A Nuclear Future


by Shariq
25th September, 2008 at 1:38 pm    

EDF has finally bought out British Energy, laying the foundations for the construction of a next generation of nuclear power plants. I think this is excellent news both for Britain’s future prosperity and in the battle against global warming. We had a big debate about this in an earlier thread, but given that the consensus on the progressive left seems to be against nuclear power, I think its important that I lay out my reasons for supporting nuclear power.

Tackling Global Warming

If you believe that global warming is one of the, if not the most important issue that the world faces than you need to be able to come up with alternative sources of energy. Right now renewables are either extremely expensive or unreliable and not sufficient to power entire economies. It is important to continue research and development in renewables but there is no guarantee of success.

Sustaining Economic Development

One argument against trying to meet our energy needs is that we need to curb our consumption. This is a good point and I think that one of the positive side-effects of the current high oil and gas prices is that people are thinking more about how they use energy. However for the majority of people in the developing world, in order to get out of poverty they will need to use a lot more energy then they are doing right now. Without alternative sources of fuel, they will end up using fossil fuels. Even if we actually do have a lot of oil and gas left, the environmental effects will be disastrous.

What about the Safety of Nuclear Power Plants

A lot is made of this, but I don’t think that it is that much of an issue. Firstly, the amount of nuclear accidents has been remarkably small. Most of France for instance is run on nuclear power without anything severe having happened. Also, nuclear plants built with new technology are going to be a lot safer. Compare that to the number of people killed each year in coal mines or of oil rigs and its clear that the reason people worry about this is that when something happens at a nuclear station it is deemed more newsworthy and frightening.

What to do with Nuclear Waste?

This is probably the strongest argument against nuclear power. There are legitimate concerns as to how we will dispose of the waste. A couple of points need to made against this though. Firstly, we have already been disposing of waste without anything disastrous having happened. Secondly, there may well be a possibility in the future that scientists come up with a way of treating nuclear waste so that they aren’t as harmful.

Conclusion

I’ll finish by reminding people that although nuclear power may seem frightening, we always have to make tradeoffs when dealing with public policy issues and a world in which we have constant climate catastrophes is both more dangerous and more likely. Lovelock says it best;

One of the striking things about places heavily contaminated by radioactive nuclides is the richness of their wildlife. This is true of the land around Chernobyl, the bomb test sites of the Pacific, and areas near the United States’ Savannah River nuclear weapons plant of the Second World War. Wild plants and animals do not perceive radiation as dangerous, and any slight reduction it may cause in their lifespans is far less a hazard than is the presence of people and their pets… I find it sad, but all too human, that there are vast bureaucracies concerned about nuclear waste, huge organisations devoted to decommissioning power stations, but nothing comparable to deal with that truly malign waste, carbon dioxide.”


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  1. ashik — on 25th September, 2008 at 2:44 pm  

    Chernobyl, 3 mile Island and Sellafield emissions incident all bear witness to the actual and potential catastrophes that can be caused by nuclear power. Utilisation of nuclear power is a balance between the short and medium term needs for increasing consumption of energy by an ever-growing population and a globalised economy where countries like India and China are undergoing their own industrial revolutions.
    I don’t see nuclear energy as the goal but a styop-gap solution till the high IQ boys come up with something better.

  2. shariq — on 25th September, 2008 at 5:35 pm  

    Ashik, agreed that nuclear power is a stop gap (unless we don’t have a technological breakthrough in renewables in which case it is permanent)

    Even as a stopgap though, it needs to be implemented now because new reactors take quite a long time to build.

  3. JuggyD — on 25th September, 2008 at 5:38 pm  

    Quite a costly procedure for what you see only as a ‘stop gap’.

  4. shariq — on 25th September, 2008 at 7:12 pm  

    JuggyD, its costly only in that nuclear power plants have very high initial costs. In the long run, nuclear energy is the same cost if not cheaper. Also, once you set up the plants, they run for at least 50 years.

    When the time comes for the plants being built now have to be decommissioned, we can judge then whether yet more new ones are still needed or whether renewable energies are able to meet our needs.

  5. Rumbold — on 25th September, 2008 at 7:43 pm  

    Since renewables have so for proved to be incapable of meeting energy needs, even with massive subsidies, looks like nuclear is the best option (though that also receives massive subsidies).

