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Letter: Nuclear power is not the answer

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:05 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Both John McCain and Barack Obama must be taking contributions from the nuclear power industry. McCain, especially, with his proposal to build 45 new reactors by 2030 and 100 by 2050, has to be in their pocket. Nuclear power may be the worst idea humans ever had. Mining radioactive uranium pollutes land and water. No one wants either the uranium nor the radioactive spent fuel in their state or passing through their state. We have no way of isolating this spent fuel for the thousands of years needed for the longest of its radioactive half-lives. In other words, through the entire cycle, nuclear power is dangerous, not even counting its vulnerability to attack or its connection to nuclear bombs.

Furthermore, it takes a decade to bring a new plant on line and banks won’t finance nuclear plants unless taxpayers assume all the financial risks. Instead, we could use that money to pay for increased energy efficiency of all kinds and to invest in the power grid needed to deliver wind and solar power across the nation. The benefits could be realized quickly, with none of the hazards involved in both dirty coal and dirty nukes.


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Comments

John Schultz June 25, 2008 | 12:06 p.m.

The government should not be subsidizing any type of energy, whether that is giving tax breaks to oil companies, underwriting insurance costs for nuclear plants, handouts for ethanol, or investment dollars for renewables.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 25, 2008 | 2:22 p.m.

In endless arguing over this subject we miss a core point: the best and most effective solution is to employ a carefully selected combination of energy sources, of which nuclear power is just one.

My other observation is that God must be angry with the United States and China, because He blessed both countries with very large reserves of coal. Americans are unaware that we are exporting large tonnages of coal. Stocks of major domestic coal producers are faring as well as those of oil producers, ditto railroads like CSX that haul the coal to port.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 27, 2008 | 8:57 a.m.

If you believe that man is causing climate change (and I believe we are at least playing a part), than you should regard coal as much more of a threat. And how are we going to replace coal as a power source - 750 GW of it - with 4 and 10 GW of solar and wind/year?

Here's the problem: As fast and wind and solar are growing, our need for electricity is so great that we can't make enough of these things to help very much. Solar PV has raw material constraints that limit its manufacture, and solar thermal is still in it's infancy. Solar thermal (and wind to an extent) needs a yet unplanned multi trillion dollar transmission line system that's 20+ years in the future.

As far as operations go, nuclear power is the safest bulk power source ever deployed. If we factor in possible climate change, fossil fuel based power systems may kill hundreds of times more people than if every reactor operating had a TMI scale accident. We're up against some very hard choices here, and I feel that nuclear has proven itself safe enough to use in selected situations.

Waste disposal is a political problem, not a technical one. All the high level waste generated so far in the US would fit in Faurot field. Sure, it's deadly, but we deal with deadly materials every day. When there's an accident, we handle it. It's part of living in an industrial society.

No one source of power will solve our energy problems. But if we need to take action to cut down on CO2 emissions, nuclear is one developed and mature technology we can use, with components available more or less off-the-shelf. France gets 78% of its power that way, and if someone from this country went to Nice, or Paris, they'd never know the difference (except the buildings are nicer). It's not killing them, and a few more reactors won't kill us.

But, they may well keep the lights on as we move toward electric transport. We need to move away from oil as a transportation fuel, and electricity is the most efficient way to do this. It may save us from a lot of effects of oil depletion.

All this is my own opinion. I live in a solar powered, wood-heated, 560 sf house with a food garden. I use 5-8 gallons of gasoline/year. I don't need nukes. The big problem is there are very few like me. Until it becomes a priority for people (and as long as the lights are on, it won't) we need to plan to avoid blackouts over the next few decades, and it would be good to mothball some coal plants in that time too.

Nuclear should have a place in this future. We have little choice. I wish I saw differently, but relying on renewables and efficiency to fill the gap is wishful thinking.

DK

PS Conservation (e.g. rolling blackouts), is what will save electricity in the near term if we go the renewable only course. Efficiency requires the large scale manufacture of goods that will compete with other consumer goods, and have raw material constraints just like renewable power sources do.

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