My Thoughts on Nuclear

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You may want some facts on nuclear in order to prove that nuclear is either more “good” than “bad” or, vice versa, more “bad” than “good.” And yes, I will provide some in this article, but the point of the matter when it comes to nuclear energy is that we don’t yet have the needed facts to adequately weigh nuclear energy’s costs and benefits…. but if we did, it seems impossible they would put nuclear in the “good” category.

We here at CleanTechnica have remained conspicuously quiet on the topic of nuclear energy over the past couple of weeks, and this lack of facts is probably one reason why, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have strong opinions on the matter. In the midst of all the chaos, I, for one, did not feel that adding more noise to the matter would be very helpful at the time. But I have been reading about nuclear more than ever, am very interested in it, and think that I now have some useful points to make, now that we are moving towards a more “level-headed” discussion of its merits and downsides.

There is one main thing about nuclear that is critical to my view that we should not continue pursuing it, and there are two other important and supportive issues that bolster that point of view, in my opinion.

Before I get into those things, though, I want to lead into them with a little discussion on the hot topic of the last day or two — that coal causes many more deaths than nuclear. Seth Godin and Next Big Future recently highlighted information from the World Health Organization and a European study on death rates per energy source to “show” that nuclear causes tremendously fewer deaths per TWh than coal or oil, or even any other energy source (including solar and wind). This would be really critical information.. if the future matched the past. But it is the very important issue of time that makes this information a lot less useful than one might think.

The death rate based on information up until now makes nuclear look very good, but what would the death rate into infinity look like?

This brings me into my #1 issue with nuclear.

The graph above shows, roughly, the length of time humans are known to have existed with the length of time plutonium-242 remains radioactive. Homo sapiens have existed for about 500,000 years. “Modern humans” for only 200,000 years. Nuclear waste can remain radioactive for several times longer than that.

Who can ever claim to create mechanisms for ensuring that radioactive waste remains out of the air, water, and our food for such a long period of time? Who can claim to create a containment vessel that will last so long?

While the death rate of nuclear energy may be rather small at the moment, who can even attempt to identify anything close to the death rate caused by radioactive waste that lasts for much longer than humans have been in existence?

Sure, the chance of an earthquake and tsunami causing problems like in Japan were pretty small, but the chances of such things or much worse happening over the course of millions of years (with radioactive waste presumably growing each extremely short year), are probably pretty freakin’ high. Not that anyone could come up with such a statistic, since we are completely unable to predict the risks we will be facing in one thousand years, let alone one million.

Here are a few good quotes I’ve picked up on this subject that I hope help to convey the point (links to the sources, both of which are definitely worth reading in full, are at the beginning of each quote):

[N]uclear waste lasts forever. That’s the real horror of Fukushima – that the spread of radioactive material could make an entire chunk of Japan uninhabitable. We could afford to be smug if we knew how to deal with our nuclear waste. But we don’t.

Spent fuel continues to pile up in a nuclear waste stream that will have to be closely managed and monitored for eons, so long that those designing nuclear-waste repositories struggle with the problem of signage that might be intelligible in a future so distant today’s languages may not be understood.  You might think that a danger virulent enough to outlast human languages would be a danger to avoid, but the hubris of the nuclear establishment is equal to its willingness to deceive.

A natural disaster, accident, or terrorist attack that might be statistically unlikely in any year or decade becomes ever more likely at the half-century, century, or half-millennium mark.  Given enough time, in fact, the unlikely becomes almost inevitable.  Even if you and I are not the victims of some future apocalyptic disturbance of that lethal residue, to consign our children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren to such peril is plainly and profoundly immoral.

So, that is my big issue with nuclear. And I am in wonder, in complete wonder, at how that can not be an issue for everyone else….

Now, I said there are two supportive points that help me in my opposition to nuclear energy.

One is regarding our need to address global warming and climate change, which could also harm billions of people and have consequences lasting longer than we can possibly conceive. Many argue that nuclear is needed to cut global warming emissions. However, a number of studies have shown that we actually can do without both nuclear and fossil fuels with a stronger focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy. (More to come on that in future articles.) The clinging-for-life claim that we need nuclear is just that, a claim — & a well-sold one I would add.

