Nuclear Power - Are Your Views Justfied by the Facts?

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c.prato
c.prato's picture

Hi Thom and friends,

I'd like to preface this by saying that I'm about as progressive as they come. I believe in single payer health care, breaking up the big banks, oil companies, media companies, and financial institutions. And I've been listening to Thom for over 3 years. Keep up the the good work Thom!

What I want to address is the topic of nuclear power. I, like many of you, have been anti-nuclear my whole life. What do we do with the waste? What about weapons proliferation? What about catastrophic accidents?

Well these problems have been aknowledged by the nuclear industry and have been largely resolved. It's true. And because of this, my opinion on nuclear power has changed. And I'm not the only progressive who thinks nuclear power has to be part of a solution to get to a zero carbon economy. 

Please take the time to read the remainder of this post:

Displacing coal plants is hard because they are really cheap (since the utilities are not assessed of their pollution), they can be built anywhere where water is available (all thermal power plants, fossil or nuclear, have to be able to get rid of excess heat), and because they provide power 24x7. That's why every week to 10 days, another coal-fired power plant opens somewhere in China that is big enough to serve all the households in Dallas or San Diego.

Getting rid of them is hard. Even with all the awareness about the harm of coal plants to the environment in the US, we have been unsuccessful in displacing them. Today, we still get 49% of our electric power from coal plants. If we can't displace coal plants in the US, how can we expect other countries, like China, to displace their coal plants?

Fundamentally, to get rid of coal plants and have any hope at all on controlling climate change, you must to come up with a power plant capable of 24x7 operation that can be built anywhere that is just as cheap (or cheaper) to build and operate as a coal plant. If you had that, then you'd have an economic incentive for people to make the environmentally responsible choice. There would be no reason to build coal plants anymore.

So if the US developed a way to generate electric power that had no CO2 emissions, was as cheap as coal, and provided 24x7 power, and could be built anywhere, and didn't require a lot of land to build, and was very safe, and didn't increase the risk from terrorism then that would be a great thing. It would mean that China would have an economic incentive to build these plants rather than coal plants.

We don't have that now. Concentrated solar plants can only be economically built in certain locations. Same for wind power. And both are intermittent sources (although if you have enough wind power over enough area in the right corridor, it can be pretty reliable).

Such an invention would, quite literally, save the planet from destruction. It would be the "holy grail" in the fight against global warming. It would arguably be the most important invention in history.

So you'd think that if such an invention existed, everyone would know about it, wouldn't you?

Well, would you believe that our top energy scientists invented a technology that does all those things and more! These plants can also get rid of the waste from existing nuclear power plants! And unlike nuclear plants where there is only a finite amount of nuclear material available (I think about 100 years), these plants make their own fuel so they will last 100,000 years. Remember Einstein's famous E=mc2? The point is that if you do it right, a little bit of matter can make a lot of energy.

And would you believe the research was done more than 20 years ago in 1984 by a large group of US scientists at Argonne National Laboratory?

The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) is a fourth generation nuclear design that provides a clean, inexhaustible source of power, cheap, with virtually no waste, inherently safe (if you remove the cooling, it shuts down rather than melts down), and the added benefit that it consumes the nuclear waste from other nuclear plants that we can’t figure out how to get rid of.

Advantages include:

  1. It can be fueled entirely with material recovered from today's used nuclear fuel.
  2. It consumes virtually all the long-lived radioactive isotopes that worry people who are concerned about the "nuclear waste problem," reducing the needed isolation time to less than 500 years.
  3. It could provide all the energy needed for centuries (perhaps as many as 50,000 years), feeding only on the uranium that has already been mined
  4. It uses uranium resources with 100 to 300 times the efficiency of today's reactors.
  5. It does not require enrichment of uranium.
  6. It has less proliferation potential than the reprocessing method now used in several countries.
  7. It's 24x7 baseline power
  8. It can be built anywhere there is water
  9. The power is very inexpensive (some estimates are as low as 2 cents/kWh to produce)
  10. Safe from melt down because if something goes wrong, the reactor naturally shuts down rather than blows up
  11. And, of course, it emits no greenhouse gases.

