Nuclear Power: A Bad Reaction

Thanks to new evidence showing nuclear energy as more of a polluter than previously thought, the U.S. should reconsider approval for new plants. Pro or con?

Pro: Peril Then, Peril Now

The nuclear industry and its friends in the Bush Administration have been attempting to change the nuclear industry’s image. With the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters fading from most Americans’ memories, industry lobbyists are anxious to paint this most dangerous and volatile energy source as the answer to U.S. oil addiction and global warming.

The unproven assertion that atomic energy can solve global warming has helped further the collective amnesia about the past business failures of nuclear energy. In February, 1985, Forbes magazine declared that “[t]he failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale. The utility industry has already invested $125 billion in nuclear power, with an additional $140 billion to come before the decade is out, and only the blind, or the biased, can now think that most of the money has been well spent.”

Nonetheless, more than 20 years later, the very biased are indeed trying to keep us blind to the fact that nuclear energy is still a money pit that can have little or no impact on oil consumption or our ability to abate catastrophic climate change.

Last month, the Oxford Research Group found that contrary to industry claims, nuclear power does not qualify as a carbon-free technology and cannot be promoted as an environmental panacea (see BusinessWeek.com, 3/26/07, “New Debate Over Nuclear Option”). Nuclear scientists at MIT also have acknowledged that nuclear is “arguably a CO2-emitting energy source” and that the Bush Administration scheme for spreading nuclear power around the planet constitutes “a goofy idea.”

Rather than wasting tax dollars to entice nuclear corporations to construct reactors the industry would never build on its own, Congress and the White House should support energy efficiency and renewable technology, which are seven to 10 times more effective than nuclear power at displacing carbon dioxide.

We can mitigate the catastrophic effects of global warming without incurring the economic, environmental, and security risks associated with nuclear power. After all, terrorists are not targeting windmills and solar panels.

Con: Eco as Ever

At a time when global decision-makers are trying to reduce greenhouse gases, we should be increasing our reliance on nuclear energy and taking advantage of the most widely expandable clean-air electricity source on the list of options. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions would drop far lower.

In the U.S., safe and efficient nuclear power produces electricity for one of every five homes and businesses, and it ranks as the largest source of electricity that emits no greenhouse gases. In fact, electric-sector carbon emissions would be approximately 30% higher without nuclear energy.

But is nuclear power really as emissions-free as supporters contend?

One of the most common claims is that nuclear power emits greenhouse gases during the entire life cycle, from mining uranium for fuel to building the power plants. Using such a life-cycle approach to calculating emissions, one could say that all energy sources produce greenhouse gases. Research from the University of Wisconsin shows life-cycle emissions from nuclear energy are lower than those from renewables such as solar and hydropower and dramatically lower than those for power plants fueled by coal or natural gas.

For this and other reasons, many environmentalists and organizations such as the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the Pew Center for Climate Change support an expanded role for nuclear energy.

No single greenhouse gas mitigation measure can reduce carbon dioxide to the levels contemplated by emerging state and regional programs or international agreements. Nor can a comprehensive regime like the Princeton University “stabilization wedge” theory—a concept for halting the proliferation of CO2 emissions—succeed without nuclear energy.

Nuclear power is the only energy source that combines the attributes of large-scale electricity production, high reliability, and zero greenhouse gas emissions during the electricity production process. It should remain an essential part of our diverse energy portfolio to meet fast-growing electricity demand, increase energy security, and protect the environment in which we live.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

dave

Burning coal produces more pollution than a nuclear power plant. The con argument forgot to mention that. And growing more corn to make energy is very silly.

ad

Windmills are great. I suggest we all invest in them even if yield and efficiency are not very high. At least they do not pollute.

Alec

Nuclear is cleaner than coal by a wide margin. Past mismanagement cannot be used to rule out the viability of an entire industry, and playing the terrorism card is simply laughable. We should continue to invest in nuclear energy while also working on increased efficiency.

As many people are quick to forget, real reduction in greenhouse gasses and therefore real mitigation of climate change will require many changes, nuclear energy being only one small part.

Michael

Let us be completely thorough and honest. When comparing the cost of energy produced by different sources we should take into account all energy-cost factors. For nuclear energy, we must take into account the costs for exploration, then mining of the uranium ore, its processing into fuel rods, the production health impact cost (how many cancers are to be linked to this mining and processing?), the political impact (where do we have to buy our uranium and what is the political cost of securing the source?), distribution, then post-processing of the spent fuel rods and disposal of the radioactive materials for 100 years? (Maybe 1,000 years or 10,000 years, nobody knows. Who by the way can honestly evaluate the cost of such containment? Add the megacost of building and certifying the power plants then of decommissioning and cleaning them after 30 years or 40 years, who knows.)