The other point is regarding cost. While it shouldn’t take much thinking to realize that the true life-cycle cost of nuclear is much greater than that reflected in the price we pay for electricity from it, some people only care about short-term economics — well, most politicians and most of the public seem to only care about that. The good news is, however, the rising cost of new nuclear plants and the quickly falling cost of renewable energy options, are making renewable energy a better option even in the short-short-term. The better option, even in this narrow realm, is to move away from nuclear.

Well, each of those paragraphs could be several pages long (or even a full book long), but I know that lengthy articles are not what blogs are all about and most people aren’t willing to read pieces that are too long, so — throw your corrections, counterarguments, or words of agreement in the comments below.

Top Photo via James Marvin Phelps
Chart via nuclear-news

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

Zachary Shahan has 7134 posts and counting. See all posts by Zachary Shahan

48 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Nuclear

  • Your point are valid, but fossil fuel pollution/ CO2 are a much greater hazard over the next 100 years. Nuclear buys some time to field alternative technologies. For those interested in alternative energy and/or climate change, anti-nuclear is counterproductive in the short- to medium-term. Your time and effort would be far better directed against coal. Politically, you’re uniting coal and nuclear when it would be better to drive a wedge between them.

    • I do focus a lot more attention on coal, and don’t see myself as uniting them. The arguments against them are quite different.

      I would be on board with your first assertion if i thought we could do more per $ focusing on nuclear than on other technologies. as a commenter above notes, the time it takes to get nuclear online is tremendous (a critical issue at this point in the climate change challenge). additionally, the cost per GG emissions savings doesn’t compare to a focus on energy efficiency and renewables from what i’ve read…

      i have been tentatively supportive of nuclear in the past. i have changed course for these reasons and a few others (some mentioned above & some that i will communicate in a coming post)

  • Your argument makes two assumptions:

    1. That technology to reprocess nuclear fuel will never become viable enough to turn long-lived radioactive elements into less harmful, shorter-lived elements. If we assume that there will be innovations in wind and solar, can’t we also assume that there will be innovations in nuclear fuel reprocessing or fast breeder reactors? You don’t think that in 500,000 years we’ll develop some viable/economical way to reprocess spent fuel?

    2. That nuclear power will keep rising in cost while renewables will keep reducing in cost. This ignores work on things like small modular reactors which could greatly reduce the up-front capital costs of nuclear power through the mass production of reactor components. I agree that we don’t have the type of electricity growth in the U.S. to make large nuclear plants worth the money; however, China does, and they’re going full steam ahead with nuclear power.

    So far, only two major economies in the world have greatly decarbonized their economy (CO2/GDP). One is France, and the other is Sweden, and both did it with nuclear power (plus hydropower for Sweden).

    • thanks for the extra perspective, Scott. useful comments

  • On the waste issue, this has already been considered, and I believe the health risks from the waste are included in atleast some life cycle analysis. For some depth, check out health physicist Bernard Cohen’s look at the matter.

    Also, what about waste transmutation? With for example the fast reactor, the vast majority of long lived actinides can be destroyed.

  • Nuclear waste was already well-understood in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the suggestion that it could ever be a deal-breaker would then have seemed like a lie that the fossil fuel interests would never stoop to. But they did.

    ORIGEN, the program that tells how nuclear waste radioactivity diminishes, should be free, so that the nuclear waste lie could be more easily refuted by amateurs. It’s not, but I did get hold of a sampling of its output.

    It turns out that between 1.1 days and 100 years, nuclear waste loses 99.6 percent of its radioactivity. In the 29,900 years after that, it loses more than 98 percent of what’s left, but the first century’s reduction is enough to make it tiny compared to the similar radioactivities in the top 1 metre of the Earth’s crust.

    Burying it much deeper guarantees that it will never harm us in much the same way that sinking the Titanic guaranteed that the salt in its pantries would never make the oceans undrinkable.

    That is to say: the frequent assertion that we cannot prudently bury nuclear waste and forget it is, simply and absolutely, a lie.

    • thanks for the info… if that is true,.. it would make nuclear a lot more logical from an environmental safety standpoint

  • First to let you know where I’m coming from, I consider myself agnostic on the issue of nuclear power. For me it still remains an option which we may or may not have to go with in the future. However my lack of conviction on what to do also extends to all of the renewable technologies currently on the table.