What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing...that is if you look at the facts and the science rather than the words.

Sadly, most people when they hear "nuclear reactor" or "breeder reactor" react negatively. "Not in my backyard," they say. But that's because of second generation nuclear technology. When people say "no nuclear," they really are referring to "second generation nuclear." Everything about the IFR and fourth generation technology is completely different. The words with negative connotations are no longer negative. Yet we have this bad habit of remembering the bad associations. We have to overcome that. For example, one scientist told me, "Breeding, however, is a dirty word these days, so the GNEP emphasis is on burning the transuranics, instead of using them to assure an expanding source of clean energy into the indefinite future." So, in other words, we are doing stupid things because "breeding" is a dirty word. "Breeding" for the IFR is the nuclear equivalent of "recycling and re-using." That's a good thing, not a bad thing. And the safe word, "burning," is actually a bad thing. So the connotations are actually reversed.

When Bill Clinton cancelled the funding in 1994, he said in his State of the Union speech that he did it because the project was unnecessary, not because it didn't meet any of its objectives. In his speech, he said, "We will terminate unnecessary programs in advanced reactor development."

He never asked the National Academy of Sciences to look into whether this project was unnecessary. Why not? Shouldn't you do a little objective research before you pull the plug on the biggest energy research project in history?

The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) technology is arguably the single most important thing we can do to stop global warming. If it isn't the single most important thing, it's awfully close to the top.

So if this is so great, how come everyone isn't all over this technology?

Because nobody knew about it!

How can that be?

Because the DOE ordered the scientists working on the project not to talk about it.

Why would the government do that?

Why do you think the government would pour billions of dollars into the biggest energy research project in history and then not just cancel it, but do their best to bury it? The researchers at Argonne developed a safe and economical source of unlimited clean energy. Between that and the other renewable power technologies we wouldn't need oil, coal, gas or uranium mining/drilling anymore. We're talking about putting the most powerful corporations on the planet out of business. Not out of malice or spite, but simply because they won't be needed anymore and because what they're doing to the planet is killing us.

Some people think that the fossil fuel lobbyists could tell you why our government ordered the scientists not to talk about it. It's similar to the gag order (and edits to manuscripts and reports including IPCC reports) that the administration likes to put on scientists who try to talk about global warming. Jim Hansen can tell you a few stories about that since he's experienced it first hand.

In fact, Hansen himself just found out about the IFR recently. Hansen is very informed. So if he didn't know about it, it's probably not well known. And that's what I found when I asked around.

According to this article that just appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bill Gates is investing in a project at Intellectual Ventures to "create a new type of nuclear reactor that would use fuels other than enriched uranium -- including spent fuel from existing reactors." The article quoted Myhrvold as saying " The idea is to create a nuclear reactor that is simpler and cheaper than current reactors, and generates clean power without waste or proliferation problems."

Well that's exactly what the IFR did. They knew about the IFR. It would be great if he could help it succeed or has ideas on how to make it even better.

GE has created a commercial plant design called the S-PRISM. GE is ready and willing to build a plant (a) to demonstrate the technical feasibility of a commercial-scale operation, and (b) to narrow the existing uncertainty in the final cost. They are not proposing, yet, to plunge into mass production of S-PRISMs. We can start building a reactor vessel for around $50 million.

Apparently, Al Gore doesn't know about the IFR either. Check out this video where Senator Craig (a strong advocate of the IFR in 1994 but not really known for his advocacy of good science) chastises Gore for his role in cancelling advanced nuclear research in 1994. Gore doesn't know what Craig was talking about. More recently, people associated with the IFR tried to brief Gore, but they couldn't get past Gore's defensive linemen.