Solar power has a very few costs, all identified and none of them long term or very hypothetical to assess: produce the silicon wafers, from silicon widely available anywhere in the world from silica (sand) and assemble them in solar panels, then transport and install the panels and connect to the power grid.

I urge all my fellows citizens to keep questioning every statement made by the energy producing industries. It is too easy to provide partial information and make the people believe that the solution they propose is the best.

I also question the studies from the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the Pew Center for Climate Change. These studies allegedly support an expanded role for nuclear energy, based only on carbon emission. I am not sure that the study took into account all the factors I have listed above (and I certainly forgot a few..). What about the (total, real) cost of energy? What about the human cost (cancers and associated suffering)? We need to focus on the big picture here.

Steve

The radical environmentalists have had an irrational paranoia about nuclear power for years--stifling U.S. progress in this area and contributing to our energy shortage for absolutely no good reason. Their arguments are baseless upon close examination. France and Japan have successfully used nuclear power for years, and it is about time the U. S. came into the 21st century instead of dwelling in the Stone Age with the wacko environmentalists.

Mark Mather

You've made some truly great points that are not disputable. But I ask you this: If you're looking for the true energy source that costs nothing to produce, emits no greenhouse gases, and is friendly to the environment, what should it be? Human energy is not natural to the planet, so it must be made. And it will always have a cost.

Solomon

Michael,
You cannot expect the industrial world to develop the solar and other non-hydrocarbon energy production capacity to supplant fossil fuels in time to reverse the effects of global warming. With nuclear power, we can reduce the carbon imprint of our energy production processes today.

By the way, fossil fuels have the same hidden costs that nuclear has--from extraction to refinement to health.

Also, Columbia U and Pew are well-regarded research institutions making the case for nuclear power, and are not part of the energy industry.

While nuclear power may clash with the green lifestyle, it may also be the best chance we have at putting a real dent in global warming in the short term.

Paul Davis

In the heady days of the '40s and '50s, it was prophesied that electricity would become "too cheap to meter" as a result of all the nuclear power that would soon be available. The devil, as always, was in the details--in this case the issues of nuclear waste, proliferation, terrorism, safety, and so on.

And so, just as we also aren't all gadding about in levitating cars, we still meter electricity and worry about where to get more.

The mega-corporate interests that infuse the Bush Administration love nuclear power, because it meshes so nicely with their paradigm of the concentration of power and money. So the fix is in now to sweep all the problems revealed at the end of the 20th century back under the rug and get on with building big, dangerous reactors that create ever larger mountains of toxic waste that we don't yet know how to handle safely.

A glaring irony, meanwhile, is that technology has already bypassed nuclear power, and truly non-polluting generation is being deployed by private companies--in the form of wave power. One such company, Ocean Power Delivery Limited, is deploying the "Pelamis" system off Scotland, and another Pelamis system is being installed off Portugal. Another technology, called "PowerBuoy," is under construction off Reedsport, Oregon in the U.S., as are numerous other systems elsewhere around the world.

Wave-power generation lends itself to a wide range of scales, from large to small, and this makes it inherently unattractive to those whose business plan is to pursue ventures through which they can dominate the industry and thus control pricing. And so we see, not surprisingly, this new technology being developed by small startup companies instead of the behemoths behind nuclear power.

What the energy market needs is less government intervention. That will allow these new technologies to flourish and even dominate in the world now concerned about CO2 emissions. But of course that won't happen, because government intervention is the dynamo that drives the large corporations funding the political process.

Correcting

Three Mile Island did not kill anyone or make people ill. I met someone who worked there. The documentary that was on TV was edited to make it look as though people would be ill or die from what happened there. The people who worked there were astounded and disgusted by the effect of the editing.

I guess bad news sells better than the truth (and the media apparently are a bunch of liars who twist a story to fit their purposes).

David Walters

Many reputable international studies (IAEA, WNA) show that nuclear's net CO2 emissions are about 2% of those from coal and about 5% of those from gas. The same studies also show that nuclear's net CO2 emissions are similar to, or lower than, carbon dioxide emissions from most renewable sources, including wind and sun.

