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Earth Power

US Nuclear Power Industry Poised For a Comeback 853

Posted by kdawson
from the do-not-want dept.
ThousandStars sends us to The Wall Street Journal for a report that momentum for nuclear energy is waxing in the US. "For the first time in decades, popular opinion is on the industry's side. A majority of Americans thinks nuclear power, which emits virtually no carbon dioxide, is a safe and effective way to battle climate change, according to recent polls. At the same time, legislators are showing renewed interest in nuclear as they hunt for ways to slash greenhouse-gas emissions. The industry is seizing this chance to move out of the shadow of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and show that it has solved the three big problems that have long dogged it: cost, safety and waste."
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US Nuclear Power Industry Poised For a Comeback

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  • Grrr... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:43PM (#29356689) Journal

    I really hate the comparisons of Three Mile Island to Chernobyl. Three Mile Island was an example of a failure at a nuclear facility that was solved correctly. Chernobyl was an example of a failure that was caused by extraordinary stupidity and handled as badly as you could handle such an incident.

    • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:52PM (#29356841)

      Of course the public won't understand something as complicated as nuclear reactors. Science is over their heads.

      Me: "I work on stem cells in adult mice"
      "Average" citizen: "Stem cells? You're going to hell, euthanizing senior citizens is wrong!"
      Me: "Wow... I don't... uh, I'm going to..."

      • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by catmistake (814204) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:57PM (#29358907) Journal
        You raise a good point that seems to be ignored: nuclear power is complex. It takes a good amount of education poured into many smart people to make it go. The education isn't cheap. Employing bright, well-educated people also isn't cheap. These costs are always ignored, but they are real. Does anyone really believe power is going to get cheaper? It's not. Any savings nuclear power might bring will be passed on to chairmans of the board and power moguls. Power mogels will replace oil mogels as the new robber barons. There's plenty of oil, but the cost will stay up. When there's plenty of power, the same sort of supply/demand/price-fix shennanigans will come into play. Too much power, not enough profit? Pull it back so there's not as much power, keep the price up there where people are used to it. They know we'll pay. Nuclear power is not going to change anything, afa the cost of power to the end user.
    • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NoYob (1630681) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:58PM (#29356931)
      Not only that, but Three Mile Island was built with 60's /early70'stechnology and Chernobyl was Soviet bureaucratic nonsense.

      Nuclear Technology has come a looooong way in 40 years. That's something to stress to the anti-nukes.

      The waste is another sticking point to the anti-nukes now.

      • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nadaka (224565) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:02PM (#29357023)

        Not really. The facts are on the side of the pro-nuclear groups. We can SOLVE the nuclear waste issue by building more nuclear plants...

        If we build a modern generation of feeder-breeder reactors that are something close the 97-99 times more efficient than the old breed and can consume previously generated nuclear waste as fuel.

        • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:13PM (#29358315)

          If we build a modern generation of feeder-breeder reactors that are something close the 97-99 times more efficient than the old breed and can consume previously generated nuclear waste as fuel.

          Unfortunately, it seems that we are not, and will not, be building any breeder reactors because people in the government are still freaked out about the fact that they temporarily produce weapons-grade waste. So, while everything you said is true and how I wish the fuck heads in the DoD would stop screwing us over, it doesn't look like that solution is going to happen any time soon, making the anti-nuke position a lot more reasonable.

      • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Funny)

        by pentalive (449155) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:17PM (#29357369) Journal
        Yeah, Chernobyl was "lets disable all the safeties and then turn off the pumps and see what happens."

        Don't play with reactors, right. got that.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by compro01 (777531)

          Hell, with modern pebble bed reactors, you can do just that and the reactor will just power itself down.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dunkelfalke (91624)

          Stop perpetuating that myth.
          Chernobyl was all about a star scientist developing an inherently unsafe design and successfully suppressing all critics even as they come up with some simple and easy to implement solutions to increase the safety.

          On a reactor designed according to even the soviet safety standards of those days the experiment would have been safe to begin with. Unfortunately RBMK wasn't.

          • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by MrKaos (858439) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:14PM (#29360341) Journal

            Chernobyl blew up because the operators tested the emergency cooling facilities at 200Mw instead of at 750Mw like the test scenarios proscribed AND after they Xenon poisoned the reaction. By the time the were able to restart the reaction there was a shift change from the more experienced crew (who were dead tired by this stage) to a less experienced crew.

            Stubbornly the manager persisted with the test, we know this can only be the case because of the shift change, they didn't recognise the danger of the ratio of control rod extraction to low thermal power output was because they were creating steam voids in the reactor core. No water, no reaction moderation. When they tried to scram the reactor the graphite tipped control rods displaced the little the steam was doing to moderate the reaction, thermal power spiked to 30Gw and ***BOOM***.

            From memory 750Mw was proscribed because of the time it took to spin down the cooling system for the reactor down was matched to the start-up time of the diesel pumps that would take over. Operator error introduced a new failure-mode into the system and as all these reactors age, those failure modes will change up to and beyond the time for decommissioning.

            In other words, the engineers specify sequences for a reasons based on the characteristics of the machine. This is of course just from memory the Chernobyl wiki [wikipedia.org] probably does a better job remembering than I do.

            • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Informative)

              by dunkelfalke (91624) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @04:16AM (#29363075)

              Close but no cigar. While you describe the technical reasons, you ignore the human reasons and just assume that the manager and his crew were suicidal. They weren't.

              The manager used to work at VVER type reactors before he started at the Chernobyl powerplant. He studied the manual of RBMK and according to manual the reactor was similar to operate. There was nothing about positive void coefficient or xenon poisoning in the manual. Minimal safe thermal power also wasn't specified. And of course there was nothing about SCRAM possibly could cause a runaway reaction - such a condition may not exist in any reactor built according to some safety standards.

              So while the manager chose to run the experiment on a different thermal power rating, he did it in the knowledge that the procedure was still safe according to the reactor manual.

              But let's go a couple of years back before the accident.
              Anatoliy Aleksandrov - three times Hero of Socialist Labour (a degree of distinction similar to Hero of the Soviet Union), 9 times awardee of the Lenin Order, director of the Kurchatov Institute, was the project manager on the RBMK project. Nikolay Dollezhal - two times Hero of Socialist Labour, 6 times awardee of the Lenin Orden, director of the Research and Design Institute for Power Engineering was the chief engineer of the project. Both of them were among the highest decorated soviet scientists, both of them designed pretty much every soviet nuclear reactor and a good part of soviet nuclear armament. Both of them were getting older and set in their ways.

              They were warned that their RBMK design was faulty in many ways. They ignored the warnings. The near-accidents at the Leningrad and Ignalina power plant were classified and the proposed solutions of making the RBMK design safer so the accidents wouldn't happen were also classified.

              Then came the Chernobyl disaster. Both scientists blamed the reactor crew and the political bureau sided with them - they couldn't blame such high decorated scientists and had to find a scapegoat. But silently the reactor user manual was updated and so were the reactor control rods. Also, Dollezhal was forced to retire (Aleksandrov was over 80 in 1986 so he was retired already).

              Shortly before his death Aleksandrov more or less admitted his guilt, Dollezhal though insisted that the RBMK design was inherently safe until he died.

    • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Andy Dodd (701) <[atd7] [at] [cornell.edu]> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:00PM (#29356989) Homepage

      Yeah. In terms of safety, Chernobyl is like taking a Yugo, removing the swaybar, clipping the emergency brake cable, severing the brake hydraulic lines, removing shock absorbers, installing racing slicks, and going for a joyride in the snow. (Disclaimer - Yugos might not have some of those items in the first place, but hopefully you get the idea.)

      TMI would be like taking an old Dodge Aries out for a drive.

      Modern nuclear plants would be like driving an AWD vehicle with ABS and stability control.

      • Re:Grrr... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mrdoogee (1179081) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:25PM (#29357527)

        Car analogies.... is there anything they can't explain?

      • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Informative)

        by JSBiff (87824) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:31PM (#29357647) Journal

        And a 4th-Gen (IFR-style) nuclear reactor would, I think, be like going for a ride in an armored troop transport. IFR-style (Integral Fast Reactor [wikipedia.org]) was designed around a slightly different principle of nuclear physics, such that you aren't even trying to prevent a meltdown, because the very physics of the reaction is such that if it starts getting 'too hot', the nuclear reaction itself starts to shutdown - the temperature increase, if I understand correctlyl, prevents further fission, at which point the temperature stabilizes at a 'safe maximum', until proper cooling is restored). There's no 'active' safety systems that could theoretically fail - no control rods that might get stuck and fail to drop, or other systems that might fail.

        I don't think anyone is currently planning on using that design in the near-term, but I hear that GE and Hitachi are in some sort of partnership to try to get approval for, and commercialize, small-scale reactors based on the IFR designs.

    • Re:Grrr... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:02PM (#29357021)

      I think it's at least partly driven by purposeful misuse of it in that way by people who either do or should know better--- whether because they want to make nuclear power seem scary, or just because they or their publishers want to sell books and push documentaries. One of the first major books [wikipedia.org] on the subject uses the sensational title Three Mile Island: Thirty Minutes to Meltdown (1982), and its paperback cover [images-amazon.com] has the even more sensational tagline, "The Untold Story--- Why It Happened And How It Can Happen Again". And even that looks like a sober scholarly analysis compared to subsequent books [amazon.com] with subtitles like A Nuclear Omen for the Age of Terror.

      Fortunately there are good books [wikipedia.org] on the subject. But I suspect they don't sell as well.

    • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Informative)

      by khayman80 (824400) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:04PM (#29357085) Homepage Journal

      Yes, I agree: the fear surrounding Three Mile Island is based more on Hollywood than physics. The article makes at least one other mistake:

      Many scientists and environmentalists still distrust nuclear power in any form, arguing that it can never escape its cost, safety and waste problems.

      Many environmentalists do oppose nuclear power, but they're also knocking over AM radio towers because of the scary radiation. But it's not true that many scientists oppose nuclear power. From a recent survey [people-press.org]:

      ... About half (51%) of Americans favor building more nuclear power plants to generate electricity, while 42% oppose this. ... More college graduates (59%) favor building nuclear power plants than do those with a high school education or less (46%). ... Seven-in-ten scientists favor building more nuclear power plants to generate electricity, while 27% are opposed. Among scientists, majorities in every specialty favor building more nuclear power plants, but support is particularly widespread among physicists and astronomers (88% favor). ... -- Pew Research Center

      So it isn't true that many scientists oppose nuclear power. A minority of scientists oppose nuclear power, just like a minority thinks abrupt climate change isn't happening. Also, strangely enough, the scientists most likely to understand nuclear power are the ones most in favor of it.

      • Seven-in-ten scientists favor building more nuclear power plants to generate electricity, while 27% are opposed.

        That's the thing though. From your data over a quarter of the people who are supposedly the best informed on the subject think it is a bad idea. That is NOWHERE near a scientific consensus. Scientists, as a general rule, are not dogmatic about policy and will change their mind if the evidence supports an opposing viewpoint. The fact that 1 out of 4 educated and ostensibly well informed people who are willing to change their mind when the facts dictate doing so means that the "facts" are not clear and th

        • by khayman80 (824400) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:01PM (#29358173) Homepage Journal

          That is NOWHERE near a scientific consensus.

          I only mentioned that survey because the article's claim was blatantly wrong. I've recently driven myself insane trying to explain to climate change "skeptics" that searching for a scientific consensus isn't the way to approach scientific topics because science isn't democratic. It's about evidence. Look into the advancements in technology over the last decades and examine the science yourself. Reprocessing dramatically reduces the volume of nuclear waste, while breeder reactors can generate new fuel. New reactor designs eliminate proliferation concerns by not generating plutonium. Pebble bed reactors eliminate the dependence on active safety systems by creating a nuclear pile out of spherical fuel "pebbles" that automatically react to higher temperatures by lowering their reaction rates. Uranium can be mined from seawater. Thorium can be used instead of uranium. Etc.