More info here:http://www.skirsch.com/politics/globalwarming/ifr.htm

http://thesciencecouncil.com/index.php/energy-the-fast-reactors-promise

and please check out the book "Prescription for the Planet" by Tom Blees. It will change the way you view the future of energy. http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m1NNNDINM37YHM/ref=flash_player_2_preplay

Comments

Redlocks
Redlocks's picture
According to one of the

According to one of the articles, this technology is 20 years off.  How far off is cold fussion?  Let's use that too!  (I tried to type that with a sarcastic tone, but couldn't).

Caution:  I would not trust GE's cost estimate.  They are usually way off in their cost estimates of nuclear power plants for plants that are being built with technology that actually exists.  I would be very sceptical of their ability to accurately predict the cost of a nuclear power plant that is built 20 years from now.

By the way, I can't figure this out.  How can this be "clean?"

To end up with the nuclear waste that this process, may someday, use to power these plants there are massive amounts of carbon released.  The embedded energy of building a plant takes 12 years to actually pay back.  Then, finally 12 years later the first megawatt of electricity is truly carbon and petroleum free.  This technology would use the waste of this carbon intensive power generation system.  Do you know it takes two coal powered just to enrich uranium...not to mention the carbon released to mine, transport and store uranium.  Then massive amounts of concrete are used to build the plants...more carbon.

It is funny that you mention that "it can be built anywhere there is water."  How many GE nuclear power plants have been closed in the last decade because their water source was used up or dried up because of climate change?  It might just be three or four, but it is a trend as water becomes more and more of a problem.  This is mentioned in your post, like water is abundant and we can waste it indefinetly.   Water wars are the next wars after all the oil wars are over.

Maybe these plants can use polluted water though?  It might be a good use of the water in the Gulf of Mexico for a few decades!  Currently, nuclear power plants are polluting some of the scarce clean water that is left on the planet.

I would not trust anything that GE claims and I would be suspicious of the Gates Foundation's motives.  Not that they are necessarily wrong on this matter...it would be great to use up all the nuclear waste that can't be put into the failed Yucca Mountain waste fascility...I just would suggest caution in embracing anything these two institutions are doing in partnership like this.

Lastly, if America generated all electricity from uranium, the world's supply of uranium would be exhausted in seven to nine years.  How much longer will the waste from uranium generate electricity?

c.prato
c.prato's picture
Redlocks, thanks for your

Redlocks, thanks for your response. It's much appreciated.

This technology is NOT 20 years off. There are a number of prototypes right now. http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf33.html and the first 4th gen reactor is set to be completed in 2012 and China is planning on building some as well.

I recommend checking out Dr. David Mackay website and book: http://www.withouthotair.com/ Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air. After numerous calculations, he had this to say: "I'm not trying to be pro-nuclear. I'm just pro-arthimetic."

And that's the reality of the situation. Solar + wind + other renewables + efficiency simply won't meet the power needs of the world. So here's the options:

renewables + fossil fuels = climate change

or

renewables + nuclear power = climate action

Take your pick. We need to be pragmatic. Idealism and vision of what should be is all well and good, but let's put our feet back on the ground. China and India are not going to stop mining for coal anytime soon. It's too cheap. And they have millions of people entering the middle class every year. Solar and wind can't meet these needs.

And of course there are CO2 emissions with building plants. Same with all renewables. If we want to start mass producing solar panels, where do you think the energy will come from to do so? Right now it's coal. In that way, solar is not carbon neutral either.

"Lastly, if America generated all electricity from uranium, the world's supply of uranium would be exhausted in seven to nine years.  How much longer will the waste from uranium generate electricity?"

Let me re-iterate: With 4th gen reactors, we can burn existing nuclear waste, as well as DP and decommissioned warhead. We can power the world for 100s of years without digging up any uranium AND we dramaticaly reduce the amount of waste.

What would you suggest we do now with the existing waste we have? What about meeting the energy needs of the developing nations.

I highly recommend Prescription for the Planet by Tom Blees. It lays it all out and challenges many underlying assumptions. It did for me.