    Let us not underestimate the impact of the coming carbon crisis. This has the potential to impact every man, woman and child on the face of the planet! That might seem like a throwaway remark, but it isn’t. Aside from the global warming aspects, when we do begin to run out of oil, the impact of this has the capacity to completely change society as a whole.

    I aggree with you that energy efficiency has a crucial role to play, and if anything this is where I believe we must focus out efforts now, as this is the only place I believe we can verfiably spend money and hope to achieve reasonable results. However for me, even with energy savings I cannot see renewables taking up the necessary slack that will still remain. The reason for this is that renewables cannot supply a reliable constant stream of energy 34-7, 365 days a year, that wewill still need, even with adavnces on energy savings. To be successful we will have to install a multiple of our energy requirements (what that number is I don’t believe anyone knows right now) and in tandem build some kind of energy storage facilities (right now this looks like reversible hydro). Let us understand that this is a monumental undertaking, and there will certainly be environmental effects, should we go installing tens of thousands of wind turbines all over the planet. Maybe this is a price we’re willing to pay, maybe it’s not, but I absolutely believe that the price of so-called ‘clean’ renewables has not yet been made remotely clear either in monetary or environmental terms.

    • thanks for the additional commentary, Colin. i’m doing a follow-up piece on a number of the issues you bring up above. maybe two. & i think this will help a bit with the framing of that/those.

    • Colin, I’m off the grid. I have been for about 25 years. I get most of my power from PV solar, storing power against the dark hours in batteries. I get a small portion of my power from a gas generator but can (and soon will) replace the gas generator with a small wind turbine. I have multiple friends who get ~100% of their power form renewables.

      I have zero doubt that “renewables (can) supply a reliable constant stream of energy 34-7, 365 days a year”.

      In the November, 2009 issue of Scientific America Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi published an article titled A Plan for a Sustainable Future: How to get all energy from wind, water, and solar power by 2030

      Jacobson and Delucchi present a blueprint for getting almost 100% of the world’s energy needs (electricity, transportation and heat) from renewables.

      They used population projections and increased standard of living projections to determine the amount of power for both electricity and transportation needed in 2030.
      Result: 10.5 terawatts (TW).

      They surveyed the world’s available energy sites to determine how much power was available.
      They report that:
      1) Solar power in sunny locations can power the entire world for all purposes 30 times over.
      2) Wind in windy locations on or near land can power the world 6 to 15 times over.
      3) Only 0.4% of the entire planet’s physical land would be needed to power everyone, everywhere with wind, water and sunlight.

      Roughly sources of power break down in the following proportions:
      1.1 TW tidal, geothermal, and hydro (9%)
      5.8 TW wind and wave (51%)
      4.6 TW solar (PV and CSP) (40%)

      At this point in time we have about 70% of the hydro installed, about 2% of the wind generation, and less than 1% of each of the others.

      They acknowledge that some liquid fuel will likely be need for some types of transportation.

      They calculate the amount of each technology we would have to install each year in order to reach the goal of essentially 100% renewable in 20 years.

      They calculate the amount of materials needed to build renewable systems and find no significant problems meeting the need.

      Here’s the entire article.

  • 242Pu’s halflife is about 15 times as long as Pu-239’s halflife; therefore it is 1/15 as radioactive and not one of the larger contributors to nuclear waste radioactivity.

  • My thing is this. If we put the amount of capital and resources and public insurance (we assume the risk – GE assumes the profit on nukes) – into both promoting and saturation of existing markets with current generation renewables and measures that support their deployment AND research and development of the next generations of renewables – We would not need to have this conversations at all.

    Oil and nuclear are massive private interests which are publicly subsidized. The taxpayer needs to say no and turn THEIR funds to solutions which do not endanger the present or the future. Oil is subsidized by the entire US military defending and taking access to it by force when diplomacy doesn’t work and nuclear cannot be built without the public agreeing to ALL of the fiscal risk which is HUGE.

    The conversation is not between technologies but between private and public interests.

    • agreed, agreed, agreed, &… agreed.

      • I don’t agree that oil is subsidized. If it were, government would discourage oil consumption and perhaps make it contingent on getting through bureaucratic hoops.

        And yet subsidies clearly exist.

        The solution to this conundrum, I believe, is that the net of subsidies and special tax revenues is about -99 on the scale where the subsidies are 1. That is say, excise taxes and royalties on oil (and natural gas) so greatly exceed the subsidies that, net, governments are the largest profit-takers on these commodities.

