Is Nuclear Power Viable?
By Bryan Walsh Friday, Jun. 06, 2008
Nuclear power was the energy of Tomorrowland — in the 1950s it was going to make electricity too cheap to meter — until it came to a standstill over the past couple decades. It's now poised to make a dramatic comeback.
After a burst of construction between the 1950s and late 1970s, a new nuclear power plant hasn't come on line in the U.S. since 1996, and some nations like Germany are looking to phase out existing atomic plants. That reverse is chiefly due to safety concerns — the lingering Chernobyl fears of nuclear meltdown, or the fact that we still have yet to devise a long-term method for the disposal of atomic waste. (more...)
Especially the last sentence here quoted prompted me to author a reply and send it to the editor. Of course it wasn't until the mail had been sent that I saw that the article is 5 months old and that whoever blogged about this was in fact way too late.
Michael wrote:Hello Bryan!
In your column "Is Nuclear Power Viable?" you claim the following:
"[We] still have yet to devise a long-term method for the disposal of atomic waste."
While the politics of this issue is far from over, the technology is already here. The Swedish waste disposal company SKB (Svensk Kärnbränslehantering) is now well underway planning their first nuclear waste disposal site in Sweden. Their deep geological storage method KBS-3 is long since proven safe. Their current research is best characterized as putting decorations on the frosting. It's just a matter of touching up the margins.
KBS-3 har been proven safe, not only by SKB's own research with calculations; risk assessments; simulations, but also by Mother Nature herself. Naturally occuring nuclear phenomena, such as the natural reactors in Oklo, Gabon, Africa, or the uranium deposit in Cigar Lake, Canada have conclusively proven that deep geological repositories have an extraordinary ability to contain nuclear waste. We are talking about a migration rate for things like plutonium that is measured in mere inches over billions of years. Not even under the most horrendous of storage conditions will radioactive actinoides like plutonium migrate away from the storage site.
So your claim is in fact wrong, because there is at least one method: deep geological repositories. They are safe and reliable.
Those that try to cast doubt on that quite simply don't know what they are talking about because the arguments they use have already been explored, researched and dismissed by science. The reports are all there, openly publicized. In the end the opposition is left with nothing but FUD arguments (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) in the form of their worn out old "We don't know for sure" nonsense.
Then we can start talking about fast breeder reactors or using a closed thorium fuel cycle instead of the terribly ineffeicient and wasteful open uranium cycle. Efficient fuel cycles lessens the danger time of nuclear waste to a few hundreds of years, as opposed to hundreds of thousands of years. This is while at the same time lessening the amount of nuclear waste per unit of energy by a factor of ten to fifty.
Even if you don't believe the global warming alerts, you need only look at the damage that pollutants from combustible fuels do to the population to see a clear case for nuclear power. We are talking about thousands of people dieing prematurely every year due to particle pollution from fossil fuels and other combustibles. Concidering that that the casualty count from Three Mile Island is zero, in terms of dead, injured or cancer, we reach the astounding conclusion that your car is a worse killer than is a meltdown in a US nuclear power plant.
And please don't bring up Chernobyl in discussions like this unless you want to make yourself look really silly. Everyone in the nuclear world knew since far before April 26, 1986 that graphite-moderated, lightwater-cooled reactors were a recipe for disaster. The RBMK rectors of Chernobyl, based on 1950's Soviet nuclear technology, have about as much in common with any of the modern western world pressure- or boiler-water reactors as had Cold War Soviet socialism anything in common with Western world democracy. You just can't make the comparison since they are different in every aspect, all the way down to subatomic level.
To answer your question, is nuclear power viable, I would have to say no. Calling it 'viable' is an understatement. It is in fact crucial to meet our current and future energy needs.
with best regards
/Michael Karnerfors, Lund, Sweden