  6. Shamit — on 25th September, 2008 at 8:44 pm  

    Rumbold

    Its not necessarily true – we have been involved for a while in exploring the scope of renewable energy and it seems to us (based on stakeholder representations) — it boils down to political will and be willing to take the risk as an economy. I have highlighted couple of links that you might want to take a look at. Until, we got involved in this I had the same impression as yourself, but since then I think I have changed my position on that.

    http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/15294

    http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/15466

    and see what Sweden has done with its approach which could be a path Britain could follow as principle and policy.

    http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/17936

    Not trying to promote my own company but I think we have worked on this issue quite well — hence thought you guys might be interested in taking a look especially at the energy and environment bits.

    ***************************************

    Shariq,

    I am not ready to write off nuclear especially for the short term.

    But unless we figure out what to do with the nuclear waste (with a half life of 245 years)– for an island nation and a relatively small country the risks are far greater than say Russia or India etc etc. While I agree with you nothing has happened yet but one accident could prove to catastrophic and could break the backbone of NHS and our public coffers. So, while I support the Government Policy — I would be happier if we could pursue renewable energy and the associated economy it builds in the UK.

    But we cant get away from Nuclear right now and we need it to reduce our dependency on foreign oil which concerns me very much.

  7. Dave S — on 25th September, 2008 at 9:18 pm  

    Oh dear, I really can’t get heavily involved in this one today, so this will probably be my only post.

    As I’ve pointed out on previous Pickled Politics threads several times now, if you think nuclear is going to be “the answer” – or even a reasonable stop-gap solution – you are sorely mistaken!

    I oppose nuclear on a number of grounds. However, the main one I’m going to mention here is that it simply is not going to meet our energy requirements – not even close!

    Something like 97% of the uranium in the world is U238, and current reactor designs require on U235.

    If we build significantly more reactors to meet our energy “needs” (and I use that word loosely), we are going to reach peak uranium remarkably quickly, with usable supplies potentially running out (from what I’ve read) within a couple of decades.

    Yes, there are other reactor designs (fast breeders and so on) which can use different fuels such as Thorium or U238, but these designs are still very much in the prototype stages, and have thus far shown only to be highly unsafe and unusable on a commercial scale.

    Due to how FBRs work, they also have much higher core densities than “traditional” PWR designs, which means meltdown can potentially happen in a matter of minutes rather than hours. They also rely on highly volatlie liquid sodium (explodes on contact with air or water) as a coolant. Indeed, a serious sodium fire is exactly what happened at the Monju reactor in Japan, which is why it was closed down in 1995.

    Upshot is that FBRs are not stable enough to be used as anything more than science experiments by any stretch of the imagination, and that very little progress has been made in this area for quite some time as far as I’m aware, despite plenty of attempts and money poured into the research. (I would be interested to hear otherwise.)

    So that’s it really. We can’t meet our energy “needs” using nuclear power, without some massive leaps forward in the technology. Peak uranium will thwart us, and the ways around peak uranium show little indication of being workable, despite decades of well-funded research.

    I don’t have a better solution, because I don’t believe there is one. The answer is staring us right in the face, but few people have the guts to face up to it.

    The answer is this: the Earth cannot sustain us and our lifestyles.

    Either we change, or we’re going to become extinct.

    Even Lovelock doesn’t think humanity stands a hope in hell! (I read an interview with him where he said he was glad that he would almost certainly be dead before the shit hits the fan.)

    Meanwhile, I’ll leave you to decide whether the toxic, radioactive waste legacy, exaggerations about reductions in CO2 emissions (which externalise all the other points in the nuclear fuel cycle where CO2 is emitted, making nuclear’s actual emissions per MWH about 75% as high as from a gas fired power plant) and potential for meltdown are worth the risk.

    Oh and also, France has around 900 “level 0″ nuclear incidents every year. One of the latest incidents contaminated 100 workers and the local water supply with uranium. Yummy! But don’t take my word for it!

    Shariq, I assume you are completely comfortable with yourself, your food and your water being “slightly” contaminated with uranium every once in a while, all so we can pretend to be tackling climate change with a “solution” that’s about as much use as a chocolate teapot, while still heading straight over the cliff?