        Nuclear energy is not subsidized, but people who are sensitive to taps on the public purse — perhaps because they are, themselves, just such taps — can perhaps be excused for perceiving the loss of fossil fuel income that nuclear energy inflicts on governments with money going out. That is to say, confusing a stoppage of money coming in to an outflow.

        • G.R.L.: i don’t know how you can say that oil is not subsidized? it is subsidized ridiculously. & the same goes for nuclear… where in the world could you get such an idea?

  • Pingback: How Risky is it For Germany to Shutter its Nuclear? – CleanTechnica: Cleantech innovation news and views

  • Should we build new nuclear reactors? We can decide that by asking three simple questions.

    1) Is it quick to bring on line compared to other forms of producing electricity?

    The Chinese think they can get construction down to five years in a command economy. The Finns are hoping that they can finally get their new reactor up and going in 14 years.

    We can’t possibly build a bunch of new reactors in a hurry. We do not have the trained and experienced workers to do the job. If we want steel containment domes we’d have to wait years as we climb up the waiting list or take several years to build a new foundry.

    A large wind farm can be brought on line in under two years. A large solar array in a few months. There’s not a lot of need for skills other than those readily available in our very experienced construction trades.

    And because the skills needed for wind and solar are so common among the population we can many projects underway at the same time.

    2) Is it cheaper than other ways to produce power?

    Clearly new nuclear is not as cheap as natural gas turbines or wind. It’s almost certainly more expensive than geothermal. Within a short period of new nuclear won’t be even as cheap as PV solar as solar prices continue their rapid fall. Thermal solar with molten salts storage will be cheaper than new nuclear.

    If we want to get a good idea of what new reactors would cost all we have to do is to look at the turnkey bids submitted in the last year or so at Ontario and San Antonio. Power that would have been around $0.20/kWh.

    3) Is it safe?

    We could simply start with mining for uranium. That creates a lot of environmental hazard. Then there is melting down and other accidental releases. Finally there is the problem of spent fuel and contaminated reactor sites.

    A wind tower falls and, what? A cow get killed so we have an unscheduled BBQ?

    Nuclear fails on all three tests. It’s not fast to install. It’s not cheap. And it’s not safe.

    • Bob, as is common for you, truly excellent additional points. Thanks for contributing.

      Th latter two are strong points supporting my commentary above. The first one, however, is crucial given that most of the push for nuclear now is to combat global climate change… the money would be much better spent on renewables and energy efficiency

  • I am not worried about the longterm effects of radiation because I am sure we will manage to destroy our climate in less than 100 years so radiation will be the least of our worries. I watched an interview tonight with the CEO of NRG Energy on CNN and he was saying that solar and wind power will never be major producers of power in the world because they are not dependable and we don’t have any way of storing the energy. He was also saying that pretty much all the new power plants that will be built will be natural gas powered. I also read an article today about how China is building 2 new experimental reactors that use baseball sized plutonium balls surrounded with inches of graphite. The graphite slows down the reaction so that if there ever is a problem at the plant the plutonium never goes critical. They were also saying that the whatever nuclear fuel they use is much less radioactive and therefore easier to store. I think they called it a pebble bed reactor. Have you ever heard of that? Seems like a solution if it turns out to be legit.

    • i’m going to do a follow-up on solar/wind/other renewable potential… think this is more of a political argument than technical one.

      i’m mostly focused on addressing global climate change and read about it obsessively, so you can be sure that i’m as concerned about our lack of movement on that front as anyone. but i think compounding those problems with nuclear waste problems (imagine the flooded or other natural-disaster-wrecked nuclear problems we could be facing on the track we’re on with climate change).

      i have heard of better nuclear technologies, & am not an expert on this, but i am yet to see anything that completely eases my concerns (or eases them enough to make me think of nuclear as “clean” energy that should be promoted & expanded)

  • Good post. Gives a detailed account on Nuclear Power.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  • Short, but very good article. I could also help you name many more arguments against nuclear energy.

    I recently read statement supposedly made by Albert Einstein, “Nuclear Power is one hell of a way to boil water!” I haven’t been able to find the source of this quote regarding when or to whom he said this, but certainly fits with his many other comments regarding nuclear power.

