes, there is the storage and intermittancy problem, but in recent years a belt and suspenders approach is being proposed-wind at night, sun by day, and transmission from where the sun shines and wind blows to places where it is not so sunny or windy.

    And we forget that there are still a lot of places where electricity isn’t available except for a few smoky generators. Even 10 hours of alternative energy would be a game changer for health and industry. Imagine being able to finally utilize a washing machine for a few hours, reliably charge a cell phone, or having lights to read by. These places have no coal, no uranium, and oil at unaffordable prices.

  83. 83

    @Cermet: You’re making my point. You’ve got a lot wrong there.

  84. 84
    Michael Cain says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    The power grids are a whole nother question I’m not qualified to address.

    That’s a problem.

    The people who model this stuff in painful detail all come to the conclusion that the Western Interconnect can run on renewables, without nuclear. It works because the West has large renewable resources relative to demand, those resources are diverse both by type and location, and the population distribution makes some things easier. The Eastern Interconnect is a much harder problem. (Texas is, as it has been for decades, its own thing.)

    If you had written the piece with the word Eastern tossed in here and there, I would probably agree with it. The Eastern Interconnect probably needs nuclear if they’re going to get off fossil fuels relatively soon. To do that, the Eastern Interconnect utilities/states have to relearn how to build nuclear. The Eastern Interconnect states have to find a waste storage solution that doesn’t include “we’ll bury it in someone else’s back yard.” Depending on how I feel on a particular day, I might say that the Eastern Interconnect states probably need to be working on waste reprocessing and a fast-neutron design that can burn the long-lived waste — but always with the caveat that it needs to be done in the East.

  85. 85
    Victor Matheson says:

    @Michael Cain: Just as an aside, my grandfather was the chief scientist at Rocky Flats when the plant opened in the 1950s. He was obviously a big supporter of nuclear power, but also the first person I ever knew who was a solar power dreamer.

    I do wonder whether he would continue to support new nuclear power plants today given the economics.

  86. 86
    mapaghimagsik says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: The freakout has a smaller radius, but they do. And, no one expects super-powers from a natural gas eruption.

  87. 87

    @Michael Cain: I would like to see NUMBERS, not people’s fears, about Rocky Flats. From what I know about the situation, the claims are wildly overblown. But I never see numbers indicating what the problem is. What are the levels in soil? In what parts of the (now) wildlife refuge?

    That said, distrust of the government and its pronouncements is part of the problem. DOE has been high-handed about nuclear energy (those Rickover boys again), and we are paying the price.

  88. 88
    Joey Maloney says:

    @Michael Cain:

    The original DOE plan for waste storage called for a large repository in the East

    I nominate Mar-a-Lago.

  89. 89
    Victor Matheson says:

    @A Ghost To Most: Well, obviously you have a point, but that doesn’t mean the facts are not on my side. It would be fun to watch me go into hot yoga session and kale smoothie bar with Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vax friends and tell them that that they are idiots putting their kids and neighbors at risk of a horrible death from a preventable disease. But I would still be right.

  90. 90

    @lee: Shaw was recommended for his position by Rickover, for whom he had worked.

  91. 91
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Victor Matheson: I live several miles south of Rocky Flats. The dog park just downwind from the core is notorious for dogs getting cancer.

  92. 92

    @joel hanes:

    IIRC, coal mining kills far more people every year, but people aren’t afraid of coal mining.

    Also, Cheryl didn’t say what cermet paraphrases her as having said. All the idiots in Marin county taking iodine after Fukushima did indeed have an unjustified fear of all things nuclear; she doesn’t say all wariness of radiation is dumb.

  93. 93
    Victor Matheson says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: The power distribution thing that you and Michael Cain are discussing may be the weak part of my argument. Land/space is not a big issue. More than enough land in North Dakota to generate just about all the wind power we need. Getting the electricity to where we need it is a different question, and definitely my weakest knowledge area in energy economics.

    Offshore wind seems to be a pretty great solution to the space problem (and the distribution problem since most of the people/GDP live near coastlines), but again NIMBYism.

  94. 94
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Victor Matheson: Physical effects are the facts you lean on. The mental effects, which I saw first hand, you apparently discount out of hand.

  95. 95
    joel hanes says:

    @Victor Matheson:

    distribution

    When I was still reading the IEEE Spectrum, back in the late ’80s, electrical engineers already knew that we needed HVDC transmission for long-haul. Other nations have done more with it; IIRC the US is playing catch-up after not dealing with the problem for a couple decades.

  96. 96
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Victor Matheson: Tidal generation, and kite turbine generation are also possibilities.

  97. 97
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Victor Matheson: No, he said no insurance company would insure a nuclear power plant at all because nuclear is Scary! The facts are, legally they have to carry large amounts of insurance and they do. The costs of the Three Mile Island incident, for example has been covered by the insurers, probably from the industry pool fund.

    Anecdotally I’ve heard that insurance companies actually like covering nuclear power plants BECAUSE of their safety record, the institutional and rather over-the-top safety culture and Government oversight. Insuring a gas production platform (Brent Alpha) or a fertiliser plant (West, Texas) is another matter, what with all the destruction and dead bodies involved.

  98. 98
    Aardvark Cheeselog says:

    I haven’t read the thing you linked but will. In the meantime, here’s a question about waste storage. 15 or so years ago, there was a thing in MIT Tech Journal about waste storage that came to the conclusion that since on-site storage at reactor facilities is a disaster waiting to happen, and it’s stupid to pretend that we can design a storage facility that will really last for a Pu 239 half-life, the right thing to do with spent reactor fuel is put it in casks that will be good for a couple hundred years and store it above ground on something like a giant parking lot with good physical security. Are you familiar with that argument and if so what’s your opinion?

  99. 99
    Victor Matheson says:

    @A Ghost To Most: My family apologizes to all the lovely dogs. I did talk about the contamination issues at Rocky Flats with my grandfather, who was a huge environmentalist, ironically.

    His basic point was that we were fighting a war, and a little bit of radioactive contamination at one site in the far outskirts of Denver (at the time) was a lot milder than the radioactive contamination involved with the Soviets nuking Phoenix.

  100. 100
    mapaghimagsik says:

    @mapaghimagsik: No edit, so I get to just reply to myself. Read the Entire Threat {TM}

    In California, I think Diablo is producing something like 5% of the states energy (or at least, enough to cover 5% of the state’s energy consumption). By far, electricity and natural gas have killed more people, and with electricity, I mean linemen who get electrocuted. On a side note, I’ve always wondered if those frames they use for the ceremonial pictures were real wood, or some sort of cheap plastic. I’ve had enough ‘lets have a moment of silence’ times at murdercorp to last a lifetime.

    Still radiation, with all the miscommunication around it is the big fear — mostly, I think, because its an unknown.

    Its interesting that the Eastern Interconnect is more reliant on nuclear. I hadn’t thought of that, and it might explain why there seems to be coal plants in the east. I’m surprised they haven’t converted to natural gas, but generation isn’t my strong suit. I think nuclear can be done safely, though the fuel disposal issues need to be figured out.

  101. 101

    @Cheryl Rofer

    I would like to see NUMBERS, not people’s fears

    My point has been made, as a horde of laymen stampede out of the bushes to tell the expert that she is wrong, wrong, wrong, and they know the truth. I’m sorry you have to deal with nuclearsplaining.

    EDIT – I suppose you must be used to it. I’m sure this happens every time you raise the subject in public, and a lot of the time professionally.

  102. 102
    mapaghimagsik says:

    @Aardvark Cheeselog: I believe Dumpf is going for a Moonbase Alpha solution.

  103. 103
    joel hanes says:

    @Dmbeaster:

    high levels of radioactivity last at least 300,000 years

    It’s been a long time since I was up to speed on this, but I seem to remember that high emission levels are produced by nuclides with short half-lives, and that long-half-life nuclides have low emission.

  104. 104
    joel hanes says:

    @mapaghimagsik:

    radiation, with all the miscommunication around it is the big fear

    No one wants to accidentally spawn Gojiru.

  105. 105

    A lot of commentary about the LONG half-lives of all those radionuclides, and we have to sequester them forever because RADIATION.

    This is one of the things that I’d put under that irrational fear of radiation. Coal plants mobilize things like arsenic, that is toxic FOREVER. No half-life. And yet coal plants dump their arsenic-bearing ash in open ponds, often close to rivers, into which they sometimes pour.

    A long half-life means relatively little radiation. A short half-life means it’s gone pretty soon but hot during that short time.