    I think luck is probably going to be the only thing that can save us, and even then, we’re going to need absolutely truckloads of it coupled with determination that is the polar opposite of most people’s current apathy.

    Maybe hunger will be a powerful motivating factor to turn off the TV and pull our fingers out, but I think by then it will probably be too late.

    I’m sorry to say that in my heart of hearts, I honestly believe that billions of us are going to die because of something we could quite easily have prevented – condemned to starve by our own arrogance and egotism, which has lead us to declare war on the Earth which is our very lungs.

    But that hasn’t stopped me just becoming a dad (10 days ago!), because I also believe that as a part of an ecosystem, it is very possible for humans to make a positive net contribution to their environment – just as other animals generally do – rather than raping and destroying it. Our family intends to pursue this philosophy as far as we possibly can, and to help other like minded folks do the same.

    If “progress” means that we become extinct, then surely it is not progress. So we have to ask the question again: what do we really mean by progress?

    Let’s be honest about the answers, even when they tell us things we’re too scared to hear.

    The earth certainly cannot sustain the greed of capitalism, and can probably only sustain a very limited amount of industrialisation for things that are absolutely necessary.

    The current age of technology is going to be little more than a momentary blip in the history of this rock called Earth.

    “The economy” isn’t even a good reason for inaction, since global ecocide most definitely spells global economic crash! What use are numbers on a bank’s computer system, when all humanity is extinct?

    What meaning do those numbers even have, when you remove the context of their creators? No, the economy is an imaginary concept. Are we going to allow a figment of our imaginations to materialise through our own (in)actions, and kill us all? Because that’s what we’re doing, folks!

    It’s high time we put the errors of the last few hundred years behind us, take a few steps back and a big look at ourselves, and once again become part of our ecosystem, rather than it’s enemy.

    That is the only solution that stands a hope in hell of working!

    We can and will adapt to live fantastic, rewarding lives, if only we give ourselves the chance to discover what really matters to us. I’m just not so sure we will make the right choice when the time comes.

    To be honest, I think the time has already come, and most of us are already making the wrong choice.

    No amount of (theoretically) safe, clean nuclear power can protect us from ourselves!

  8. Shamit — on 25th September, 2008 at 10:38 pm  

    Dave

    First congratulations on the new arrival. get ready for some sleepless nights if you have not already done so.

    On your points about nuclear power, I couldn’t agree with you more. Yet the situation is not that black and white for me. I find it hard to argue with nuclear power in a place like India where electricity still remains a myth for a large part of the population. And, the renewable alternatives at this current stage of development would simply not be enough.

    So while I agree with your concerns, I think at this time we simply cannot write off nuclear fuel as an alternative.

    But, where I agree with you is, that UK having nuclear power just does not make sense in the short, medium or long term. Firstly, the new reactors are not going to online for about 10 years more (and in case of nuclear plants estimates have always been far shorter than actual delivery)

    Secondly, even the Government agrees that it would not even generate 20% of our expected electricity demand —

    Third, while the rhetoric has been the tax payer wont be footing the bill – nowhere in the world has that been achieved yet and I don’t see how we can get around it here.

    So if tax payers are going to be paying for it one way or the other, why not focus on creating and backing renewable energy which could even revitalise many parts of our country and enable us to take the step beyond just a knowledge driven service economy.

    But, one thing must point out, in my trips to China and India and South East Asia — business folks, politicians, students (and all these people care about the environment too) find it patronizing when they hear people in the West talking about changing lifestyles. Their point is while a part of their population may be the super rich, most of their energy needs are to bring people out of poverty and its hard to argue that sentiment. Hence, nuclear power I think quite rightly would be in the energy mix until we can make the tools, know how and the capacity of delivery of renewable energy more ubiquitous.

  9. Andy Gilmour — on 25th September, 2008 at 11:01 pm  

    At what point will our current sources of electricity/gas/etc become so expensive that setting up minimum-wage-paying ‘warehouses full of recumbent bikes’-style human power generators is a viable alternative? (especially with looming possibility of increasing long-term unemployment)?

    I know, sounds like a daft idea, but here’s another one – why aren’t all modern houses being built with some form of personal electricity generator built in? (I used to work in a sports centre, and there we had several varieties of aerobic equipment that powered themselves from the barest minimum of users’ movements).