          Try to understand why 88% of physicists think we should build modern nuclear power plants, rather than trying to count the scientists on each side. That's a topic that gets scientists bored very quickly. Focus on the science, it's much more interesting! But, since you seem fixated on counting heads, I'll answer your other question...

          WHICH alleged scientists were polled in this survey? Maybe they polled a bunch of computer scientists instead of nuclear engineers.

          The link you're looking for [people-press.org] was on that page, off to the right: "About the survey." Here's an excerpt:

          Results for the scientist survey are based on 2,533 online interviews conducted from May 1 to June 14, 2009 with members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A sample of 9,998 members was drawn from the AAAS membership list excluding those who were not based in the United States or whose membership type identified them as primary or secondary-level educators.

          As you say, medical and biological scientists wouldn't know anything about nuclear power. And they polled 5x as many of those than physicists. But they specifically said that majorities in all specialties support nuclear power, while 88% of physicists and astronomers support it. They didn't poll any engineers because this was a survey aimed at scientists.

      • Re:Grrr... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:39PM (#29357809)

        Exactly. I'd really like to know what these "tree hugging Luddites" propose that we do about our rather desperate situation in terms of electricity generation.

        1. Burn coal? Nope.
        2. Burn petroleum. Nope.
        3. Nuclear power. Nope. NIMBY
        4. Hydro power. Nope, think of the salmon!
        5. Wind power. Nope. NIMBY
        6. Solar power. NIMBY

        etc...

        They won't be happy until we're back in the days of using whale blubber lanterns to read at night...oh wait....

      • Re:Grrr... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Robotbeat (461248) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:59PM (#29358145) Journal

        The biggest reason Nukes cost so much is that they take a long time to complete from initial capital investment to first production of electricity. If this takes a decade, then you just doubled your opportunity costs compared to something that can be completed in a year (assuming 8% interest). This wasn't always the way for nukes. We used to be able to build them in 2-3 years. That alone would decrease the cost of nuclear by almost half (since you are mostly paying for capital costs, not fuel costs). And it doesn't require new technology, and it will allow nuclear power to take over from coal much faster.

        The biggest reason they have taken so long to build is that the safety regulations changed [i]while the plants were being built[/i], so it slowed down the construction to a stand-still. We shouldn't have this problem today. And, we can build plants even faster if we can get nuke-plant-assemblylines going, which would allow greater quality control measures (and therefore safety) and decrease the costs per power plant. This is how we can cleanly and cheaply and quickly and safely power the future.

    • by Commander Doofus (776923) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:12PM (#29357229)
      I really hate the comparisons of Three Mile Island to Chernobyl.

      "Congratulations Homer! You've turned a potential Chernobyl into a mere Three Mile Island!

  • Hooray! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:44PM (#29356699) Homepage Journal
    Time to order a couple thousand 1970s era alarm clocks (With the glowing dials) and start up a nuclear pile in my garage!
  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tpjunkie (911544) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:49PM (#29356791) Journal
    This needs all the political momentum it can get. Nuclear power is one of the areas I have strong disagreements with the current administration. Considering how much Uranium (and thorium, but lets not get into that) we have available domestically, this is such a fundamental and simple (albeit expensive) steps we can take to reduce emissions (I'm looking at you, coal) while decreasing our energy dependency. It has been so long since we have built a new reactor in this country that the safety of the newest designs, particularly the pebble bed reactor makes the still operating relics of the 60s and 70's look like potential Chernobyls (Of course, they're not, but I'm speaking relatively and the safety aspects have come quite a ways since then)
    • Re:Good. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by megabeck42 (45659) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:04PM (#29357087)

      The difference between chernobyl's RBMK design and and our operating relics is already rather significant. Also, we have organizations in the US, such as the United States Navy, which are at the forefront of safe reactor design and operation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tpjunkie (911544)
        Oh I am aware of that as well, I was just using Chernobyl as a point of comparison to make a point. If TMI showed anything it's that the containment design of the then-current reactors works as designed. The point being that pebble bed reactors are designed such that a runaway reaction and increased temperatures improve the moderator's effectiveness, thus reducing the reaction rate. It literally is a fool-proof design inasmuch as a nuclear reactor can be "fool proof"
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by stoolpigeon (454276) *

        It's funny that the article talks about how much things have changed in the last 20 years. I had a buddy that was a nuke in the navy and when he got out he turned down a nice job offer because he didn't think civilian operations were done well or safely. That was in the mid 90's.