Innocent
Innocent's picture
I had always thought the

I had always thought the Stimulas could have been better targeted the the Liberal agenda better served by the construction of 20 4th gen plants in place of the 20 largest coal power plants in the country.

Poor Richard
Poor Richard's picture
c.prato wrote: And that's the

c.prato wrote:

And that's the reality of the situation. Solar + wind + other renewables + efficiency simply won't meet the power needs of the world

I'm tired of this "conventional wisdom". It's wrong. Aggressive investment in solar + efficiency will yield faster and greater returns than any other energy investment we know of.

The energy industry invests billions in efforts to control information and to impede solar and efficiency R&D.

I would support a single pilot project to verify the claims for IFR's, but I share Redlock's skepticism of the players and the data, even the data that would be made available after a pilot program.

I would not support diverting a dime from solar and efficiency.

c.prato wrote:
And of course there are CO2 emissions with building plants. Same with all renewables. If we want to start mass producing solar panels, where do you think the energy will come from to do so? Right now it's coal. In that way, solar is not carbon neutral either.

Thin, flexible PV films are rolling off printing-press-like machines in converted Polaroid film factories now. This is not carbon neutral, but I bet it beats IFR construction.

"In February 2009, BrightSource Energy contracted to sell power from seven solar power towers in the Mojave Desert to Southern California Edison (SCE). The plants will have a combined capacity of 1,300 MW, producing 3.7 billion kwh per year." (Wikipedia: BrightSource Energy)

"The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has estimated that by 2020 electricity could be produced from power towers for 5.47 cents per kWh.[10] Google.org hopes to develop cheap, low maintenance, mass producible heliostat components to reduce this cost in the near future." (Wikipedia: solar power tower)

I am all for IFR as a demonstration project and as a nuclear weapon/waste disposal method, but it remains fuzzy as to its true potential to compete dollar for dollar with efficiency and solar on a level playing field.

IFR's true social/political colors are also hazy. Solar and efficiency are highly compatible with economic democracy. IFR might have more tendency to be exploited by high-technocrats and special interests.

Poor Richard

"Green Free-enterprise"

Poor Richard's Almanack 2010

adrianj
adrianj's picture
Your wrong about using up the

Your wrong about using up the old waste.  I worked on the Yucca mountain project and I can tell you they just want to stick it in a hole and cover it with dirt.  I have also worked on other cleanup projects such as rocky flats. They take the lower level waste materials and machines used and cover it with dirt. NOT only is Yucca mountain on a fault but there is a water table nearby. I have been in Yucca mountain it is located next to a cliff so it isnt as deep as you think it is.  A lot of the waste is mud byproduct which cant be reused and reactors from navy ships which cant be reused.  You dont know what you are talking about! 

David32
David32's picture
Thank you c.prato for your

Thank you c.prato for your knowledgeable comments. This is the kind of information we need to make informed decisions. The CDIAC data show 15 deaths per terrawatthour in the US vs 0.04 deaths for nuclear. I for one find this statistic an incredible argument for persuing nuclear power with all possible haste. The benefits far, far out weigh the risks. The traveling wave technology of the 4th gen reactors like TerraPower show great promise indeed.

 

BobCP
I like Thom, but once again

I like Thom, but once again he comes out with ridiculous "facts" like "One atom of Plutonium will cause cancer."  While Plutonium is quite radioactive, the probability that its fission product will hit a DNA strand to create a cancer cell is near zero.  Our body is full of imperfect DNA from many external causes (not to mention simple aging), and we do quite all right.  Note that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have turned out to have a remarkably similar cancer rate than other people, and they were bombarded with a single exposure of Alpha particals at blast time.  Cell damage from other types of radiation was much more significant.   You want real danger?  Get exposed to the Radon in your basement.

Rodger97321
Rodger97321's picture
OK seepyBob - and remember -

OK seepyBob - and remember - it'll be "too cheap to meter".

Something with a half-life longer than a hundred human lifetimes doesn't need to "get lucky" in order to hit a DNA strand.  Near Zero times a few hundred trillion, is a very real number.