    Obviously it wouldn’t be feasible to heat a 3-bedroom semi (in the Orkneys!), but topping-up batteries, low-drain appliances, lighting, etc could be achieved without requiring the thighs of an Olympian. :-)

    Plus it’s a relatively cheap technology, and would generate power at the point of use…

    …and it might help tackle the ‘obesity crisis’. :-)

  10. MaidMarian — on 25th September, 2008 at 11:18 pm  

    dave s – Congratulations.

    ‘We can’t meet our energy “needs” using nuclear power.’ I don’t think anyone is saying that. That is a line that gets put in the mouth of others by green campaigners. Nuclear and ‘others’ are not somehow mutually exclusive.

    Surely this is about making the best fist of what we have, accepting that there are risks and downsides.

    Rumbold – that is a comment that strikes at the heart of this one. Cost really stopped being the point a very long time ago – if it ever was significant.

    This is about energy security, it can not be about doing this on the cheap – nor should it be. Anyone looking to do this on the cheap is asking to be deceived. Energy should be subsidised massively – simple as that. And due to that it is not possible, sadly, to depoliticise the issue wholesale.

    We are where we are and decisions need to be taken hard-headedly now with the technology and knowledge we have now. Added to that (and I am a bit surprised this wasn’t in the article) is the very real consideration about energy ‘sufficiency’ in the context of shippion fossil fuel across unstable areas of the world with warmongering politicians like Dimitri Medvedev and his boss.

    Maybe this is thinking at the level of better the devil you know. Maybe – but that is better than paralysis and non-decision.

    Let’s go nuclear, do a proper job of it, and pick the bones out of it from there.

  11. sonia — on 26th September, 2008 at 1:37 am  

    hmm your reasons sound very similar to the sort of ‘surface’ level policy statements that politicians make. that sound fine in theory and on the ‘surface’ – of course we know the devil is in the detail!

    frankly i don’t know anything about the ins and outs of nuclear power plant engineering and nuclear reactors, but i think its pretty damn obvious its a complex business.

    you say about the issue of safety:

    “A lot is made of this, but I don’t think that it is that much of an issue. Firstly, the amount of nuclear accidents has been remarkably small.”

    remarkably few incidents, yes thank goodness, but with ‘remarkable’ impact when it does happen. its a bit of a shrug off the way you put it, almost cavalier. ah well, we can absorb a few incidents, never mind the seriousness of it and the fact that’s it not exactly the same as no. of road accidents a year. radiation i think we have all worked out by now has an insidious way of affecting plenty of people in ways which we didn’t understand for years, and still don’t. It’s outrageous and shocking that you and others think the issue of ‘safety’ can be just brushed aside like that, it really is.

    and let’s not even go into the issue of nuclear waste – you say,

    “Firstly, we have already been disposing of waste without anything disastrous having happened”

    well i think again, what an oddly cavalier attitude, its very hopeful which is great, but frankly, if you don’t have anything more substantial than that to offer, well perhaps people should not take your support for nuclear power seriously, you have your opinion of course but if you are trying to influence people you should be very careful and work out what you are actually encouraging here.

    your points are again hopeful based on ah well nothing’s happened so far and oh i guess we’ll figure something out in the future. this is what you are basing your support on? Goodness, that is worrying.
    you ought to be careful about what it is you are doing. there are serious implications here. this is a big responsibility and not one to be taken lightly.

    apart from glib hopefuls what is there on offer here?

    How much more waste are we going to dispose of in the future than now? do we think the scientists have not voiced concerns with the methods we have been using to date? what we just overlook these concerns?

    this attitude to waste ‘oh well we shoved it off nothing’s happened so far let’s hope for the best’ is again just hoping for the best blindly. which is fine if that’s what you want to do – but then say so. we are doing this we havent a clue but what else can we do. I cannot believe that this a position that can be taken as a serious ‘informed’ position.

    for a nation that can’t make its trains run on time and can’t really sort out maintenance and one that took A LONG TIME to come up with air conditioning for the tube, engineering wise, there’s not a lot of hope, is there frankly? Or handle large scale projects – there was a lot of discussion pre-Olympics, when all sorts of people in the know pointed out that there were reasons why Britain is no longer very adept at large scale projects.

    so unless we hear some real operational thinking and reflecting on the technical level, i’m going to suggest that we get Crossrail sorted out first, and oh yes, the Olympics.

    by then no one will want to project manage the building of the bloody plants.

