Nuclear's New Friends
There are some major proponents of nuclear power that might surprise you.
No single approach will accomplish the goal of reducing the impact we have on the environment.
As R. Stephen Berry, the former Special Advisor to the Director of Argonne National Laboratory for National Security wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "We can't afford to bet on only one roulette number."
Nuclear power provides 78% of France's electricity, 58% of Belgium's, 50% of Sweden's, 40% of South Korea's, 37% of Switzerland's, 31% of Japan's, 27% of Spain's and 23% of the UK's. Overall, 30% of the entire European Union's electricity is generated by nuclear power.
In the U.S.? 20%.
Reactor makers General Electric (GE), Westinghouse, and Bechtel would surely like to see more nuclear construction.
So would nuclear operators such as Duke (DUK), Entergy (ETR), Progress Energy (PGN), Southern (SO) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVE)- companies that must add generation to meet future demand.
There are some other major proponents of nuclear power that might surprise you:
Gaia theorist James Lovelock, who believes that nuclear energy is the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Britain's Bishop Hugh Montefiore, a longtime board member of Friends of the Earth who was forced to resign from the group's board after he wrote a pro-nuclear article in a church newsletter.
Norris McDonald, president of the African-American Environmental Association, who said, "If we believe that global warming is a real threat to our planet, then the very best way to provide baseload electricity is through emission-free nuclear power."
And Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace.
Last year, in The Washington Post, Moore wrote:
In the early 1970s, when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my compatriots. Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change. Look at it this way: More than 600 coal-fired electric plants in the United States produce 36 percent of U.S. emissions -- or nearly 10 percent of global emissions -- of CO2, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power.
It is cost effective. Current operating costs are 1.82 cents per kilowatt-hour versus 2.13 cents for coal-fired plants and 3.69 cents for natural gas.
As far as carbon emissions, nearly 700 mln additional tons of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere every year without nuclear power- the equivalent of the exhaust from 100 mln cars.
On the flip side, the Clean Air Council reports that coal plants are responsible for 64% of sulfur dioxide emissions, 26% of nitrous oxides and 33% of mercury emissions in the United States.
Additionally, the idea of lingering nuclear waste sitting around poisoning the planet for hundreds of millions of years is simply misleading. Within 40 years, used nuclear fuel has less than one-thousandth of the radioactivity it had when it was removed from the reactor. And, 95% of the potential energy is still contained in the used fuel after the first cycle. Now that the United States has removed the ban on recycling used fuel, it will be possible to use that energy and to greatly reduce the amount of waste that needs treatment and disposal.
Guess who instituted the ban on recycling used nuclear fuel?
None other than that bastion of spectacular ideas, Jimmy Carter.
In 1977, Carter banned reprocessing in the U.S. in favor of a so-called "once-through fuel cycle." The Carter Administration decided not to reprocess on the grounds that if other countries could be persuaded not to reprocess, the likelihood of nuclear proliferation would be reduced.
Without reprocessing, the spent fuel remains radioactive longer and has to be better guarded, because it contains plutonium.
What about alternative energy, which is all the rage these days?
Jesse Ausubel, director of the Human Environment program at New York's Rockefeller University, called renewable energy sources "false gods" in a Wired magazine interview.
Despite all the tax breaks, and incentives, the proportion of U.S. electricity production from renewables has actually fallen in the past 15 years, from 11% to 9.1%, he said.
Also, renewables are hardly attractive to land conservationists. A run-of-the-mill 1,000-megawatt photovoltaic plant would require about 60 square miles of panes alone- which would be the largest industrial structure ever built.
Ausubel says that 1,300 birds of prey are killed by the rotors of the 5,400 windmills in California's Altamont Pass annually.
Plus, growing the amount of cellulose required to shift U.S. electricity production to biomass would require farming an area the size of ten Iowas.
Not exactly the most implementable idea.
There also don't seem to be as many "NIMBY" objections about nuclear plants as one might think. Of Entergy's Grand Gulf Nuclear Generating Station near Port Gibson, Mississippi, Michael Herrin, pastor of Port Gibson's First Presbyterian Church says, "In this town, the dragon is unemployment. Entergy is the hero."
As far as safety, while nothing is 100% safe, to paraphrase Patrick Moore, if we banned everything that's potentially dangerous, we would never have harnessed fire.
So, just how safe is nuclear power?
When a reactor core melted down at Three Mile Island, the concrete containment structure did just what it was designed to do-prevent radiation from escaping into the environment. There were no worker injuries or deaths, and none among nearby residents.
In fact, no one has ever died of a radiation-related accident in the history of the U.S. civilian nuclear reactor program.
By comparison, 100 coal miners are killed each year in the U.S. in coal mine accidents and another 100 die transporting it.
Isn't Chernobyl the 800-pound gorilla in the room here?
Chernobyl had no containment vessel, was an inherently bad design and its operators literally blew it up. The U.N. Chernobyl Forum reported that 56 deaths could be directly attributed to the accident, most of those from radiation or burns suffered while fighting the fire.
The U.S. Navy has been powering ships and subs with nuclear reactors for 50 years and has never had one nuclear accident.
Neither has the French Navy, a former member of which has started a company called Exomos, which builds personal submarines.
Herve Jaubert says his subs will offer people the "ultimate romantic destination."
He told Bloomberg News that he has clients who have trouble conducting undersea affairs smoothly.
Apparently, dolphins can spoil the mood.
"Dolphins are easily excited when they sense people making love," says Bruce Jones, president of U.S. Submarines. "They get jealous and bang their noses on the windows."
At least the dolphins are still with us- thanks to the hard work of many laudable environmental groups.
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