Work out your guilt about how many people you've damaged somewhere else - you're likely to taint, and so, delay the very sensible IFR.

Since we wasted all that treasure making the poison - we might as well get the energy we put into it back out of it.   AND THEN NOT MAKE ANYMORE.

It is an embarassment (and a crime) that anyone ever thought that they could kill two birds... by using the waste-material in a very hard alloy for bombs.  Depleted Uranium comes from depleted morality and people saying things like "the odds are very low that a small amount would ever affect someone's DNA".

ShellyT
ShellyT's picture
I agree with you and I'm in

I agree with you and I'm in the same boat.  We have to get rid of coal, that is paramount, and precludes any dangers from nuclear power.  Nuclear power can be much safer than any coal plant ever will be, that is obvious to me, and I'm a die-hard liberal.

What really irritates me about Thom Hartmann's view on nuclear power is that it's totally alarmist and not based on facts. It's based on his own fears.

Today's show included some outrageous claim by Hartmann that Fukishima is now somehow responsible for the deaths of perhaps thousands of Americans.  That is totally BS and sounds like something the completely hysterical Helen Caldicott would invent.  It's over the top, beyond the pale.  It's not based on facts at all, but some report he pulled out of the air. It's irresponsible to repeat on the airwaves.  I could not believe he actually claimed that on his radio show today. It really disappointed me.

If Hartmann stuck with facts and stopped the alarmism he'd attract more listeners. That's in general, not just on nuclear power.

Laborisgood
Laborisgood's picture
Here is one of those

Here is one of those insidious liberal regulations that Obama simultaneously gets no credit for from the left and blamed from the right.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-mercury-power-plant-rule...

SteveL717
SteveL717's picture
Food for

Food for thought 

http://www.smu.edu/News/2011/geothermal-24oct2011 

If you don’t like links type this into your favorite search engine. 

Google/SMU geothermal study

stwo
stwo's picture
ShellyT wrote: I agree with

ShellyT wrote:

I agree with you and I'm in the same boat.  We have to get rid of coal, that is paramount, and precludes any dangers from nuclear power.  Nuclear power can be much safer than any coal plant ever will be, that is obvious to me, and I'm a die-hard liberal.

What really irritates me about Thom Hartmann's view on nuclear power is that it's totally alarmist and not based on facts. It's based on his own fears.

Today's show included some outrageous claim by Hartmann that Fukishima is now somehow responsible for the deaths of perhaps thousands of Americans.  That is totally BS and sounds like something the completely hysterical Helen Caldicott would invent.  It's over the top, beyond the pale.  It's not based on facts at all, but some report he pulled out of the air. It's irresponsible to repeat on the airwaves.  I could not believe he actually claimed that on his radio show today. It really disappointed me.

If Hartmann stuck with facts and stopped the alarmism he'd attract more listeners. That's in general, not just on nuclear power.

I can listen to Ed Schultz, but not Thom. Ed's more like Rush in that you can tell when he's being over the top just for effect. There's got to be a bit of Ringmaster in there to keep my ADDled brain tuned in.

miksilvr
Those of you that think

Those of you that think nobody died after the Three Mile Island meltdown should watch "Three Mile Island Revisited" ...

"About this episode

This powerful documentary challenges the claims of the nuclear industry and government that no one died as a result of the core meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in Pennsylvania. It utilizes the testimony of area residents and scientific findings to reveal that deaths, especially from cancer and birth defects in children, have been widespread since the 1979 accident. Indeed, it notes that Three Mile Island's owner has been quietly settling numerous damage cases brought by persons seriously impacted by the accident."