    Anyway, look to Scotland.

    And Dave S said it all. Frankly you lot better go and get your heads out of the sand and watch the documentary on cuba, the power of community: how cuba survived peak oil’.

    and unless someone is going to suggest funding these mammoth very expensive only 50 year structures out of the defense budget, i don’t see where the investment is going to come from. Oh guess what, it will be a ‘public private’ partnership! A PFI! Goodness, let’s keep up the ‘borrow money to spend on public infrastructure’ trend, ridiculous. but this doesn’t seem to be an area that concerns most people.

    really some of you don’t like to think about problems very much, is all i can say./ happy clappy it will all be fine, that’s right, that’s what everyone said about global financial markets. what a joke. the government shouldn’t have to f***ing borrow money from a PRIVATE institution to spend on ‘public’ projects, it should goddamn spend it into existence. No instead we have private banks creating money through interest-bearing debt, and look where that’s getting everyone. more debt than money and no suprises there.
    what’s this got to do with nuclear you ask. well that’s the thing, funding of public infrastructure that’s what.

  12. sonia — on 26th September, 2008 at 1:41 am  

    Oh wait, some people don’t believe in funding public infrastructure right? no it should be “private”, because it so obviously has nothing to do with the collective. so why is anyone bothering to talk about it from the ‘collective’ point of view then?

  13. sonia — on 26th September, 2008 at 1:49 am  

    congratulations Dave S to you and your family!

    may you be able to drink uncontaminated water.

  14. shariq — on 26th September, 2008 at 2:08 pm  

    Sonia, thanks for the critique.

    Firstly, obviously I’m not an expert on nuclear power. However whether or not this goes ahead is going to be a political decision and I think that its important to have a ‘layperson’ debate on it. Last time I checked Greenpeace isn’t made up entirely of nuclear physicists. I also think that there is a genearational element in that people who lived through the 1980′s when the campaign for nuclear disarmament was a mainstream movement still have cultural baggage with nuclear power.

    Anyways, on safety and infrastructure, let me elaborate. EDF which is responsible for most of France’s reactors is going to be developing and managing these plants. France’s reactors, which were first set up after 1973, have been running for a combined total of 1040 years, have done so with extremely high safety standards. http://www.icjt.org/npp/lokacija.php?drzava=8

    Unless there is some sort of govt conspiracy to cover everything up, the fact that a majority of the french people continue to support it is indicative of the success of nuclear power plants.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_France

    Also, you have to see that there is a big difference b/w infrastructure which is built and managed by the government such as transport and the olympics and the construction of nuclear reactors.

    Finally, I’ll just remind everyone – this is about tradeoffs not panaceas. I’m for investment in renewables, but untill we get something which is workable on a large scale and cost-effective, we have to have an open mind to nuclear power.

    The reason I’m so passionate about this is that I can’t understand people who are rightly scared about global warming being so resistant to nuclear energy. This article is old but quite balanced and interesting.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4276461.stm

  15. cjcjc — on 26th September, 2008 at 3:01 pm  

    Dave – how selfish of you to add to the global population burden, erm, I mean congratulations of course!!

  16. Dave Cole — on 26th September, 2008 at 3:25 pm  

    I very much agree with you, Shariq.

    A few other points

    Nuclear waste
    This is a giant canard. We already have a lot of nuclear waste. Even if we shut down every existing reactor and never build another, the nuclear waste we already have will not go away. Figures from CoRWM suggest that a new generation of nuclear plants in Britain would increase the volume of nuclear waste by about 10%; granted, most of that increase would be high-level waste, but there’s HLW out there that we have to deal with anyway.

    Availability of nuclear fuel
    Dave S – I’m afraid you’re flat wrong. Uranium occurs naturally as 99.284% 238U is not fissile, it is fertile and can be transmuted to 239Pu or can be mixed with high-grade waste to form a fuel that can be used in reactors. Extraction of nuclear isotopes from seawater has been established as a viable concept. Estimates for the amount of nuclear fuel we have left from ten thousand to billions of years (http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/cohen.html and http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/ENF_Exploration_drives_uranium_resources_up_17_0206082.html).