    And yes, not using Yucca Mountain means that the spent fuel elements are stored near their plants, above ground. So the East is getting its comeuppance.

    ETA: I see joel hanes has touched on this.

  106. 106
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:
    Dead dogs don’t count?

    You will get your numbers in time, good or bad. They are building tons of homes as close as legally allowable.

    I fail to see any benefit from nuclear power generation that outweighs the risks, the waste, and the economics of the available alternatives.

  107. 107

    I feel like being closed to the possibility that your fears may be wrong, when it comes to remediating humanity’s greatest crisis, is… not a great look.

  108. 108

    @Frankensteinbeck: LOL, one guy from the nuclearsplaining hordes got warned by some of his colleagues, but he assured them and me that he was quite qualified because his girlfriend’s father worked at a nuclear plant.

  109. 109
    Joey Maloney says:

    @mapaghimagsik: As I recall that didn’t end well.

    (Despite the silly plotting and zombie-like acting of the principals, Space: 1999 was some pretty good sf for teevee. They spent the money to do a realistic portrayal of lunar gravity and it was one of the first shows I can recall where the sets looked lived-in, the machinery grimy and kind of beat-up the way it would be in real life. Not bad for the early ’70s.)

  110. 110
    Le Nettoyeur says:

    @Dmbeaster: Heard a lawyer talk on Yucca Mtn. Demands on program were a GUARANTEE that nothing would move for 1 million years. Humans have been around for at most half of that. And so it goes nowhere, and the globe warms.

  111. 111

    @A Ghost To Most: Numbers are available now – the measurements of radiation in the soil that were taken during the remediation. That’s what I’d like to see.

    For humans, 40% of us will develop cancer, and 20% will die from it. I swallowed some iodine-131 (half-life 8 days, HOT) to deal with a thyroid nodule. I calculated that that increased my chance of cancer by 1%.

    I don’t know what the numbers for dogs are, but they are sometimes used as a model for human cancer, so I’m going to guess that they’re about the same. So 40% of the dogs that play in that area are likely to get cancer. But not because of anything in the soil. People can be primed to notice things that they don’t usually notice, which accounts for a lot of the scary news that someone got cancer, and they worked for Los Alamos. Or wherever.

  112. 112
    Joey Maloney says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    This is one of the things that I’d put under that irrational fear of radiation. Coal plants mobilize things like arsenic, that is toxic FOREVER. No half-life. And yet coal plants dump their arsenic-bearing ash in open ponds, often close to rivers, into which they sometimes pour.

    It’s not an irrational fear of radiation; it’s a completely rational fear of corporate criminal irresponsibility. All you have to do is look at the results of your aforementioned coal ash disasters.

  113. 113

    @Cheryl Rofer:
    I can’t remember if it was implicitly stated, but I remember the consensus of the MIT blog at the time was that Fukushima was the vindication of modern nuclear plant design. Hit with an unprecedented natural disaster, a violent fluke beyond all calculations that included limiting response to the most token levels, damage was restricted to a tiny area. Do you have a professional judgment on that?

  114. 114

    @Joey Maloney: The two can be separated. The exaggerated fear of radiation is irrational.

    Corporate criminal responsibility is something we can deal with, although we’ve given it a pass for the last several decades.

  115. 115

    @Frankensteinbeck:The problem at Fukushima was that Japan allowed the industry too much of a role in regulation, so they decided that a much lower seawall than was recommended for tsunami hazards was okay. Turned out it wasn’t.

    I’m not sure I would agree that it’s a total vindication of the reactor design. Designers are coming up with inherent safety ideas that are great improvements. But yes, bad stuff happened and the damage was limited. Fewer casualties than your typical pipeline explosion. Same thing could be said about Three Mile Island.

  116. 116

    I’ve got other things to do now. Will come back later and check on y’all.

  117. 117

    @Cheryl Rofer:
    Hmmm. Thank you. Comparing the opinion of one expert to another is useful for a layman. I will add your comments to my understanding.

  118. 118
    low-tech cyclist says:

    @Baud:

    Since Nevada is trending blue, I propose Utah or Idaho for the nuclear waste depository.

    I’ve been thinking the same thing. Obviously they’d have to vet and construct another potential site, but things being the way they are, we don’t want to lose Nevada’s EVs or their two Senators.

    Idaho strikes me as particularly appealing. Owyhee County in SW Idaho has a population density of 1.5 persons per square mile. Almost all those people live along the Snake River at the northern edge of the county; the southern half is basically empty. It gets ~8 inches of rain per year; Yucca Mountain gets 7.5 inches, so tit for tat. Away from the Snake River, the topography is high intermountain desert with some bona fide mountains, very much like the area around Yucca Mountain. Sounds like a great place for long-term nuclear waste storage.

  119. 119
    Michael Cain says:

    href=”#comment-7181770″>joel hanes: Don’t tell Southern California the US doesn’t do long-haul HVDC. Path 65 brings large amounts of power from the Columbia River dams to SoCal; path 27 brings SoCal almost as much from the Intermountain Power Plant in Utah. The Transwest Express project is finishing up final permitting and will bring a peak of about 3 GW of wind power from eastern Wyoming to the enormous Marketplace substation at the southern tip of Nevada.

  120. 120
    khead says:

    Since Nevada is trending blue, I propose Utah or Idaho for the nuclear waste depository.

    The original DOE plan for waste storage called for a large repository in the East, where most of the waste was/is being generated, and a much smaller repository in the West.

    Don’t know about the geological issues, but West Virginia already has miles and miles of underground tunnels…

  121. 121
    A Ghost To Mo says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    The exaggerated fear of radiation is irrational.

    And some people can’t give up their dangerous toys.

    dog park

  122. 122
    mapaghimagsik says:

    @Joey Maloney: Thanks for getting the reference. I thought It ended ended great. After all, if we hadn’t put radioactive waste on the moon how could have great cosmic powers used the moon as a bullet to shoot each other?

    Loved the show, dated and all.

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    Corporate criminal responsibility is something we can deal with, although we’ve given it a pass for the last several decades.

    In my corner of murdercorp, we haven’t been able to deal with it well, ever.

  123. 123
    low-tech cyclist says:

    For many years, I’d been basically anti-nuclear power. But there seems to be a solid consensus among those who know anything about it that if we’re to go carbon-free anytime soon, nuclear has to be part of the mix. And the risks of nuclear power are trivial compared to the risks of global warming. So for me at least, that settles it.

  124. 124
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @khead: Most of which are filled with water. The Pea Ridge iron mine near me is slated for reopening as much for rare earth metals as iron. They have been pumping water out of it for 3 years and have a long ways yet to go.

  125. 125
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @low-tech cyclist:

    But there seems to be a solid consensus among those who know anything about it that if we’re to go carbon-free anytime soon, nuclear has to be part of the mix. And the risks of nuclear power are trivial compared to the risks of global warming.

    Bears repeating.

  126. 126
    teholder says:

    I’d like to see money spent on research aimed at newer, safer, simpler reactor designs. Currently they are a fantastically complex and expensive way to boil water. Just not worth it IMO unless they are guarded, maintained, and operated 24/7 by highly trained and disciplined Navy personnel.

  127. 127
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    @low-tech cyclist:

    For many years, I’d been basically anti-nuclear power. But there seems to be a solid consensus among those who know anything about it that if we’re to go carbon-free anytime soon, nuclear has to be part of the mix. And the risks of nuclear power are trivial compared to the risks of global warming.

    yeah, I grew up in the age of No Nukes– all the good musicians were against it! Now it seems like we should have been No Coal. I think your last sentence is the crucial one, but it’s hard to turn that mental/emotional ship around.

  128. 128
    Redshift says:

    I am all in favor of nuclear power (my father is a retired nuclear engineer), but I think we need to acknowledge that we cannot possibly build enough nuclear plants fast enough to be more than a small part of addressing climate change. We should definitely have incentives to keep existing ones operating even when gas is cheaper (without effective carbon pricing), but needing new designs and everyone in the industry and the bureaucracy “do much better” is “wave a magic wand” level, and if that’s where we are, I’d go for a different magic wand.

  129. 129
    khead says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Yeah, that’s what I was wondering. The Pinnacle mine in southern WV just shutdown a few months ago and it started flooding the moment the pumps stopped. Plus when I see population stats like “1.5 persons per square mile” above? WV can’t compete with that even with all the folks leaving. Hadn’t really checked those numbers and they are higher than I thought (50+/sq mile).