  • by FrostDust (1009075) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:51PM (#29356833)

    Until renewable energy sources mature and gain public acceptence (solar is relativly inefficient and expensive, and Americans seem fond of complaining about "ugly" windmills), nuclear power is the best option we have.

    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:19PM (#29357405) Journal

      I think most energy experts consider it the "bridging" option. If coal is unacceptable, geothermal too difficult in many areas, hydroelectric already all but maxed out in much of North America (and not exactly without substantial environmental repercussions of its own), and wind, tidal and solar technologies still some ways until maturation, then we're left with nuclear power. Maybe by the end of the century other technologies (in particular better capacitors which make alternative technologies much more sensible) will see reactors phased out, but at the end of the day, nuclear power is the only way we can generate large amounts of electricity with a minimum of environmental and climate impact. If we wait around for the alternative technologies to mature, we're probably going to spend another twenty or thirty years puking CO2, enriching states that would just as soon send suicide bombers to knock out Western office towers and train stations, and generally making the ultimate transition away from fossil fuels all the more difficult.

      The environmentalists are just going to have to suck it up, and that's all there is to it. The world is going to need a lot more nuclear reactors over the next half century, and if every industrialized state out there is going to throw money out the window in the hopes of restarting the economy, then it would make sense that using those dollars to kick start nuclear power is just about the best thing one could do.

  • by bzzfzz (1542813) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:52PM (#29356867)
    When you consider the state of materials science and controls technology in 1968, when construction started on the TMI reactor, it's a wonder that anything as complicated as a power plant worked at all, let alone safely.

    I think it's tragic that a plant from that era has come to symbolize nuclear power for the entire nation when the technology has advanced so considerably. If we applied that line of reasoning to automobiles, we'd close all the freeways because the Corvair was unsafe.

  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:59PM (#29356955) Homepage Journal
    I am an enthusiastic supporter of nuclear power for many reasons (the least of which is not its potential capability to move mankind into the space). However, no matter how excited and supportive the government or the populace become of nuclear energy there is one huge barrier that it faces. Due to the terror of nuclear energy generated in past decades, there are miles of legal hurdles, red tape, and bureaucratic BS festivals to go through before anything nuclear can be approved and implemented. Unless both federal and state litigators are willing to ease up some of the legal garbage surrounding nuclear facilities, it will remain an incredibly expensive (and unnecessarily so) solution to energy problems.

    I hope the folks planning to establish new nuclear facilities hire a damn good group of lawyers. They are probably going to need it.
  • No Co2! (Score:3, Funny)

    by salparadyse (723684) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:59PM (#29356957)
    But your great, great, great, great, great grandchildren will be employed monitoring the "by-products".
  • Let's hope so (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Syncerus (213609) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:59PM (#29356969)

    The simple truth is that nuclear power is good technology that solves a variety of sticky problems. Anti-nuclear propaganda films irrationally scared the public in to rejecting a highly beneficial and useful method of power generation. With the passage of years, the public has come to the realization that the sky isn't falling and that a modern, safe nuclear power system is good economics and good social policy. We should celebrate this return to sanity: it's reason triumphing over irrational fear.

  • "peak uranium"? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by retchdog (1319261) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:01PM (#29356993) Journal

    I've heard from a physicist, that we have only so much easily refinable uranium/plutonium to last until 2050 or so. Wikipedia says 100 years which, while not a reason to stop doing it, seems pretty low to me. After that we'd have to go to lower-yield thorium fuel cycle (breeder) reactors which would last a while.

    Of course he's not a nuclear physicist/engineer. Anyone have the scoop? Would these current power plant designs be adaptable?