    I was 16 years old when all hell broke at Chernobyl. Since then, I have kept up with news about nuclear accidents and the health consequences. Serious accidents at nuclear plants are more common than most people realize. Just over the last year or so, there have been 14 serious accidents in the United States alone.

    Besides that, there are many more releases of radiation. Often times, these incidents are covered up by the companies running the plants. Sometimes, even with the help of the governments. These types of incidents barely get any coverage in the mainstream press.

    We can see how difficult it’s been to get the public to take Global Warming and CLimate Change seriously. People just can’t understand that a one or two degree celcious change in average temperature doesn’t mean there won’t be any more snowstorms.

    So, how can we expect people to understand the enormity of the dangers from nuclear energy? We are talking about something they can’t see, can’t hear, can’t taste, or smell, or feel, so how can we expect them to understand the dangers? It would be like asking them to believe in God (very dry Sarcasm).

    Then, we are talking about extreme measures of time. The permanence of the poisoned land at Chernobyl is incomprehensible. And when people hear about a half life of 26 years, they think ‘That’s not bad!’

    Again, the time between cause and effect is usuallly measured in years or decades, not in fractions of a second. People expect all the dying to be similar to one of their favorite movies: There is a slow motion crash, then back to real time and you get the dramatic explosion and the bodies flying away. When a baby is poisoned, they will only start really getting sick when they are 6 or 8 or 10 years old. Then, it is easy to deny the real reason they are sick.

    Chernobyl alone poisoned 80,000,000 acres. This is an area larger than Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky combined. It’s larger than the state of New Mexico.

    There have been about 440 Commercial and Research reactors around the globe. 26 of those have had major failures. So, we have a ratio of 26/440 or about 6%. With only about 425 operating reactors around the world (excluding ships), we can’t expect there to be a Fukushima or Chernobyl every day, but this is what many people expect to see before they can understand that something is ‘dangerous’. They can only think with a single idea at a time: all the other factors, the incredible enormity of all the numbers involved, passes by them without consideration. They can’t ‘see’ it, they can’t ‘feel’ it: It is not real, not genuine.

    A reactor can ‘safely’ produce electricity for 40 years or so, then the site must be decommisioned during a time of 10 years or more (probably many years more), and the land itself will be poisoned for another 200 years or more. Here, you are assuming that the waste has been transported to some other location, but of course we know there are no permanent storage facilities anywhere in the world. So, we have the cart before the horse, don’t we?

    OK, we have this nuclear equation: 40 years of electricity -VS- 200 years of poisoned land + hundreds of thousands of years of Radioactive waste + a 6% chance of another Fukushima or Chernobyl with 80,000,000 poisoned acres + an untold number of deaths + unspeakable birth defects + countless sick and terribly suffering children + the grief of their parents, families, and friends.

    I could write more, but unfortunately, at this moment I have family business to attend to…

    • Dmitry, excellent follow-up. Some points I thought about but didn’t include, and plenty of other points and info well worth adding. Thank You for sharing.

  • A great man once said ” Greed is Good “. The question we should ask ourselves every morning when we awake is ” What do I want today ? ”
    I WANT a nuclear plant thats safer, economical, reduces waste and prevents formation of material for nuclear weapons. Everyone who reads this should look into Generation IV nuclear power plants. Thorium reactors. They’re coming online soon in other places around the world.
    To get up to speed –>

    One of the most powerful women in the world runs the biggest nuclear company in world, Areva. In regards to safety pay close attention to what she says around 3mins 40 seconds in this interview done a month ago.

    The green tech race is up & running. The competition in this industry is driving great innovation.
    ps Being a derivatives trader, please dont think I dont know the downside of “Greed is Good”.

  • I think the final issue to be addressed would be the baseload power issue. I’d like to see us go in the direction of home-based ultracapacitors.

    • Could you share more on that?

      I’m looking to do a follow-up piece on this & related topics soon

    • Baseload power is a concept we should toss out.

      When we use the term baseload we start thinking that we need some sort of power generation that runs 24/365. We think we need coal and nuclear.

      What we really need is power when we need it. Wind is cheap. Solar is getting cheap. We can let wind and solar be the main suppliers of our new grid. And then let storage and dispatchable power fill in the gaps.

      Take a look at the figures half-way down this page on the right.