    Your comment about the earth not being able to sustain our lifestyles is half accurate. It cannot sustain this many people with these lifestyles. If you know of a way to convince people to stop reproducing, commit mass suicide or drastically reduce their standard of living, I’d be interested to hear it. Until such time, we’re going to have to do what we can to keep ourselves going and nuclear, given that the emission of carbon gases is The Big Problem, looks like part of the answer.

    Safety
    Things have improved over the years. Comparing new nuclear power in the UK to Chernobyl is, I think, unfair. For one thing, most modern reactors are built so that you have to do things to keep them going and if you don’t do them, they stop running. Chernobyl, aside from being badly maintained, was quite the opposite, requiring constant operation to keep it from destroying itself.

    Renewables
    The big problem with most renewables is that their power production is not constant. Windmills don’t generate when it’s not windy, solar panels don’t generate when it’s not sunny. The issue is slightly different with tidal power, as tides are predictable but not constant. Part of the implementation of large-scale renewable power generation will involve better storage of energy. As we all know, you can’t store electricity but you can store power. A good example is Electric Mountain in Wales, which stores water in an upper reservoir, discharging it through turbines into a lower lake when it needs to produce electricity (at peak times) and pumping it back up (at around 80% efficiency) during the night when there is a surplus of electricity, dropping the price. Another option would be to use electricity from renewable sources to generate hydrogen, which could then be burnt for electricity, stored or even used in cars and the like.

    Renewable energy generation is a mature technology, but the means to fully use it is, IMHO, not.

    xD.

  17. halima — on 26th September, 2008 at 3:49 pm  

    If anyone needs reminding of the devastating results of nuclear testing in the Pacific Islands in the 1950s , here we are. These are the tests that resulted in Greenpeace raising awareness on children been born with problems, and the papers dubbed them at the time ‘jelly fish children..’ because they were half fish and half children.

    The journalist on this link is one of the few journalists who has made it out to this remote, remote atoll since the US blasted them in the 1950s. The report states that the waste on the bikini islands is still nuclear active and leaking – raising the spectre that the islanders may be living on top of a huge radio active dustbin, and a disaster is waiting to happen.

    http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2008/s2339403.htm

  18. halima — on 26th September, 2008 at 3:58 pm  

    Here is the UN report on the impact of nuke resting and radioactive pollution and the devasting effect on children with born with deformity known as’ jelly babies’

    http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/workshop_IPPE_Tagicakibau.doc

  19. Arif — on 26th September, 2008 at 7:13 pm  

    I think the world might be safer and more equal if power-generation would be more:

    - decentralised
    - unpolluting
    - based on resources which are relatively equally spread or mixed between a wide variety of resources so nothing is so valuable you’d fight each other for it

    So from that perspective, nuclear is at least similar to oil and coal – a bit more centralised, polluting in different ways, based on resources which people are willing to fight over.

    The only think in its particular favour may be that it is something to use in a small scale where very necessary, but as a massive global industry, it might just make uranium and other resources our next sources of violence, pollution and centralisation of power.

  20. Dave Cole — on 26th September, 2008 at 7:34 pm  

    Halima,

    The papers you cite refer to detonating nuclear weapons. Nuclear power stations are not nuclear weapons.

    Arif,

    Unpolluting, yes. However, given that the technology is not yet mature, we have to choose between the options available. I don’t know enough about grid decentralisation, but it has its own problems; it would effectively prohibit large-scale wind farms, such as has been proposed for the channel, as, from the point of view of the grid, these function as individual power stations.

    In any case, nuclear power generation is better characterised as a batch process rather than a flow process, quite apart from the smaller volumes needed.

    xD.

  21. halima — on 26th September, 2008 at 8:45 pm  

    “The papers you cite refer to detonating nuclear weapons. Nuclear power stations are not nuclear weapons.”

    If only the world would listen to Iran..

    I gave you a good example of a current example of nuclear waste in the world – sorta related to the section on the threat that refered to..er…

    What to do with Nuclear Waste?

    Lovelock also makes the same mistake link when he talks about .. among other things the Pacific Island in that conclusion section…though i disagree with this arguments.