  130. 130
    joel hanes says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    they decided that a much lower seawall than was recommended for tsunami hazards was okay

    In retrospect, the decision to put the cooling pumps below ground level seems also to have been sub-optimal.

  131. 131
    James E Powell says:

    @Baud:

    In terms of fear, it does seem to be a problem that there seems to be a major nuclear disaster story about once a decade. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. That sticks in people’s minds.

    And when something does go wrong, the corporations speak and behave just like the corporate villains in disaster movies.

  132. 132
    joel hanes says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Yes, we’re catching up.
    But for almost two decades, we did almost nothing about a foreseen problem.

  133. 133
    Redshift says:

    Also, don’t forget that transporting waste to a central site is another unsolved problem, even if the site itself is in a remote location. If I recall correctly, before the Yucca Mountain plan was halted, it was revealed that there were plans for transporting the waste on trains through populated areas, without a lot of answers about security.

  134. 134
    oatler. says:

    As Jimmy Carter (Dan Ackroyd) said, “I’m a nuclear engineer and I’m pretty worried.”

  135. 135
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    Meanwhile…

    Evan Rosenfeld @ Evan_Rosenfeld
    NBC News: A hole opens up under Antarctic glacier — big enough to fit two-thirds of Manhattan. Scientists say if Thwaites collapses, it could trigger a catastrophic rise in global sea levels, flooding coastal cities around the world.

    Osita Nwanevu @ OsitaNwanevu
    Yes, but what would be truly catastrophic would be the collapse in our governing norms were we to eliminate the filibuster to address this issue.

    and as Down-Under commenter Viva Bris Vegas pointed out last night, Tasmania is burning. I’ve seen people talking about that on twitter, maybe on write-up in the Sunday NYT ten days ago. I don’t think I’ve seen it mentioned on EvenTheLiberalMSNBC

  136. 136
    Michael Cain says:

    @low-tech cyclist: Idaho is anti-nuclear waste, and has a legal agreement with the feds that no additional waste can be brought into the state until the Idaho National Lab mess is cleaned up. The feds’ latest estimate on the cleanup is more than 30 years.

    Assorted agencies are fooling around with the notion of letting Bill Gates build a prototype of the TerraPower reactor on federal land. Such reactor tests have traditionally been done at either the INL or the Hanford site in Washington. Gates knows what building at Hanford would do to his reputation in Washington. The Idaho agreement appears to preclude creating waste in Idaho as well as transporting it in. They’re now looking at potential sites in Nevada, none of which have existing safeguards, staffing, or exemptions from environmental impact statements.

  137. 137
    Michael Cain says:

    @Redshift: Nebraska’s Congressional delegation suddenly got a lot less pro-Yucca-Mountain when they discovered DOE was planning to offload on the order of 500 waste casks per year from barges at Omaha to load on trains headed west through the city and then across the state.

  138. 138

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist: If it doesn’t happen in America, it doesn’t exist, has been the attitude of US news organizations forever

  139. 139
    Ruckus says:

    @MaxUtil:
    This is my concern as well.
    Nuclear requires 100% management of the design, build and the people. And humans have a hard time doing anything 100% over time. It’s not that they don’t want to but all the moving pieces, every bit of it requires 100% participation by everyone. 99% over all isn’t good enough in this case. Everything has to go right. Hell we can’t even get things shipped 5 states away on a close to 100% basis. Granted we may not have our best people on this but it’s far easier than design, build, operate a nuclear plant.

  140. 140
    Aurona says:

    I see no reason why we can’t have a depot in the other big desert, New Mexico. I’m sure your state would enjoy the remains of every other state, as Nevada has done. There are water issues and ground contamination. If you want to have that in your back yard potentially sharing your drinking water with the site, fine, but the population has increased in the dangers to health are real.

  141. 141
    Doug R says:

    @Cermet: All we need is a CANDU spirit!

  142. 142
    Just visiting says:

    On one hand: People do have an exaggerated fear of radiation and nuclear power could be a safe, clean, and reliable way to reduce our carbon foot print.

    On the other hand: The best argument against nuclear power is the entire history of the industry.

    Nuclear power, like a lot of things, is a great idea that stops being one once you add people to the equation.

  143. 143
    Eric U. says:

    The fact that nuclear proponents are still diminishing the effects of Fukashima is all the proof I need that we can’t rely on nuclear power any time in the near future. I don’t care if people died or not. The uranium will still be around when there are people wise enough to use it safely. One of the nuce faculty at Penn State sent out an email saying Fukashima was nothing to worry about on the same day the first reactor exploded. I find no comfort in nuclear proponents saying that there is nothing to worry about. I heard an interview with a NucE grad student back in the ’70s saying it was perfectly safe, nothing to worry about. I found it chilling then, and I wasn’t wrong, and it doesn’t seem like the attitudes have changed.

  144. 144
    Bemused senior says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Dealing with corporate assumption of responsibility is not something you can brush off. Did you notice that PGE has just filed for bankruptcy to escape responsibility for the Camp fire, etc.? Our legal system has been warped to allow corporate responsibility to become an impossibility.

  145. 145
    Fair Economist says:

    @Baud:

    In terms of fear, it does seem to be a problem that there seems to be a major nuclear disaster story about once a decade. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima.

    Fukushima put the nail in the coffin for nuclear power. For a quarter century after Chernobyl the nuclear power industry and its advocates insisted a disaster like that was impossible with the standard nuclear plant designs. Fukushima showed that not only is it possible, every plant on the planet is only a three days power outage away from it. Because of that massive lie/delusion, we came pretty close to losing one of the biggest and wealthiest metro areas in the world.

    It doesn’t matter anymore if there is a “safe” nuclear design developed. Nobody can ever trust nuclear advocates now.

  146. 146
    trollhattan says:

    Here’s today’s CalISO energy portfolio, California being about a ninth of the country’s population. It’s winter and crappy weather, about the worst conditions possible for solar’s contribution to the mix.

    We’re dabbling with offshore wind and it has a big potential. In the renewables you’ll see “small hydro” as a category, which is basically in-stream generation i.e., no dams involved. It has growth potential but of course a strong seasonal component.

    Fission power makes little economic sense and magical “market forces” seem to hold little potential for driving down costs. And liability will fall on the federal government, so a heavy subsidy even Republicans may not support. Fusion power always seems twenty years down the road–I don’t know whether NIF has shown legitimate potential but for fans of frickin’ lasers, know hope!

    A panel on every roof, a battery in every garage, we can drastically reduce peak load demand by distributing power generation. Mega plants seem irrelevant in the long term.

  147. 147
    EthylEster says:

    FPer wrote: Learn about what radioactivity is

    (Nuclear waste) radioactivity is forever….as far as humans are concerned.
    A waste plume is slowly working its way to the Columbia River.

  148. 148
    Neldob says:

    The French are very dependent on nuclear power but I believe their design is different. Also, I have no idea what happens to their waste.

  149. 149
    Another Scott says:

    @Uncle Cosmo: Meh:

    “Transmutation of the elements,–unlimited power, ability to investigate the working of living cells by tracer atoms, the secret of photosynthesis about to be uncovered,–these and a host of other results all in 15 short years. It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter,–will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history,–will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds,–and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours, as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age. This is the forecast for an age of peace.”*

    (Emphasis added.)

    That was in 1954. People born in 1954 are 65. Where’s the cheap, unlimited power?

    It’s not “too cheap to meter”. It was too much to expect, and it still is.

    The point is, and continues to be, that nuclear isn’t magic fairy dust that will give us cheap, safe, unlimited power. Fusion is still 30+ years off, has been for decades, and seemingly will be for the foreseeable future. Grandiose promises don’t help.

    You were saying?

    (Mumble-grumble…)

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  150. 150
    Kelly says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    Hydropower is a big NOPE

    Pumped hydro has considerable promise to smooth intermittent wind and solar. There’s a site above Detroit Reservoir on the North Santiam river that could be the second biggest hydropower station in the PNW for most of a day. Thing is it could also soak up surges in renewable power pumping water uphill. Corps of Engineers surveyed pumped hydro in the early 1970s as they wrapped up the era of big hydro projects.

  151. 151
    Fair Economist says:

    @Uncle Cosmo:

    But remember “too cheap to meter”. The promises of the proponents have always been over-the-top.But remember “too cheap to meter”. The promises of the proponents have always been over-the-top.