      See how wind and solar ebb and flow on a summer day in California?

      See how natural gas usage drops from 54% to 18%?

      Think about how we could install additional wind and solar along with storage and use the available hydro for dispatchable backup and cut that 18% even lower.

      Think about how we could use that same mix of renewables along with more hydro, geothermal, tidal, efficiency and load shifting to replace the coal and nuclear at the bottom of the graphs.

      Let’s quit talking about baseload and instead talk about power when we need it.

      • Excellent comments here, Bob. I’m looking to cover this topic in a full post (or a few) and you’ve added some good points & resources.

  • The first thing to remember about spent nuclear fuel is how little there really is of it. Fissioning 100 grams of uranium produces enough energy to supply you with 1 kilowatt of electricity for your entire life. Fifty years of using nuclear power has left the US with about 70,000 tons of spent fuel. For comparison, with that much concrete you could build a four-lane highway … about 2 miles long.

    The second thing is that nuclear waste *doesn’t* last forever. After 3 half-lives 7/8ths is gone; after 10, 99.9% is gone. Radioactivity is inversely proportional to half-life. The iodine-131 that’s such a concern right now is fiercely radioactive, but its half-life is only 8 days. People have to avoid absorbing it for the next few weeks but then it’ll be gone. Caesium-137 and strontium-90 are the important fission products with the longest half-lives — about 30 years. That’s long enough that they’ll be around for a human lifetime, but they’ll be gone in a few centuries.

    As for the really long-lived isotopes, we already know that minimal treatment would be adequate, because the experiment has been done, under the worst possible conditions — no treatment, no containment, immersed in mobile ground water.
    “Remarkably, most of the non-volatile fission products and actinides have only moved centimeters in the veins during the last 2 billion years.[3] This offers a case study of how radioactive isotopes migrate through the Earth’s crust[6]—a significant area of controversy as opponents of geologic nuclear waste disposal fear that releases from stored waste could end up in water supplies or be carried into the environment.”

    Which is not to say that we should simply dump the stuff in a trench out in a desert, but worrying about containing it for “millions of years” is a waste of time. We’re currently paying about $300,000 per ton of spent fuel into the government fund. That ought to be sufficient to package the stuff in glass or whatever and bury it deep in some stable, dry piece of geology out in the middle of nowhere.

    Did you know that, despite all the wrangling over Yucca Mountain, the US has had a nuclear waste disposal facility in operation for over a decade?

    You may also be interested in these:

    • Bill, thanks for all the extra info.

      i’m sorry to say that i still think the long-term risk of the longest-radioactive waste is still not adequately accounted for, and even the cost of trying to keep it out of our food & water is not adequately accounted for.

      looking at the waste that has accumulated over a few decades doesn’t do much for me if we are pushing nuclear expansion and indefinite use of nuclear energy.

      maybe i’m just pessimistic on this front, or maybe i’m logically cautious

    • The above argument about the small amount of waste is ridiculous, for two reasons. Just the spent fuel rods can wreak havoc, as we are seeing in Japan now. They need to be constantly bathed in a flow of cool water… any breakdown in society, in electric supply, or an earthquake or terror attack, creates a nearly impossible situation for maintaining safety. People simply do not understand how vicious and conscience-less the nuclear industry is; not saying you Bill Woods are in that category, but the propoganda is carefully manipulated to sell people on using nuclear energy, by those who make the plants.

      Second, the amount of high radiation waste is indeed RELATIVELY small, but is correspondingly highly, highly toxic and radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. And the amount of mid-level and low-level radiation released into the environment is far, far greater.

      Zach makes the very good point that when we watch day by day, year by year, we see little danger with nuclear power. But people died as a result of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island due to radiation, and now in Japan. If we start a vigorous campaign of more nuclear plants, over time we will have more and more abandoned areas like the one around Chernobyl. We do not need to do this to the planet and ourselves. Renewable energy is much greater than the needs of the planet now, and can be built by our combined efforts. It is not a question of cost, but is a question of will power, because the distributed nature of wind and other sources allows grass roots development of renewable sources, given a bit of education and support by governments.

      Just some thoughts, based on years of reviewing literature on these topics.