    • Re:"peak uranium"? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tweenk (1274968) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:35PM (#29358617)

      1. Those are reserves, not resources. (Look up the difference sometime).
      2. Breeder reactors extend this 20-fold.
      3. Thorium extends this further 5 times so that now we're looking at 5000 years of *reserves* (e.g. the amount that can be economically mined at present day price)
      4. There are billions of tons of uranium in seawater.
      5. Finally, advances in nuclear fission based power generation technology are a prerequisite for nuclear fusion.

      Some more information:
      http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/cohen.html [stanford.edu]

  • by Ironchew (1069966) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:05PM (#29357093)

    I'm a supporter of widespread nuclear power. However, the industry hasn't solved two major issues:
    -Hazards of mining the fuel
    -Political viability of fast breeder reactors

    If we could get robots to mine the fuel, great. Right now, mining heavy, radioactive material is a hazardous occupation with long-term health effects.
    Fast breeder reactors are the way to minimize nuclear waste to easily manageable levels. It is also an efficient generator of weapons-grade fissile material. The international community has proliferation concerns associated with this.

    I hope to see these issues addressed in the future for ushering in widespread nuclear power along with solar, wind, and geothermal energy.

    • by Tweenk (1274968) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:39PM (#29358655)

      1. You overestimate the radioactivity of uranium ore. There are entire towns built on uranium deposits and they don't experience any measurable ill effects.
      2. Some designs of breeder reactors like IFR (also called ALMR) cannot create usable weapons-grade fissile materials. The risk of someone stealing fissile materials from a breeder reactor is lower than that of someone capturing an ICBM site, or stealing a complete warhead.

  • It's true (Score:3, Informative)

    by whoda (569082) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:15PM (#29357319) Homepage
    My father retired from the NRC 2 years ago.
    He has more contracting work at plants all around the country than you could shake a fuel rod at.
  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:26PM (#29357551)

    Even without further technological advance, nuclear power will suffice for several millennia. It produces zero emissions (except a little hot water) and produces a tiny volume of solid waste that doesn't escape into the environment. It runs silently all day and all night. If you were handed a datasheet for a nuclear power plant with the source of power blacked out, you'd jump at the chance to build the thing.

    Nuclear power produces long-lived, dangerous waste, doesn't it? Dangerous and long-lived are mutually exclusive when it comes to nuclear materials. That's just the way the science of radioactive decay works. After being taken out of the reactor, the waste that remains can be reprocessed into more fuel. But if it isn't, then you can leave it in a cooling pond for a few years, and after that point, it's safe enough to handle, store, and bury. There are far worse industrial outputs than cooled-down nuclear waste.

    But it's still dangerous and we have no place to store the waste! What's wrong with a cave in the middle of the desert? There's no water table. The area is seismically stable, and there's no life where we want to store the waste. And by itself, nuclear waste will do nothing. It won't make your children glow in the middle of the night. It won't contaminate your crops. It won't do anything because it's inert.

    What about the risk of nuclear meltdown? Won't that destroy cities? Well, what about steam boiler explosions? What about refinery disasters? What about train disasters? Do those keep your up at night? They all killed people regularly back in their early days. But we don't worry about them now because improved safety technology has reduced the risk to an acceptable level. The same principle applies to nuclear power: another disaster like Chernobyl could never happen to even a 1970s-era American reactor, much less the far-improved versions we have today. The risk of being injured by a nuclear meltdown today is on par with being injured by lightning.

    Wait -- won't we run out of fuel? Don't we only have reserves for a hundred years? You don't understand how much energy is contained in nuclear fuel. You need so little of it that the fuel is dirt cheap. The price of uranium could increase a thousandfold without affecting a nuclear plant's bottom line. And because uranium is so cheap, there's been very little prospecting. The reason our proven reserves are relatively small is that nobody has been looking very hard, because uranium is dirt cheap. In fact, for the past few decades, the nuclear power industry has been running on decommissioned nuclear warheads. That's how little fuel you really need for nuclear power.