    Otherwise intelligent people should stop spreading this shit around. The quote is attributed to Lewis Strauss, a high-functioning imbecile who somehow ended up in charge of the Atomic Energy Commission.

    Otherwise intelligent people should stop spreading this shit around. The quote is attributed to Lewis Strauss, a high-functioning imbecile who somehow ended up in charge of the Atomic Energy Commission.

    When I was six years old I read a book about nuclear science and power (written for children, I wasn’t *that* much of a prodigy). The book was part of a children’s science series.

    It had that statement, presented as fact. It wasn’t just one imbecile.

  152. 152
    Victor Matheson says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I completely agree that nuclear is almost certainly better for the environment than fossil fuels. And nuclear plants that are already built are a super cheap and generally clean and safe way to get power.

    That being said, the current economics certainly looks like it is way cheaper to build wind and solar (even including some level of storage) than it is to build new nuclear.

    So, it is hard for me to see why we would spend any money to build new nuclear when new solar or new wind is a possibility. It is true that existing nuclear is cheaper than new solar, but when new or replacement energy comes on line, it should essentially be all renewable, and any R&D should go into storage technology not nuclear.

  153. 153
    Freemark says:

    As someone who regularly looks at Three Mile Island, just past the smokestacks for the most polluting coal electric plant in PA, I have a certain perspective on the issue. I’m fine with nuclear power, sort of. I am not fine with those who build and regulate it. It may be fairly safe but the f-ups are HUGE when they happen. The new smaller reactors that don’t have to worry about melt downs and decimating a few counties when those F-ups happen I would consider. But nothing like the reactors currently in operation.

  154. 154

    @Fair Economist:

    a disaster like that was impossible with the standard nuclear plant designs.

    Their statement was honest and apparently correct. Fukushima resembled Chernobyl like a droplet of water to a 50 gallon barrel, and under fluke extreme conditions. However, you’ll never convince the public of that. You can’t even convince half the people here of that, no matter what the experts say. So in that respect, yes, it was the nail in the coffin of nuclear power.

  155. 155
    CantDecideOnAPermanentNym says:

    I briefly skimmed the comments, but it seems that no one has addressed the security issue. If nuclear power plants will be built on the cheap (which barring the heavy hand of government regulation is likely), they are sitting ducks for a terrorist attack. Hell, the ones that exist NOW also are targets.

  156. 156
    stan says:

    @lee: The Navy seems to have a pretty good track record of safety are theirs much different than a commercial one?

    How much power can a Navy reactor provide as compared to a commercial one? Take a bunch of old Navy reactor specialists and let them run small reactors all over the country.

    interesting you mention that. I’ve worked with a lot of ex-Navy engineers in conventional power plants and all i can say is, WOW. They are consistently among the best people I’ve ever worked with. As ex-Army myself it hurts me to admit this ;)

  157. 157
    Joey Maloney says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    Corporate criminal responsibility is something we can deal with, although we’ve given it a pass for the last several decades.

    OK, well once we’ve dealt with it successfully for the next several decades, the nuclear industry can get back to me.

  158. 158
    Searcher says:

    (Reads tail end of thread.)

    So because someone or someones said 65 years ago that nuclear power would be “too cheap to meter”, and it costs more than zero cents per kWh, we can never have nuclear power?

    All other considerations don’t matter, like the trade-offs relative to existing power plants or whether nuclear is cost-competitive relative to the alternatives? (For instance, France, which has invested heavily in nuclear, has an electricity cost 25% lower than the rest of Europe.)

    Good to know we have a definitive end to the subject.

  159. 159
    A Ghost To Most says:

    Luckily, this is all spit-balling.

    The economics of renewables is starting to bury everything, except NG for short-term demand generation.

    Time and technology move on.

  160. 160
    Kayla Rudbek says:

    Cheryl, in your professional opinion, how far away are we from a working fusion reactor? It’s been 30-something years away since before my freshman physics classes and I haven’t kept up with the literature to see what progress has been made.

  161. 161
    The Golux says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    They’re already overflowing with red waste.

    This site has a genius for inventing new euphemisms for “Republicans”.

  162. 162
    JLowe says:

    Hi Cheryl – this conversation brings back memories. I did a four-year stint with an environmental restoration contractor at the Hanford site in the late-Aughts and got to see radiation protection up close and personal. Interesting experience. When discussing nuclear power for electricity generation, one of the questions that comes to mind (beyond how come nuclear power is important in managing greenhouse gases when millions of tons of concrete and steel, and lots of diesel generators, are employed in constructing a nuclear power plant) is how to address the aging-out of the health physics profession which has a primary responsibility of protecting human health from ionizing radiation.

  163. 163
    Fair Economist says:

    @Frankensteinbeck: This is the kind of comment that makes people not trust nuclear power advocates. Fukushima did not produce a Chernobyl, but only because heroic measures like workers voluntarily accepting astronomical radiation doses and pouring seawater onto the plant managed to prevent uncontrolled meltdown.

    Even with that there are still nearly 50,000 people for whom it is not safe to go home, years after the accident when the short term nucleotides are gone.

    Edit: for example, a similar accident at San Onofre would still have well over a million evacuees. And that is from a “little” well controlled meltdown!

  164. 164
    Martin says:

    I generally support nuclear power, due to safer reactor designs and disposal solutions such as deep bore-holes. That said, I think the economics (when factoring for all externalized costs) will favor overproduction and storage. Power storage, particularly if well distributed, does an excellent job of solving most or all of the peaking problem.

    One reason for this is that 50% of all power generation is lost in transmission. Simply by moving the generation closer to the consumption (this includes storage) basically gives you about a 50% boost simply by avoiding having to pull that power from a far-flung reactor.

  165. 165
    jl says:

    OK, thanks. Let’s see what Booker proposes. If it is a good scientific way forward on nuclear power, then maybe. If it is subsidies for the current out-of-date industrial giantized corporate scams, then no.

  166. 166
    AThornton says:

    You forgot the bit about …

    “Some Navajos will die of lung cancer and Navajo children will get ovarian and testicular cancer from the mine tailings, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.”

  167. 167

    @A Ghost To Mo:
    I can’t read the article you linked because of my adblocker. But what I saw was “An activist claims…” I’ve read several articles in Denver papers about Rocky Flats. Not a single one has given numbers for what is in the soil, just claims by activists. When the activists start using numbers, let me know.

    @teholder:

    I’d like to see money spent on research aimed at newer, safer, simpler reactor designs.

    This is happening now. Google “small modular reactors” for a start.

    @Redshift:

    Also, don’t forget that transporting waste to a central site is another unsolved problem

    The canisters for transporting spent fuel elements have been tested by slamming them into concrete barriers from rocket sleds. Right now, most of those spent fuel elements are stored at the reactors, in populated areas.

  168. 168

    @Aurona:

    I see no reason why we can’t have a depot in the other big desert, New Mexico.

    New Mexico hosts the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), within a gigantic underground block of salt that guarantees isolation from groundwater. It’s the only operating nuclear repository in the United States. We also host the Urenco enrichment plant, for enriching uranium to be used in reactors, also the only operating plant of its type in the United States.

    WIPP might be asked to take additional wastes beyond what has been planned.

    I’m fine with all that. Would like to see Nevada do its part, though, now that all that money has been spent to build Yucca Mountain.

  169. 169
    Chief Oshkosh says:

    It is perfectly rational to be against nuclear power in a country that is capable of electing Donald Trump president and Mitch McConnell to Senate leadership (multiple times even!).

    It is perfectly rational to be against nuclear power in a country that is incapable of demonstrating a commitment to infrastructure in perpetuity.

    It is perfectly rational to be against nuclear power if even experts like Cheryl Rofer don’t have a solution to waste storage that takes into account those two statements.

  170. 170

    @Kelly:

    Pumped hydro has considerable promise to smooth intermittent wind and solar.

    Pumped hydro is more like batteries, an energy storage device, than it is like nuclear, an energy production device. I think it’s fine if the economics work out, but it wasn’t what I was talking about when I said NOPE.

    @CantDecideOnAPermanentNym:

    If nuclear power plants will be built on the cheap (which barring the heavy hand of government regulation is likely), they are sitting ducks for a terrorist attack. Hell, the ones that exist NOW also are targets.

    They may be targets, but they’re pretty invulnerable. Reinforced concrete containment buildings, security guards. The discussion of this possibility has pretty much disappeared because nobody can come up with a plausible scenario for harm.

