We just passed the 30th anniversary of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and despite decades of quiet, the nuclear industry still wants to build new plants (in fact 21 companies are applying to build 34 new power plants in the U.S.).
Also, this weekend I had an email exchange with my Dad on this subject. I thought I'd post it here, since others might find it interesting. Remember my response was an email, so it's not necessarily as planned out as a typical story. Hopefully my Dad will respond. :) You should, too.
From my Dad:
Here's something I copied...
[If...]"we had built ten new [nuclear] reactors per year since 1980, the USA's electricity production would produce zero carbon now, except possibly for load balancing generation. So, environmentalists caused global warming with their ignorant opposition to nuclear power."
I had heard that coal plants release more radiation than nuclear plants. Volume of coal along with trace radioactive materials... However, I've thought the issues with nuclear are the waste and protection of the material from thieves... France has done much with the Breeder reactors.
Well nuclear is not zero carbon, as uranium mining is extremely dirty and fossil-fuel heavy, as well as dangerous. It also leaves a lot of toxic fallout (just ask the Native American communities suffering from high cancer rates in their vicinity). Also the only two uranium smelting plants in the U.S. are coal fired and are extremely dirty, releasing a lot of CFCs (since they are grandfathered). Transportation of fuels, storage and protection of nuke plants uses a lot of energy. Also they are plagued with enormous cost overruns and down times, as well as many staffing problems (mistakes, repeated problems with guards sleeping, etc). And they are too expensive and totally uninsurable (without the Congressional act that strictly limits liability to completely unrealistic levels).
Remember too that if Reagan hadn't rolled back all the energy efficiency and fuel economy standards Carter had put in place, we would have been totally off any foreign oil by the mid 80s. That was by far the cheapest, cleanest, solution and we were already there, but Reagan's oil buddies pressured him into turning back the progress. There hasn't been a new nuke built in the U.S. since 1978 because it is nearly impossible to site one. No one wants to live near one, it hurts property values, and the only way you'd do it would be to force it on a poor, minority community (supposedly prohibited now due to environmental racism laws) or with tremendous political power from the top.
Already it is very difficult to transport nuclear material across many states and towns because of local laws that prohibit it (which the DOE does not recognize, having led to more than one threat of a National Guard standoff against nuke trucks. For instance the mayor of Las Vegas has said any nuclear material will only pass through there "over his dead body." Interestingly, one nuclear waste shipment was even attacked by a band of escaped convicts).
Also if we had kept on the same track of investment in solar that Carter started we would be getting a big portion of our power that way. We have been passed by Asia and much of Europe, even though we invented those technologies, because the GOP killed the funding. Spain is now 25% renewable; Sweden and Denmark will soon be all. Germany is not far behind.
It's also worth noting that the French nuke industry has had many problems, and is extremely unpopular with the new generation, who are heavily interested in shutting it down. Remember during the heat wave that the French plants had to shut down, because there wasn't enough water to run the cooling towers.
The bit about coal plants releasing more radiation is really more of a partial truth. There's a good discussion here. Of course there is a great deal of controversy about the possibility of effects from being near, or living around, nuclear power plants. The industry not surprisingly has been saying all along that it is totally fine, but there have been some alarming studies and reports. Essentially we don't know what the real effects might be yet since there are so many variables.
Besides green don't want coal either. The excellent Fuel documentary, which won the audience award at Sundance this year, makes the point that we could have powered the entire U.S. with wind turbines with the money spent on the Iraq War, which we never would have been involved with had we stopped importing foriegn oil by the mid 80s, which we were on the track to do. The Iraq War is costing every American man, woman and child $10,000, yet Saddam would have been a poor nobody had we not been buying his oil all those years.
We had the technology and the political will in place, if only we had stuck with Carter's vision instead of Reagan's.
Finally, my buddy RemyC. has been making a lot of noise for LEDs: he calculated that if everyone in the New York, New Jersey, CT area switched all lights to LEDs we could shut down Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant immediately. That's the oldest and one of the most troubled plants, only 40 miles from Manhattan, which was never supposed to generate power. It was not approved for that purpose, only as a test site, but they snuck it in anyway through political maneuvering. It also was not built to operate this long, and it has major structural weaknesses as a result. Yet it will probably get relicensed by the NRC, which has never denied a permit.
Oh the other thing I should have made more clear: it's much more expensive now to install nuclear capacity versus wind or even solar, so there's no reason we would want to do it now. The nuclear industry wants to do it of course so they can create more jobs for themselves, but if we're looking even just at cost it wouldn't make sense (that's why there are no companies that can build them without massive loan guarantees from the federal government, which is why they lobby so heavily. In fact even Obama got the biggest seed of his startup money from Exelon, which owns nuke plants, although he has always been luke warm on them at best).
I think it's unfair of people to try to blame energy problems on the green movement when they've been hollering all along for conservation and renewables, but others weren't listening. It's an unfair slight of hand to try to say they're to blame because they wouldn't allow nukes. More nukes would not have been good either.
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