    Sure, nuclear might be okay, but wind power! It's decentralized, and therefore better! And it appeals to my philosophical sensibilities because it's not a big evil industry!Wind power can't provide baseload power. Plus, it's limited by the number of sites with good winds. You can, on the other hand, build as many nuclear plants as necessary without severe geographic constraints. As for nuclear being centralized, big, and therefore evil: big isn't necessarily bad. Properly regulated, a huge nuclear plant can provide inexpensive power to millions far more efficiently than many small ones, or thousands of turbines, coal-fired power stations, and natural gas generators. Furthermore, there's no particular reason nuclear stations need to be private per se: consider the Tennessee Valley Authority model.

    If nuclear power is so great, why does it take two decades to build one, and why does the government have to subsidize the insurance?In terms of physical build time, it only takes a few years to erect a power plant. The delays come from hysterical opponents using every possible legal avenue to block new nuclear plants. The complaints have no basis in fact, but the courts have to hear them just the same. Often, legal delays are so severe that projects are abandoned altogether (which is, of course, what op

  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:31PM (#29357655)
    The Environmentalist's Fallacy

    It goes something like this:

    1. Consider a technology X that replaces a polluting technology Y
    2. Identify some aspect of X that produces pollution
    3. Oppose X for this pollution while ignoring the pollution Y produces

    In reality, X produces far less overall pollution than Y.

    I've seen this argument used to oppose:

    • The Prius (Nickel mining)
    • Nuclear power (Uranium mining, nuclear waste, concrete for the containment building)
    • Solar power (Semiconductor manufacturing, altering desert ecosystems)
    • Orbital microwave power (Rocket exhaust)
    • Hydroelectric power (Salmon migration)
    • Wind power (Birds)

    All of these are great technologies. If we're ever to make any progress, we have to learn to think past the environmentalist's fallacy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by OrangeTide (124937)

      I use this fallacy all the time, but as a joke. Or to prove the point that nothing can offer a perfect solution and that some pollution has to be tolerated.

      You forget the argument against methane. It's a very strong greenhouse gas. Of course people like to ignore that it is in such small quantities that there are other green house gases that have a larger overall effect. (water vapor being the worse one I believe, so quit letting those oceans evaporate into clouds)

  • Follow the money (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:55PM (#29358079) Homepage

    Who cares about polls? The laws of physics don't care about public opinion. Neither do the laws of economics.

    And the later is clearly a problem. We just went through this here in Ontario, with a new set of reactors planned to go in about 50 k east of Toronto at Darlington. Darlington A, the original set, was enormously over-budget, and if I'm doing the math right, will never pay itself back in inflation-adjusted dollars. All of us Ontarians have a little line item on our bills called the "debt retirement charge" as a result. In order to prevent this occuring again, Ontario Power Generation (via Infrastructure Ontario) demanded that the quotes include overrun insurance. That drove the price up over $26 billion.

    I'm a failed physicist and I'm very much aware of the realities of nuclear power. It IS safe, and the waste is NOT that big a problem. But $26 billion is a REALLY BIG PROBLEM. I'm not the only one believing that; after the bill was presented, they cancelled the project.

    Here's something to think about. Darlington A and B together would have produced about 7 GW peak. The site occupies 1200 acres, or just under 5 million square meters. 5 million square meters of 8% average solar panel will produce about 3.8 GW peak. Yeah, it's not baseload. Yeah, it's only during the day. Now here's the kicker... ready? Solar costs a dollar a watt wholesale, so the price of that plant is about, oh lets round up some, $10 billion.

    It gets worse. We already get about 60% of our power from hydro. In fact, there's more _spare_capacity_ in the generator plants in northern Quebec than there would have been in Darlington. All we'd need is a cable to get it. How much? Mmmm, 500 million, tops. Newfoundland and Manitoba also have oodles of spare capacity that they would love to sell us. Arco say's there's another, ready for it? 25 GW continuous in northern Canada lying undeveloped. That's more than all the power the province uses. But they can't get a red cent to develop it, because OPG want's it all in house.

    *sigh*

  • What about fusion (Score:4, Informative)

    by The_mad_linguist (1019680) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:50AM (#29362929)

    The Polywell Inertial Electrostatic Confinement design is showing a lot of promise, and the current estimate is the tech will be ready for commercial use in 12 years or so.

Byte your tongue.

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