    @Kayla Rudbek:

    Cheryl, in your professional opinion, how far away are we from a working fusion reactor? It’s been 30-something years away since before my freshman physics classes and I haven’t kept up with the literature to see what progress has been made.

    Still 30 years away. Fusion energy is the energy of the future and always will be.

  171. 171
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: One thing to keep in mind is that scientists are able to detect very very small amounts of radioactive materials, procedures developed mainly for various military and strategic reasons. The Rocky Flats deal might well be that plutonium can be detected in plant leaves but at a level that is miniscule and not harmful in any way to anyone but it’s plutonium so panic! I’d be more worried about biologically-preferential and mobile isotopes like Cs-137 and Sr-90 which have medium half-lifes of around 30 years hence somewhat active rather than, say, Pu-239 which is a lot less active with a much longer half-life (24,000 years) but I still expect the actual amounts that might be found to be so tiny as to be totally harmless.

    The US above-ground nuclear testing program in the 1940s through to the early 1960s spread several tonnes of Pu-239 over the western and central United States — each explosion consumed only a few percent of the fissile material involved, the rest was vapourised and dispersed. There was no evacuation of this area and there seems to be no evidence of epidemiological effects even with the other isotopes produced and dispersed in each test shot of the sort that caused so much panicked reporting at Fukushima (I-131, the aforementioned Cs-137 etc.)

  172. 172
    J R in WV says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    We have gas lines blow up rather frequently, but people don’t freak out about that.

    Speak for yourself.

    I live in an old oil and gas patch, and the gathering lines are old and scary, but fortunately not v high pressure!

    We’ve had some amazing high pressure transmission gas line explosions in WV, not as deadly as the PG&E explosions in CA, where they have transmission lines in densely populated suburbs, but just as flashy as the high pressure gas burns off overnight.

    Amazing how much gas a 36 inch line contains at 3000+ pounds of pressure!

  173. 173
    elm says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: WIPP needs to work more on its practical safety and operations to take high level waste. The two (unrelated) February 2014 incidents at WIPP don’t fill me with confidence.

    On nuclear power on the whole, I’d want to see -a- plant completed in the West within 150% of budget and with a time overrun of less than 24 months before saying it has a future.

    I’m not opposed to nuke power and it’s clear that humans -can- manage it. But it seems incompatible with profit motive.

  174. 174
    AThornton says:

    More irrational fear ….”

    “Acid Canyon is among more than 2,000 dumpsites around the lab’s 43-square-mile property and thousands of other dumpsites at 108 locations in 29 states around the nation where waste from the Manhattan Project and subsequent nuclear weapons research was discharged, tossed or buried.”

    More irrationality” …

    “For more than a decade, a vast, mile-wide, below-ground plume of cancer-causing chemicals has encroached on the regional aquifer that rests below Los Alamos National Laboratory. The lab has said it is working to contain the contamination and prevent it from entering tribal land or further polluting a water supply relied on by residents from Los Alamos to Albuquerque.

    But according to new data, the plume — resulting from decades of lab workers dumping contaminated water into a canyon — may be continuing to spread.”

  175. 175
    miroker says:

    I have always felt the nuclear power is the best solution to our energy needs. There needs to be more research into ways to make it safer to the point that you could run automobiles with a small reactor. If NASA can power satellites using one the size of a breadbox, there is no reason science cannot figure out a way to make it possible for everyday applications.

  176. 176
    Dmbeaster says:

    @Le Nettoyeur: The one million year figure may have been mouthed by some, but it was not the basis for the decision. The decision was based on a finding that a 10,000 year design criteria was legally way too short. No one has since tried to establish a more realistic time standard, and it is not one million years.

    The real point is that no one has designed a storage mechanism that will survive for longer periods. Also, as good as Yucca Mountain was as a site, the geologic research showed that there are significant risks over the time periods involved. The biggest problem remains groundwater, which percolates down through the site even though it is in a very dry climate, and the storage location will probably always be above any groundwater table over the next 500,000 years or more. The long term power of groundwater in the area even when above the water table is evident in any limestone cave in the area (Yucca Mountain is tuff and permeable to groundwater).

    Currently, nations around the world are dumping radioactive wastes in locations with no long term stability. We are already leaving behind a radioactive legacy that will compound over very long terms. Yes, nuclear power is a short term means for trying to reduce carbon, but it creates a deadly hazard that lasts for far longer than all recorded history. Increasing its use just increases the impact. The bottom line for nuclear power is that it comes with a huge cost with no solution – the disposal of its wastes that will over time pollute the environment with low level radiation doses.

    As it stands now, all nuclear waste will over time pollute the environment. Advocating more nuclear power means you are accepting that environmental consequence for future generations.

  177. 177

    @JLowe:

    (beyond how come nuclear power is important in managing greenhouse gases when millions of tons of concrete and steel, and lots of diesel generators, are employed in constructing a nuclear power plant)

    Lifetime CO2 budgets take this into consideration, and it’s not a big deal compared to what fossil fuel plants continuously emit.

    is how to address the aging-out of the health physics profession which has a primary responsibility of protecting human health from ionizing radiation.

    You train more. Good job opportunities even now, I suspect.

    @Fair Economist:

    Fukushima did not produce a Chernobyl, but only because heroic measures like workers voluntarily accepting astronomical radiation doses

    Eh, no. The worst-exposed worker at Fukushima had a dose about the same as mine with my radioactive iodine treatment.

    @AThornton: That is a historical fact. It is not the way things are done now.

  178. 178

    @Robert Sneddon: The extreme detectability of radioactive material, combined with that fear of radiation, is a real downside. An engineer I worked with said that when he got out of college, he interviewed at refineries where the smell of petroleum products was everywhere. Then he came to Los Alamos and saw the levels of radioactive materials that could be detected. He decided Los Alamos was much safer.

  179. 179
    elm says:

    @miroker: Space probes that use nuclear power use radioisotope thermoelectric generators, which produce small amounts of power and a lot of mass (with power to mass ratios of 1-5 Watts / kg). Those could not power a car ever. A one ton RTG might produce 4 horsepower.

    Traditional fission reactors just don’t scale down much in size and have all the wrong attributes for powering a car.

  180. 180
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    Still 30 years away. Fusion energy is the energy of the future and always will be.

    Folks working on plasma fusion based on tokamaks have been saying for a while that the first commercial fusion reactor is about 80 billion dollars away, without mentioning a specific timescale. The planned pathway is ITER, being built today in Cadarache, France (the US isn’t paying its bills for the 9% of the project it signed up for, the rest of the world is proceeding without you guys) which is an experimental plant-scale fusion testbed device designed to prove the hardware and technologies for possible fusion reactors. “First light” plasma is expected about 2025, maybe later since it’s unexplored territory. After ITER’s test results are fed into the design process, next comes PROTO, a real power-producing reactor. That gets run for a few years and leads to DEMO, the first-generation commercial reactor. That’s what the 80 billion gets spent on, after that more reactors get built (maybe). Throw money and effort at the problem, like the Manhattan Project, we could be seeing first light in DEMO in 20 years. It’s more likely to be forty or fifty years though since there’s no rush while gas is cheap and coal is abundant.

  181. 181

    @AThornton: These are things to be concerned about. But they are remediable, and actions are being taken to remediate them.

  182. 182
    Dmbeaster says:

    @joel hanes: Check out the research on the effects of a significant increase in the level of low radiation doses over a lifetime. How much low level radioactive waste is ok to interject into your drinking water for the rest of your life?

    Downplaying low level radioactivity as a risk makes sense only for temporary exposure. The issue here is chronic exposure that cannot be eliminated because the waste escapes into the environment. Suggesting as Cheryl does that this concern is irrational is baseless.

  183. 183

    @miroker: The satellite nuclear power is thermal power from very hot isotopes like plutonium-238. That’s different from a stationary power plant. I don’t think they’d go well in a car.

  184. 184

    @Dmbeaster: Do you have the numbers or a link? If so, please share.

  185. 185
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Victor Matheson: One thing the nuclear fans like to point out is that solar energy kills more people every year than nuclear. I’m sure it does, but that’s mostly because solar energy is a rapidly growing industry and nuclear isn’t. Lots of construction/ installation jobs, and people get killed in those. Mostly falling off of roofs, I think.

  186. 186

    Corporate responsibility is a big issue in nuclear power. If y’all would have clicked back to my earlier post, you’d see it’s one of my concerns. We have to get better at that than we are now. Once upon a time, we actually enforced antitrust laws. We have to pressure our politicians to do that again, or elect ones who will.