http://blip.tv/envirovideo/three-mile-island-revisited-4917737

While the deaths and injuries due to the accidents are an unacceptable cost of enegy production, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were not enough to turn me off to nuclear power, due to the human error during safety testing that caused each accident. The main things that bothered me were waste disposal problems and availability of nuclear material to terrorists, and fear that some engineers would somehow repeat the f-ups of the two previous accidents in another "what if" safety experiment. Fukushima created a whole new set of fears and objections, as did the flooding in the U.S. midwest last year and the Virginia earthquake that nearly turned my brothers lake front home into a nuclear wasteland ... he lives a short boat ride away from the Lake Anna plant. Since Fukushima I have learned that the U.S. has a few nuclear plants on the west coast that are built near enough to off shore fault lines that tsunami damage similar to Fukushima is possible. Coal is not an alternative due to the deaths caused by mining, by breathing in the soot in the atmosphere, by the mercury poisioning that results from burning it, and by the damage done to the environment by mining and mountain top removal. If my HOA and county had any sense, I'd have leased solar panels and a leased residential-size wind turbine (VAWT) on my townhouse roof. Instead, I have to buy my power from companies that produce most of it from coal and nuclear and fracking gas ! I can't afford the premium on electric rates required to purchase power produced by the new wind farms in my area. Solar power is not plentiful enough to be marketable and affordable. What's the answer ?

anti-Republicon
What can go wrong eventually

What can go wrong eventually will. And when it goes wrong with nuclear it can potentially kill a whole shitload of people, and lay waste to a vast area of land, which in turn can displace another whole shitload of people. And depending on the magnitude, location, and yet again, a whole shitload of other factors, one accident could lead to the shit hitting the proverbial fan that could destroy an entire country, or even a large portion of the earth.

  So let's build some more nukes! It sounds like an excellent idea. It'll be a lot easier than conserving enough energy to offset the need for more plants while we develop alternative Green energy. Energy that doesn't have the potential to destroy the earth.  

 ( just say'n )

  Sorry about the profanity, I'm just a little passionate about the subject.

miksilvr
How about thorium ? ...

How about thorium ? ... http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/nuclear-power-entr...

http://www.thomhartmann.com/users/timtrott/blog/2011/04/counter-mat-roth...

ah2
My thoughts are, okay, if

My thoughts are, okay, if this gets us off coal now and can also be used to get us off oil via more efficient electric/hybrid vehicles, etc.  Let's invest a little there.  However, part of the appeal of other types of energy production - solar and wind in particular - for me is that they hold the possibility of consumer level energy production.  Rather than pofit being siphoned off by large corporations from our energy usage, one might imagine a future in which you buy your own little "energy plant" for your home and you never have to pay a power company for electricity again.  That, of course, would require these forms of energy to be far more efficient than they are now which will require a lot of R&D.

Anyway, the point being that nuclear and even geothermal (which I also like) continues the trend of leaving citizens at the mercy of energy companies for their energy needs. Typically this is complicated by the fact that energy grids are sort of a natural monopoly.

mdhess
mdhess's picture
Yikes, c. prato! I didn't

Yikes, c. prato! I didn't even get all the way through your (ridiculous) post when I came across this:

"What do we do with the waste? What about weapons proliferation? What about catastrophic accidents?

Well these problems have been aknowledged by the nuclear industry and have been largely resolved."

Resolved? Really? Really? Really?

miksilvr
For other posts on thorium,

For other posts on thorium, see also :

http://www.thomhartmann.com/search?keys=thorium

DRC
DRC's picture
If it can be done without a

If it can be done without a meter, it gets no investment capital.  Another reason why privateer sector has to be demythologized and democratic investments in the Commons greatly increased.  There are tremendous savings in changing our lighting and using smart roofs.  Heat exchange needs to be utilized so we don't keep wasting the "waste."  I could go on, but the basic point is that if it is not big grid and meter, it does not appeal to capital investors.  It is about the money, not the energy.

miksilvr
Two additional discussions on

Two additional discussions on Three Mile Island :

Three Mile Island: The Controversy Continues
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Od0aJXyM8k

Nuclear Engineer Arnie Gundersen and Epidemiologist Steve Wing Discuss the Three Mile Island Accident
http://www.fairewinds.com/content/arnie-gundersen-steve-wing-discuss-three-mile-island-accident