Nuke the whales

According to this story in the Winston-Salem Journal, the debate about nucular energy is pretty much over. How else can you interpret the fact that the Secretary of Energy says our government will be providing incentives for new construction of nucular plants?

The nation's top energy official announced a plan yesterday to provide incentives to companies willing to build the first nuclear plants in 30 years, offering $2 billion in federal insurance for the construction of six plants.

"I think it's time for the nation that invented this technology to reassert its leadership," said Samuel Bodman, the secretary of energy.

The United States has 103 nuclear-power plants in 31 states, but utilities have not proposed a new reactor since 1973. High costs and debate over where to store radioactive waste bogged down construction efforts, and a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in 1979 in Pennsylvania put an end to plans for new reactors. But with energy prices on the rise, supporters of nuclear power have promoted it as a way to generate cheaper electricity without churning out greenhouse gases.

Bodman said that 12 utilities are expected to file papers over the next three years to build 18 reactors. The insurance plan would provide up to $500 million in coverage for the first two plants and up to $250 million for the next four plants.

"This program is crucial, we believe, to reinvigorating the American nuclear-power industry," Bodman told employees of Georgia Power Co. during a visit to Atlanta.

Georgia Power, which provides electricity to the Atlanta area, might take up Bodman's offer. The company is considering building a reactor at its Plant Vogtle site near Waynesboro, Ga.

"It's a very long process. So in order to keep that option open, we are actually taking steps right now that will at least allow us to be in the running," said Carol Boatwright, a company spokeswoman.

In March, Duke Energy Corp. chose a site in Cherokee County, S.C., for a possible nuclear-power plant. Duke officials are working with Southern Co., an electric-utility company based in Atlanta, to develop the site upstate.

Over the past six years, the Bush sadministration has ignored science about climate change, dragged its feet on funding for renewable energy, and helped line the pockets of Big Oil Companies, which are now reporting record profits every quarter. Regarding this convergence of events, Dick Cheney would say, "I love it when a plan comes together."

If things go according to Darth Cheney's plan, we'll soon be trading in our old Global Warming Crisis for a brand spanking new Radioactive World Crisis! Oh joy.


Oh my goodness....

That was funny...and I'm so glad you didn't link to some of the really sad images and stories that are out there. I spend a morning reading about the aftermath one day and was depressed and worried for days. Scary stuff and we're getting ready to move closer to McGuire. We are along the evacuation route and we're close enough that they should just post signs along the road that say - "You can evacuate if you want, but you're already totally screwed." Ish....

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The problem is management, not radiation

Well, just so I don't get a reputation as a knee-jerk liberal, let me admit that I think we need more nuclear power plants. The environmental and political costs of our current ways of generating electricity are simply unacceptable, IMNSHO.

That said, I am worried by Bodman's statement that "the nation that invented this technology to reassert its leadership". I think that the way the US has built and managed nuclear power plants is a prime example of where capitalism doesn't work very well.

Let me give a couple of quick examples:

  • our nuclear plants do not use a standard design
  • construction on many nuclear plants began before their non-standard designs were even finished, leading to cost-increases when the plans
    were changed or discovered to be defective
  • the US seems wedded to US technology (what worries me about Bodman's statement). According to Wired magazine countries such as China have invented much safer ways to generate power from uranium (they can't
    melt down, for example).

A few months ago I had the chance to speak with a man who manages a conventional power plant. It turned out that he had been in the US Navy a few decades ago and had been trained to work on nuclear submarines (although he was apparently never deployed on one). I asked him what he thought about building new plants.

He told me that even though he worked in the private sector, he believed that Three Mile Island would never have happened if the military had run it instead of a private company. Under military, i.e., governmental, administration, there would have been clearer guidelines, he felt, that would have shut down the Harrisburg reactor before the accident.

So, as so much else in our world, it boils down to management. Maybe I've just talked
myself out of supporting nuclear power.

-- ge

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo

Another problem we're leaving to our kids to deal with...

It is about radiation.

Shearon-Harris has become a centralized regional repository for spent fuel rods. These rods are quite dangerous - emitting enough gamma rays even after 50 years you get a lethal dose of radiation within 1/2 hour in close proximity. They refuse to store these rods in a slightly more expensive but eminently more secure (both from human and natural "disasters") fashion. Progress Energy was allowed to use this facility for additional storage because the cooling ponds were originally designed to support 4 on-site reactors (and now they want to build another reactor but have yet stated what they plan to do with the spent rods from that facility). When this and other nuke sites are decommisioned (which a significant portion of the current 103 reactors are slated for decomm within the next decade), the equipment (reactor core, etc.) and buildings (containment facility, etc.) have to be broken down into storable units and managed as hazardous, radioactive material for up to several hundred years.

And, at the end of the day, the nuclear industry has yet to come up with a suitable technology or plan to safely deal with the waste for the 10,000-100,000 year timeframes that these nuke byproducts are dangerous.

Hey, we're leaving the kids an anticipated 14 trillion dollar debt. So what's the deal with leaving them the burden of safely dealing with a couple hundred waste sites requiring millenium of babysitting?

Also, when you factor in the "carbon cost" of building and maintaining these sites, it takes %60-70 of a typical facilities lifetime before that carbon debt is paid.

I'm no modern day Luddite. I wish the safety (short and long term), security and weapon non-proliferation aspects of nuke would be effectively dealt with but I see no interest by the current cabal to deal with these rather difficult issues.

There's hope, though...

Reducing use, using alternatives and improving transmission efficiencies negate any need for new nukes.

A quick couple examples.

A British study recently determined that appliances in "standby mode" accounted for up to %8 of electricity use. Reducing transmission line losses (which we could do part-n-parcel with the much needed upgrade to the whole electric grid) could save us up to %15 of total usage. Similar reductions could be obtained by replacing old-style electric motors for electronic variable speed analogs. Solar power efficiencies have increased, while legislation has ensured the power folks have to purchase from the little guy. Wind is catching on - it's anticipated that wind use will increase %40 next year.

Great news. These alternatives are decentralized, can be applied individually (at the point of use/consumer level) and you can affect business policy by wisely purchasing appliances.