    Economics is another big issue. The economics of wind and solar are improving rapidly. I’m still dubious about their running into NIMBY for the space they require.

  187. 187
    mad citizen says:

    @Martin: Dang, you all had an energy economics thread while I was off doing my energy economics job. Google T and D losses, per the EIA, they average 5%. Are you thinking of thermal plant efficiencies? Another argument for wind, solar and hydro (production and storage) with gas backup.

    The Eastern Interconnection is not reliant on any one technology, but rather all of them. But fortunately rarely not all at once. As nuclear fades it will be replaced by the newer technologies that are economic.

    Nuclear nor any particular technology is needed for certain loads, like smelting. In fact, the smelters can and do supply services (frequency regulation) to the grid.

    I don’t see any industry projections of new nuclear plants. Some existing plants are considering a second license extension from 60 to an 80 year life. These are the well-run plants.

  188. 188
    mad citizen says:

    As had been mentioned, key to a lot is very cheap natural gas. That industry tells us we have an abundant supply as far out as we can see, but it makes me queasy if we over rely on it. Hopefully we’ll sort it out with renewables and storage with gas the backup fuel.

  189. 189
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Matt McIrvin: The safety problem with solar energy is the low level of energy generated per installation plus a laissez-faire attitude concerning home installations, in part to keep the costs down thus accepting a certain level of crippling injuries and deaths as a consequence. Require all rooftop solar installations to have certified and inspected scaffolding erected around all four sides of the home before anyone can fit solar panels would vastly reduce the numbers of falls and fatalities but it would add at least $5000 to the ticket price for each install which might produce about 7 MWh a year of electricity. Just to give you a comparison a 1GW nuclear power station built with rigidly-enforced safety standards will produce about 8,000,000 MWh of electricity a year.

    The nuclear construction industry can’t get away with killing people like the solar power industry can because it’s nuclear.

  190. 190
    Victor Matheson says:

    @Matt McIrvin: Interesting. I had never heard that line before. One little anecdote from my roof is that I have roughly 40 panels on my roof. They are each wired individually into the house because if you string them all together before sending the power inside, the electrician trying to do the final hook up on a sunny day is holding a huge (and deadly) amount of power in his hands. A few deadly electrocutions later, the industry decided the standard is to string them individually because no one panel on its own generates enough power to hurt anyone.

  191. 191
    J R in WV says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    This is one of the things that I’d put under that irrational fear of radiation. Coal plants mobilize things like arsenic, that is toxic FOREVER. No half-life. And yet coal plants dump their arsenic-bearing ash in open ponds, often close to rivers, into which they sometimes pour.

    I’m pretty sure that another thing coal fired power plants mobilize is low levels of radiation emitting elements. Because of the shear volume of material burned, even a tiny, very low proportion of these materials being emitted becomes a real measurable amount of radiation. Also found in the ash ponds!

    But no one ever mentions that in comparison to nuclear plants.

    Also, Cermet, if you look up images of American power plants, it is true that a few of them ( far from 100% !! ) have stacks. I am pretty sure that’s because those plants have hydrocarbon-fueled generation on site, because our current design of nuclear power plants all require a constant supply of electric power for the cooling pumps, even if the nuclear reactors are totally shut down. Other plants are very near large sources of power and do not have on site generation other than nuclear, relying on multiple local hydrocarbon based power plants and the local grid.

    So no, those plants are NOT emitting highly radioactive gases into the atmosphere, ever, except in the case of an uncontrolled accident as in Fukuishima, after a tidal wave.

  192. 192
    AThornton says:

    Those concerns are being addressed ….

    According to the NRC, workers at San Onofre were “afraid they will be retaliated against if they bring up safety problems, something that’s against the rules”

    Yeah. Right

    At Fukushima spent fuel rods were stored in the operating containment against operating procedures and government regulation. Was that part of “being remediated” or another example of “With the best of intentions, decisions were made that in hindsight could be considered less than optimal?”

  193. 193

    @J R in WV: Yes, indeed, coal plants emit more radiation than nuclear power plants do!

    That’s one of the facts that is overused by the pro-nuclear crowd, though, so I tend to stay away from it. And I think we all agree that coal has to be phased out, right?

  194. 194
    AThornton says:

    “the case of an uncontrolled accident as in Fukuishima, after a tidal wave.”

    By “tidal wave” I believe you mean “a tsunami” which is a completely forseeable event based on thousands of years of the natural history of Japan.

  195. 195
    J R in WV says:

    @khead:

    Don’t know about the geological issues, but West Virginia already has miles and miles of underground tunnels…

    This is true, but those tunnels are fragile even while the mines are operating, and they tend to fill with highly acidic water that is quite mobile, also contraindicated for storage of dangerous material.

    In the west the now abandoned hard rock metal mines are far deeper than eastern coal mines, thousands of feet deeper, and would seem to me to be ideal for storage of these casks, particularly if they were then encased in reinforced concrete. Except that manufacturing portland cement is a high-energy process that releases huge amounts of carbon gases into the air.

    What about placing these dangerous materials into subduction zones where normal geologic processes will pull them into the bottom of the earth’s crust for eons?

  196. 196

    @AThornton: It’s hard to keep up with your cherry-picking.

    I get that you don’t like nuclear power, but please try to mobilize a logical argument.

  197. 197
    sukabi says:

    @lee: I would think private corps owning / controlling / maintaining / securing nuclear reactors for fun and profit while putting the costs of building and maintaining those reactors on the back of the public would be a huge problem.

    Corporate accountability is practically nonexistent any more.

  198. 198

    @J R in WV: Subduction zones are too unpredictable. We don’t know how quickly (on a geologic time scale, but still) those materials might be recycled into volcanoes or mid-ocean spreading.

  199. 199
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @AThornton: Spent fuel bundles from a pressurised-water reactor are stored in the spent fuel pool which is built right next to the reactor vessel, as per design since the spent fuel bundles are taken from the reactor and moved while continuously remaining under water. After they have “cooled down” i.e. a lot of the short-life radioisotopes produced while the fuel bundle was in the reactor and fission was occurring have decayed and the amount of thermal heat they emit has gone down they are moved to another pool outside the reactor containment in a specialised transfer cask (it’s not a long-term dry storage cask). It’s standard operating procedure, any reactor that has been operating for more than a couple of years will have hot and radioactive fuel bundles in its spent fuel pool where they’ll remain for a few years more before transfer.

  200. 200
    chris says:

    Safe nukes? Sure, go for it. But while we wait 10-20 years for them to come online let’s pave the world with solar panels and put a windmill in every available spot. The UN says we have 12 years, let’s make the most of it.

  201. 201
    J R in WV says:

    @schrodingers_cat:

    If it doesn’t happen in America, it doesn’t exist, has been the attitude of US news organizations forever

    When I was a youngster growing up in a rural newspaper newsroom, there was a professional term for editorials about a far away issue irrelevant to the local community. Of course editorials about remote and unrelated issues was a way to avoid taking positions on complex and relevant issues, and so was not regarded as responsible journalism.

    They called it Afghanistanization way back then, not being able to imagine any situation in which Afghanistan would relate in any way to the concerns of Americans. Times changed since then.

  202. 202
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @chris: What are you going to do with the millions of tonnes of chemical toxic wastes from the solar panel production lines each year?

  203. 203
    sukabi says:

    @Robert Sneddon: I don’t know a thing about the chemicals used for that, but is it possible to render them inert? Is it an added cost problem that manufacturers don’t want to absorb? ie, it’s more cost effective to dump rather than process.

    So many questions.

  204. 204
    The Pale Scot says:

    The safety of NP is dependent on a stable society with a solid infrastructure that can maintain control and amelioration actions for the waste and production points. Ex. At Fukushima they attempted to control the flow of ground water into the site by freezing the surrounding ground to create a barrier. It didn’t work so they’re still pumping it out and storing it tanks near the plant, storage runs out in 2021. You can keep pumping it out as long as society and the power grid is stable. TMI and Chernobyl are just sealed up, there’s been no attempt to clean them up simply because radiation levels are strong enough to fry the circuit boards of robots, never mind people. At Fukushima they’re going to have to figure out how to do that, or stop it from raining in mountains.