    “One of the striking things about places heavily contaminated by radioactive nuclides is the richness of their wildlife. This is true of the land around Chernobyl, the bomb test sites of the Pacific, and areas near the United States’ Savannah River nuclear weapons plant of the Second World War. Wild plants and animals do not perceive radiation as dangerous, and any slight reduction..”

    I gave the most live example of empirical evidence on nulcear waste in the Pacific today. The people living in bikini islands are suffering from deformity as a result of eating vegetation and plant affected by radiation in the soil.

  22. Dave Cole — on 27th September, 2008 at 12:44 pm  

    Halima,

    That’s a bit like saying we should ban the mining of lead in car batteries because Iran might use it for batteries.

    The links you give refer to Operation Crossroads. The waste stored there is a result of irradiation from those tests. The fact that the storage isn’t up to scratch is a different issue. I’d say that the US should do something about it, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t go for nuclear at all, particularly as the alternative is continuing to pump out carbon.

    xD.

  23. halima — on 27th September, 2008 at 2:31 pm  

    Dave

    I don’t think I’ve argued much in my posts – except to say nuke waste leaking is damaging people and produced children with deformity in a remote pacific island which the world has pretty much forgotten . Seems it’s perferctly reasonable to point this out in a post that actually talked about the Pacific Island tests in the 50s.

    “That’s a bit like saying we should ban the mining of lead in car batteries because Iran might use it for batteries.”

    I think you missed my sarcasm – you pointed out like a nursary school teacher:

    “… Nuclear power stations are not nuclear weapons.”

    I was joking when I said tell this to Iran.

  24. fugstar — on 27th September, 2008 at 5:02 pm  

    ‘exellent news’.

    wow. how can the least worst consumer option and the most poisonous technological option which places a foreing organisation in a powerful energy position be ‘excellent news’.

    do you have any values at all?

    dont worry, your progeny (if you are able to in your nuclear reality) will be cave dwelling hippies.

  25. Rumbold — on 27th September, 2008 at 9:08 pm  

    Shamit:

    Interesting pieces. I must confess I don’t know that much about this whole debate. Thanks for the links.

    Dave S:

    Well done.

  26. opit — on 28th September, 2008 at 6:07 am  

    We don’t have the fuel. Worse, anybody proposing to mine more needs to be drawn and quartered. Politics ‘n Poetry at WordPress is currently inactive, but ran up a hummer of a record bringing up horror stories of how radioactive waste was killing people. ( As an unrelated issue, look up the Depleted Uranium info at Global Research.ca : radiation sickness isn’t selective )
    http://www.icucec.org/
    So, am I a defeatist ? Maybe not.
    http://ergosphere.blogspot.com/2006/11/sustainability-energy-independence-and.html
    http://www.katu.com/news/28432984.html

  27. Shamit — on 29th September, 2008 at 1:13 am  

    Rumbold – Thanks.

    On the energy front what frustrates me most about this particular policy is that this is no policy at all as it does not really address the issue

    Nuclear power has its supporters and detractors – and each side has its compelling arguments. Choosing one over the other would leave many bitterly disappointed and rightly so.

    But whats the point of having this debate in the UK? This debate is only appropriate when the Government is seriously attempting to address this issue.

    The attempts to claim this has been a bold and strategic decision falls flat when it is clear that nuclear power would be contributing less than 20% of our energy needs. And that is sometime after 2017. The Government has admitted so itself.

    We are going to be nowhere near meeting the EU pledge of having 15% of our energy needs through renewable sources. We will fail, again by the Government’s own admission, quite miserably.

    So, in effect, Government policy would ensure that in 2020 less than 35% of our energy needs would be met through renewable and nuclear energy.

    That does not reflect much vision or strategy in addressing the energy issue. It reeks of political rhetoric and very little substance — something the Prime Minister always chides David Cameron for.

    We will continue to use fossil fuel as, by far, the most dominant part of our energy mix well into the 2020s. If we are serious about changing the nature of our energy mix then we need to do far better than that.

    We could be for nuclear and renewable energy — but less than 35% in 20 years time. An inspiring strategic policy direction to change our energy future. Yeah right.

  28. sonia — on 29th September, 2008 at 10:51 am  

    Oh look, we can’t pay for the Olympics so we have to ask China. what a surprise.

    may as well ask China to pay for the nuclear power plants now.