    • The nuclear waste fund after all these years does not even have enough to transport all the US wastes to a central facility, much less guard it for the many thousands of years required. There is no container that can outlast high level waste. According the the NRC report on the Yucca Mountain repository even the solid titanium cover is expected to last far less than required. Concrete and steel do not last long enough. There is no way to predict whether earthquakes may open fissures in bedrock over the length of time required. To leave such hazards for longer than the recorded history of mankind is unconscionable. It may be a waste of your time to be concerned with future generations, but it will certainly be worth their time. And all that for a few decades of electricity that can be made cleaner, cheaper and without long term hazard.

  • Hi Zachary,

    I read your article completely and have to say I disagree with you.

    I wrote two years ago an article ( ) why I was – and still am – supporting nuclear. To we, the antagonism between renewables and nuclear is preposterous as to me, we need both as they complete each other.

    On top of the ten reasons outlined in my article above, I found since two more :
    1. nuclear power recycles USSR missiles and bombs (cf. Old nuclear weapons generate electricity )
    2. it’s basically, the death rate per TWh you are referring to in your article. I am not really troubled by the long term effects : we will be recycling our waste soon I believe…

    Sure thing, what occured in Chernobyl 25 years ago, and what takes place in Fukushima is horrible… But did we stop using Hydro after the Banqiao dam failure ?

    I look forward to debating with you, with my most sincere regards,

    • Edouard, thanks for the links — I will check them out. I’m planning to write a follow-up piece on the “need” for nuclear and want to make sure i read as much of the argument for it as i can beforehand.

      i hope we can find a way to recycle the waste as well,.. but not going to base my position on that at this point — don’t see much promising evidence that we will be able to yet

      there are a number of reason why the public didn’t respond the same to the dam failure — of course, the public seems to have a very emotional reaction to nuclear. but i think it all comes down to that one very important factor — the length of time radioactive waste remains harmful..

      i was on the line about nuclear for awhile, so i am not one of those anti-nuclear just bcs folks,.. so appreciate learning more. but i think i make the argument for why i’m not into nuclear above quite clearly…

      hoping for the best, but trying to promote the most logical action now

    • It appears only baseless assertions about reprocessing are allowed on this post. It has failed in cost, and waste reduction.

      • As I stated above: Your comments weren’t blocked — our system holds any comments with links. I don’t live on here 24/7 and sometimes takes a few hours to get to approving a comment.

  • Hi Zachary

    I wrote the deaths per TWh article.

    I also wrote lifetime deaths per TWh

    Plutonium in perspective

    Your talk about specks of nuclear material related to nuclear power assumes that there will be deaths caused by those specs. The body can recover from minor damage. Also, there was 10 tons of plutonium in the atmosphere from the 500 above ground nuclear tests. That has been settling out and becoming part of the crust again. When it is in the crust it is about as safe as uranium of which there are trillions of tons in the crust and 4 billion tons in the ocean.

    Mercury and arsenic have no half life and are waste from coal. Along with toxic metals. The mercury is why they have the warnings about eating tuna for pregnant women and children.

    In terms of future deaths, by killing 2 million people this year, fossils fuels were killing their potential decendents too in the cases where they were killed before having children. The scale of deaths from air pollution is comparable to the combat deaths from world war 2. I fail to see how some statistical death or two thousands or millions of years from now is relevant. Plus the statistical future deaths from coal, oil and natural gas will still be thousands of times more.

    Brian Wang

  • Westinghouse has a new small modular reactor design that is built in a factory and can be transported by train. They can be built really quickly and this brings the cost of nuclear power down by 30% or so. I believe that would make it much more competitive. Here is the link.

    • Sounds like the semi-modular design that bill Gates is betting on?

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  • I cannot imagine how this site can claim to be a clean energy site when information is blocked for the public from well respected sites like Union of Concerned Scientists.

    • As I’ve just stated twice: They weren’t blocked — our system holds any comments with links. I don’t live on here 24/7 and sometimes takes a few hours to get to approving a comment.

  • A very nicely written article, just the right length for a blog post.

    May I adjust the sentence “The clinging-for-life claim that we need nuclear is just that, a claim — & a well-sold one I would add.” to read: “The clinging-for-life claim that we need nuclear is just that, a claim — & a well-paid-for and well-sold one, I would add.”

  • They weren’t blocked — our system holds any comments with links. I don’t live on here 24/7 and sometimes takes a few hours to get to approving a comment.

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