    The cost of doing this beyond the ability to estimate. That’s the problem for a capitalistic society, without cost projections nobody is going to put skin in the game. The new regulations that were created after the Brown’s Ferry fire haven’t been enacted at… Brown’s Ferry or most of the other US plants, we can’t even get that done

    Even with costs calculated, private corps are going to do whatever it can to avoid paying. The plants in the US have trusts to set aside the costs of decommissioning, all of the those accounts are under funded. The insurance is in three tiers, private coverage that is capped, each plant has an account to set aside for liability payments, if one plant has an accident that incurs liabilities above private coverage, the plan is that the liabilities fund of all plants get tapped. Of course, all of those accounts are under funded. Do you really think any utility would give up interest bearing capital without a fight. The third tier is the taxpayer. Maybe back in the 50’s or 60’s I would believe that the Federal Government was insulated from utility lobbyists enough to make this system work, now? Nope.

    Yes in a perfect world safe nuclear power is possible. That’s a world without unlimited profit motives, with honest dealers at the decision points. That ain’t us, refer to current POTUS. Changing governments is a certainty, a Bolsonaro gets into office?

    Yes nuclear power can work, if we institute profit ceilings and send all of the self dealers off on the ARK B. As our society is running currently? There are no, as in zip, 0 CEOs or Board of Directors that will leave money on the table now to avoid liabilities later. Just look at VW Dieselgate, did they really think they could build millions of cars without getting caught? Barry Ritholtz has a meme, I won’t be here, you won’t be here (IWBHYWBH), that is the SOP of international corporations today. By the time the shit comes down, I will have walked away with my performance bonus.

    Edit: should say to avoid potential liabilities later

  205. 205
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @sukabi: We don’t really know what the Chinese are doing with the residues of their solar panel factories but the suspicion is that they’re just dumping it, probably in poor areas where the locals won’t complain or are being ignored. There’s a lot of quite toxic materials involved in the manufacture of such solar panels, lead and cadmium and such and lots of used acids etc. There’s also the future problem of disposal of failed and life-expired scrap panels, millions of tonnes a year for decades to come which no-one is preparing for or pre-funding. In contrast the US nuclear industry is legally required to maintain and pay into funds for decommissioning reactors at end-of-life and dealing with spent fuel and nuclear waste.

    It could cost homeowners thousands of dollars to dispose of their scrap solar panels safely at end-of-life but I suspect most of them will end up being dumped somewhere discreet or “exported” to a third-world country supposedly for disposal. After all they’re just highly poisonous, not radioactive.

  206. 206
    chris says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Don’t know. There is no good answer to any of this, is there?

  207. 207
    catclub says:

    @Viva BrisVegas:

    Besides, it’ll be under water soon anyway.

    Deep ocean ‘storage’ followed by slow dissolution is probably the safest way to deal with waste. There is a LOT of water to dilute things down there. Nonetheless, it is forbidden to discuss it.

    I remember reading that a barrel of waste would sink 50m into the deep ocean sediments. When you realize that deep ocean water only comes to the surface after thousands of years…

  208. 208
    catclub says:

    @The Pale Scot:

    Barry Ritholtz has a meme, I won’t be here, you won’t be here

    IBG, YBG I’ll be Gone, You’ll be Gone

  209. 209
    catclub says:

    @Victor Matheson: gee, I would suggest SOP is final hookup at night, when there is zero power coming from them.

  210. 210
    catclub says:

    @AThornton: and Hanford is where we produced really huge amounts of radioactive stuff that has leaked into the groundwater. I bet it is ten times or more than Los Alamos.

  211. 211
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @catclub: Dumping nuclear waste at sea, even in soluble form is not permitted by international law. There are concentration pathways for some isotopes like caesium, a bit like mercury from coal-burning which can make some kinds of tuna dangerous to eat in quantity.

    Deep subduction burial of nuclear waste would not cause a problem even if it got recirculated to the surface after thousands of years as it would be so dilute by that time it would not be noticeable except with exhaustive nuclear spectroscopic analysis.

    There’s been some interesting experiments carried out recently looking at cheaper deep burial of nuclear waste in shield basalts and granitic strata several kilometres under the surface. Using existing oil and gas exploration processes it has been possible to drill a borehole, then bore out horizontal chambers at the bottom of the hole, deposit sample containers in the chambers and then recover them to the surface again. This could be a lot cheaper and quicker than driving accessible tunnels through hard rock for transportation of spent fuel and reprocessed nuclear waste as many countries are planning for final repositories. The Finns are actually building their spent fuel repository at Olkiluoto, funded by a levy on electricity generated by their existing nuclear reactors. It should be good to hold about a hundred years of spent fuel from all their reactors, total cost under a billion Euros.

  212. 212
    TriassicSands says:

    @Baud:

    One word: confusion.

    Or is it: collusion?

  213. 213
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Joey Maloney: Any Trump property will do.

  214. 214
    Cermet says:

    @J R in WV: No, all require some type of venting system – most use stacks but I’m sure some use short stacks. It is an absolute fact that nuclear fission power generates large amounts of radioactive gases – that is innate to the process. These gases are highly radioactive and must be vented to the atmosphere – hence tall stacks prevent local radiation not to set off the plants own alarms. If they use short vents, then the local area gets these gases. Certainly, many plants (I hope all) have back up generators but none would need the very tall and large stacks seen in so many plants.

  215. 215
    sukabi says:

    @Robert Sneddon: ensuring and enforcing corporate responsibility for rendering manufacturing waste safe should be part of any product manufacturing process. Until it is there will be poisonous / toxic/ crap dumped where ever they can. The corporations that claim to recycle but instead remove and dump should be subjected to the same regulatory oversight that manufacturers are.

    Which means we need to get serious about actually regulating and enforcing standards for manufacturing waste treatment / removal / destruction.

  216. 216
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Cermet: Oh deary me…

    It is an absolute fact that nuclear fission power generates large amounts of radioactive gases – that is innate to the process.

    Really? I think you have an idea that nuclear power plants have stokers shovelling nuclear fuel pellets into some kind of a furnace, a bit like the boiler room scene from the movie “Titanic”. In this reality, the one the rest of us live in fission occurs in solid ceramic oxide pellets in tubes held in a fuel bundle inside a pressurised reactor vessel inside an airtight containment structure. The heat from this fission process is taken away by a coolant, usually water or sometimes steam, in a few rare cases a gas like carbon dioxide and that heat is used to eventually drive a steam turbine to generate lots of carbon-free electricity. None of the radioactive byproducts of the fission process get out of the tubes or out of the fuel bundles or out of the reactor vessel to the outside world.

    There are venting stacks in most reactor designs. They’re there to release radioactive gas if a disaster occurs, if the reactor overheats and the various layers of containment are breached. They don’t emit anything in normal operation. There are also exhaust stacks for emergency diesel generators but they’re a lot smaller and less noticeable in photographs of nuclear power plants.

  217. 217
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @sukabi: That sort of regulation would significantly increase the cost of solar panel production and installation as it has with nuclear power (a significant amount of the cost of electricity generated by nuclear power goes into a sequestered decommissioning fund for each reactor as well as a levy to the government to deal with nuclear waste, required by law). Solar panels are fluffy bunnies and sparkly unicorns so no onerous regulations are actually needed, honest.

  218. 218
    Cermet says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Then show what I got wrong. Please, I honestly want to know; I prefer using facts and if I am in error, prefer correction over providing incorrect information.

  219. 219
    joel hanes says:

    @Dmbeaster:

    I suggest that you do not move to a high altitude, stay away from large masses of granite, and avoid flying in airplanes. Also, don’t spend time in basement rooms in the midwest.

    All of those are sources of low-level radiation doses, which are of course chronic if you live in Denver or Auburn CA or fly frequently for business or live in your mom’s basement in Racine. No one thinks anything about it, because such sources don’t seem scary.

    Relative magnitudes are important.
    If you’re not talking in REM-equivalent does or Sieverts, with numbers, you’re probably wanking.

  220. 220
    Cermet says:

    @Robert Sneddon: @Robert Sneddon: Please, learn about fission daughter products before you tell me there are no gases produced via fission reactions. These (daughter products) occur in large number to create the thermal energy that reactors produce. Some of the daughter products are radioactive gases. But of course, US reactor’s use a super secret non-fission process so this does not occur.

    Read a little before posting: https://www.radiationanswers.org/radiation-questions-answers/nuclear-power.html

    ASide: I know a good bit on nuclear physics and uranium fission. Helps to know about power plants, for instance.

  221. 221
    sukabi says:

    @Robert Sneddon: as it would with the manufacture of EVERYTHING. Don’t you think it’s time corporations were responsible for the costs of cleanup for the items they make, or should the costs be borne only by the folks they poison and local governments?