    (or just take over the world, while they’re at it. seeing as so much of everyone’s debts are pretty much to them.)

  29. sonia — on 29th September, 2008 at 10:57 am  

    yes there’s nothing inspiring about this. its just the usual political trick to make it look like we have answers when we don’t.

  30. shariq — on 29th September, 2008 at 12:01 pm  

    Excellent comment Shamit. I think you rightly highlight just how big this problem and that discussions on things like nuclear power have to keep that in mind.

    Of course its even more frightening when you consider that the American public is completely unserious about global warming (although surprisingly both mccain and obama have dealt quite a lot with this issue)and the biggest developing economies don’t even have any targets.

  31. douglas clark — on 29th September, 2008 at 12:06 pm  

    Shariq,

    Whilst I’d be the first to agree with you that we ought to do something, anything, even, to free ourselves from carbon dioxide emmitters, you have slightly less faith in renewables than I do.

    One single project, the Severn Tidal Power Proposal has the potential to generate 5% of the UKs’ energy needs on it’s own. Which is, at least, a start.

    I’d like to see that fast tracked.

    See here:

    http://tinyurl.com/4gh82q

  32. Dave S — on 29th September, 2008 at 3:36 pm  

    Dave Cole @ 16:

    Uranium occurs naturally as 99.284% 238U is not fissile, it is fertile and can be transmuted to 239Pu or can be mixed with high-grade waste to form a fuel that can be used in reactors.

    Interesting. Do any such reactors exist? What type of reactors are they? Are they proven enough that they could be safely used on a larger scale?

    As far as I’m currently aware, any of the reactors that can use U238 as a fertile fuel (eg. fast breeders and so on) have suffered major safety issues and other technical problems which have made them basically unusable.

    I really am interested to know more, so if you have links I could look at, that would be great. Thanks!

  33. Dave Cole — on 30th September, 2008 at 12:59 pm  

    Dave S

    I believe that the largest FBR was the French Superphenix, which closed in 1997. It was rated at 1.1Gw, which is slightly less than Sizewell B. In fairness, Superphenix met a lot of opposition and, as a ‘first in class’, had teething problems. Information from the IAEA on Superphenix is here. In answer to your questions about being proven safe on a large scale, this does a reasonable job.

    Russia currently operates the BN600, producing 500MW. Monju, in Japan, is being started again and was rated at 280MW.

    There were problems with FBRs as they were a relatively new technology. These were not safety issues. There weren’t the same pressures on oil in the seventies and eighties to drive nuclear research; now that those are there, things are moving forward.

    The US, France and Japan are collaborating on a new generation of reactors – http://www.energy.gov/news/3218.htm

    India is researching a reactor called AHWR which will use thorium as its main fuel; India has lots of thorium!

    (whenever I mention a power rating, I mean watts electric, not watts thermal)

    xD.

  34. Dave S — on 1st October, 2008 at 11:22 pm  

    Dave Cole @ 33:
    Thanks for that. I’m going to look into the Superphenix a bit more.

    Unfortunately I can’t find the link right now, but I had previously read somewhere that most of the FBRs to date (including the Russian BN600) were usually run on U235 (I believe slightly less refined than required for a PWR), with other fuels used only on an occasional experimental basis.

    So still, as far as I’m aware, FBRs are very much an expensive experiment with a very limited degree of success and viability. The existence of new research projects in the field doesn’t appear to show otherwise, yet.

    I’m sure it is possible to get their design right so that they don’t pose a huge threat to the surrounding area. However, whether I trust anybody (company, government or even an autonomous group of entirely un-profit-motivated altruists) to actually do this is another question entirely!

    So perhaps with the exception of the Superphenix (which I’m going to look into more, and will do so with an open mind forgiving it’s teething troubles), I still get the impression from what you’ve posted that FBRs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

    Also, when you said:

    There were problems with FBRs as they were a relatively new technology. These were not safety issues.

    So you don’t consider a major coolant fire (Monju) or coolant corrosion and leaks (Superphenix) to be safety issues? Not even when that coolant violently reacts with both air and water?

    It seems to me that surrounding a high density reactor core with a volatile liquid sodium coolant isn’t a particularly good idea! Back to the drawing board on that one, I reckon…

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