  222. 222

    @Cermet: Yes, in a way it’s not fair just to say you’re wrong. But there was so much wrong in your comment, so little time. You’ve gotten good responses on some of those points from other commenters, and I’ll let those stand.

  223. 223

    @sukabi: YES! We need enforcement of antitrust and environmental regulations, and maybe some new ones!

  224. 224
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Cermet: Yes there are gases produced by fission of uranium — xenon-135, for example or iodine-131 which is a gas at reactor core temperatures. The gases are created within the ceramic fuel pellets and stay inside the sealed alloy tubes that contain the pellets until the isotopic gases decay (I-131’s half-life is about 8 days, Xe-135 is less than 12 hours). They don’t escape into the atmosphere because they are contained within multiple layers of tubes, vessels and structures inside a sealed high-pressure steam-producing environment. Why you think they do escape and especially in large quantities in normal operation is a puzzle.

    As an aside, fission produces the major part of the energy of a nuclear reactor. Decay of radioactive fission products creates only a few % of the total thermal energy and only after the reactor has been running for a time since to start with, assuming a full load of new fuel bundles, there are no fission products to decay and produce heat (this is complicated by the fact that often a reactor is only partially refuelled with some partially-spent fuel bundles left in the reactor for the next operational cycle). When a 1GW reactor is running and fission is occurring it produces about 3.5GW of heat. When the reactor is shut down and fission stops the heat output drops immediately to about 50-100MW due to isotopic decay.

  225. 225
    sam says:

    @waratah: You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about if you disagree with a well known nuclear chemist. I, however, agree with you. The nuclear industry is a shit show for more reasons than one can list before dinner.

  226. 226
    HarlequinGnoll says:

    just discounting storage of waste i think i remember reading that the US uses nuclear fuel pretty inefficiently, compared to France. SO more waste that doesnt have to be waste.

  227. 227
    Bill Arnold says:

    @low-tech cyclist:

    But there seems to be a solid consensus among those who know anything about it that if we’re to go carbon-free anytime soon, nuclear has to be part of the mix. And the risks of nuclear power are trivial compared to the risks of global warming.

    I’m with low-tech cyclist on this. The risks of nuclear power (excepting increased risk of nuclear war) are approximately zero relative to the risks of hundreds of gigatonnes of long-lived fossil carbon combustion waste dumped into the atmosphere.[1]
    [longer rant follows]

    If nuclear power can help us achieve a decarbonized global economy, then it needs to be a part of the solution. To be clear, a global switch to reneables, cheap storage and long high voltage transmission lines and vehicles that don’t use fossil fuel (need not be electric) and etc are the paths we need to take.
    However, nuclear power is one of the relatively benign ways to reduce use of fossil fuel. (A drastic reduction of human population (4+ billion) is the easy approach, that we can be sure various selfishly-pragmatic elements of the TPTB are considering.)

    [1] If we want to remove CO2 sooner than natural processes (hundreds of years for most of the current CO2 pulse, long tail of thousands of years), we’re looking at maybe $100 per ton[2] for removal from the atmosphere. $100 billion per gigatonne, times a few hundred. That’s assuming civilization doesn’t collapse (and it would be hard to reboot; we’ve mined all the easy non-renewable natural resources), then it’s merely expensive. If the processes turn the CO2 back into fuel, then there is an energy cost similar to the energy released by burning it in the first place. Plus these carbon capture from air solutions are economically and technically dubious to many; scientific american did a depressing long piece a month or two ago. And we either live with warming for many decades (not counting semi-permanent feedbacks) or we do some nasty geoengineering during those decades of scrubbing. All of which will require working civilization for the whole time.

    [2] Paper in August 2018: (both links are html). Hopefully the links work.
    Sucking carbon dioxide from air is cheaper than scientists thought (07 June 2018)
    refers to this (15 August 2018, open access)
    A Process for Capturing CO2 from the Atmosphere

  228. 228
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @HarlequinGnoll: France, Russia and a couple of other countries reprocess spent fuel, turning it into fresh fuel and a smaller amount of actual waste (perhaps 2% of the original mass of the spent fuel pellets). That waste is concentrated and highly radioactive and requires special handling for disposal. Spent fuel which is unprocessed is also radioactive but less so. It’s still dangerous but it can be stored after a period of water cool-down in quite cheap concrete-jacketed steel casks, so-called dry-casking. The waste stream from reprocessing is usually vitrified, turned into a glassy material to make it stable over thousands or even millions of years with minimal leaching or release of dangerous isotopic materials after being stored in underground repositories.

    My elegant solution to storing spent fuel rods is to put a dry cask in the basement of a condo or tenement building — each cask puts out 20 to 30kW of heat continuously which would be a godsend in cold weather. It’s even Green, it emits no CO2 to provide heating for the entire building.

  229. 229
    sam says:

    @catclub: Nuclear power is SAFE. Haven’t you read the post?

  230. 230
    JustRuss says:

    A good read for anyone interested in nuclear is Three Mile Island by Mark Stephens. My takeaways:
    1. The reactor design was flawed in a manner that was not obvious before it was operational, and even then not until things went wrong. In a facility made up of a multitude of complex systems, such cascading vulnerabilities are extremely difficult to detect.
    2. Despite being required by law, disaster planning was nearly non-existent and they pretty much made it up as they went along. Our military takes fail-safes and contingency planning very seriously. In the private sector, those eat into the bottom line. Without robust regulation and enforcement, forget it. And right now regulation and enforcement are as robust as Trump and his cronies want them to be. Feel safer?

  231. 231
    Cermet says:

    @Robert Sneddon: I see you failed to read the facts; no, the gas produced by fission and its daughter products does not just stay in the fuel rods/pellets. It goes into the coolant and has to be removed – or the reactor would breach. It is temporarily stored (to let the most hidious daughter products partly break down) and then released into the local atmosphere. I see you didn’t read the link I gave you that explained these facts. You really need to vote orange fart cloud because you refuse to accept reality. (just kidding you should vote for the fart cloud.)

  232. 232
    Cermet says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: LOL; ok. I’m wrong because you said so. So far, no one here has said anything that in any way makes what I said wrong/ But then, I stated facts and its hard to argue with those – some do try because they can’t admit their wrong. OK. If I am, point the errors out and I’ll say if I am. Otherwise, your post is like any post by a right wing writer, opinion not fact.

  233. 233
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Cermet: That was one weird link, I must admit. It read a bit like the nuclear version of a Jack Chick tract.

    There are no noticeable emissions of radioactive gases from a working nuclear power station otherwise alarms would be going off in all directions. The vent stack is designed for emergencies, not regular use. As for “breaching” the reactor vessel, I presume you think that this isotopic gas production could cause excess pressure in a vessel made from steel 15cm thick, designed to withstand hundreds of bar pressure at 300 deg C for decades?

    Fission production of gas-phase isotopes in fuel rods constitutes a gram or two an hour if that and those gases remain mostly in voids in the ceramic fuel pellets, often chemically combining with other elements — radiochemistry is a zoo and way beyond my pay grade but better minds than I understand it or at least can model the behaviour of elements within an operating reactor. Some of that gas, especially Xe-135 which is a noble gas and not chemically active might make its way to the surface of the pellet at which point it is trapped by the gas-tight zirconium alloy tube the pellets are held in. Sometimes, very rarely, a fuel rod tube will leak and some of that gas can make it into the steam or pressurised water in the reactor vessel. That gas will remain within the reactor building, it still has no route to the outside world since the water in the reactor vessel goes round a closed circuit, through a steam generator to make steam in a separate loop which ultimately drives the turbine to make electricity.

  234. 234

    @Cermet: @Robert Sneddon: Xenon is released from nuclear power plants. But some of what Cermet is saying, like that the plant would be breached if it weren’t, are exaggerations.

    See here, for example. And the amounts are small. Most of the isotopes have half-lives of days or less, so they don’t stick around for long.

  235. 235
    Ruckus says:

    @catclub:
    One could cover them with a tarp so they produce nothing, hook them up and remove the tarp. Does not seem all that difficult.

  236. 236
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: It’s a dead thread, I know but I had a look at the numbers and the Fine Article you linked to. From what I can figure the total releases of Xe-135 worldwide annually amount to about 20mg if I’ve done the specific activity calculations correctly, and that includes spent fuel reprocessing plants as well as all working power plants, research reactors and breeders. That’s really not a lot.

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