In burning coal, oil, or gas, or in fissioning uranium to produce electricity, the following carbon dioxide emissions are caused by burning 1 kilogram of each fuel: coal - 3 kilograms; oil - about 2 kilograms; gas - about 1 kilogram; uranium - zero.

In looking at the entire fuel cycle--mining, transportation, burning, and waste disposal--we see that the quantity of carbon dioxide from the nuclear cycle in which diesel engines and fossil fuels provide the electricity for the moment; then the amount of carbon dioxide associated with exploiting uranium rises to a few grams per kilogram of fuel used.

The reason for this is simple. Compared with the 1 to 6 kilowatt hours of electricity derived from each kilogram of fossil fuel burned, uranium produces about 50,000 kilowatt hours in a CANDU (the Canadian reactor) while using only about 1% of its fuel; about 250,000 kilowatt hours in a PWR (Most U.S. reactors) while using only about 3% of the fuel charge; and about 3,500,000 kilowatt hours with reprocessing and breeding in which the entire kilogram is used to produce electricity. Very little carbon dioxide is produced to obtain many kilowatt hours of electricity.

David Walters

Nick Lehotzky

Because of safety reasons, nuclear isn't the ultimate solution, but it's still 1,000 times better for the planet than sooty middle-age coal plants.

Bill V.

I believe the real issue here is avoiding global meltdown. Mr. Peterson is entirely correct about the Princeton Wedge Theory. There are enormously ambitious wedges for all sources of energy production, not just nuclear. Adopt them all, and of course conservation. Nuclear accounts for 16% of the world's electric production and must be aggressively pursued. A little rational pragmatism should also be part of this debate.

I'd like to offer BusinessWeek.com a real-life economic case study to follow. Germany is pursuing a nuclear phase-out and wants to rely on renewables only. When Germany suffers economic collapse, then maybe we all can agree that Greenpeace's obsolete anti-nuclear arguments are indeed a bankrupt fallacy. That said, I've long been an admirer of German beer even though it, too, is a source of CO2, and I would hope that industry would survive.

HS

The proponents of biodiesel and ethanol and many other "green" sources of energy stack the cards in their favor.

They talk about the beauty of biodiesel or ethanol obtained from "all-natural" corn but don't tell you about all the petroleum-derived diesel that the tractors that tilled, planted, cultivated, and harvested the "all-natural" corn burned in the process. What about all the trees displaced to grow corn for producing biodiesel or ethanol?

After examining the available sources of energy and the fast-growing needs for energy, one can find very few practical, cost-effective sources left. Solar? Good try, but it will make only a nice supplement (on sunny days). By the way, it takes lots more than sand to make solar-panels--including the generation of pollution and a great investment of energy that the solar panel will take many years to pay back.

Wind energy? Have they told us about the millions of birds killed by the windmills in the name of saving nature?

A local college situated on a windy hill invested $10,000 in a windmill. Total energy savings: $30 a month and investment recovery in 30 years, excluding maintenance and repair cost.
On a larger scale, I am sure it will be a nice supplement, but not the ultimate solution. If it were, it would be taking over the production of energy.

So, Mr. Green, what is the solution for our energy needs? It is painful to admit it, but all the coal and oil being burned into the air is a tragedy that did not have to occur. Fear and lack of knowledge made it happen. The green movement is in part to blame.
Heber

Wally

Michael raises some good points, points that have been addressed by many, many studies and resolved by practical experience, but are still talking points for people coming into the discussion. The production and processing costs are what they are, and the free market sets a value on uranium ore based on production costs and scarcity value. But given the energy density of uranium, fuel is still a bargain. The human cost of production is minimal,especially if you compare it with the human cost of coal production. In situ leaching of uranium reduces even the minimal human morbidity and mortality costs. Michael dropped a clanger with that quibble.

Concerning the engineering costs, I personally don't consider that to be wasted money; the better the engineering, the more reliable and efficient the power plant. It seems to me that building quality into the planning and construction process has paid huge dividends by increasing the capacity factors and improving plant efficiencies. And as an added bonus, safety has improved. Deconstruction costs? Currently about $300 million, and unlike with most industrial plants, the cost of deconstruction is built into the cost of a nuclear power plant. The plants are required to create a fund specifically to ensure that the plants are returned to green field status after their useful life span, which has been extended to 60 years in some cases. And a millage is collected on each and every watt of nuclear generated power to pay for the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel. That $25 billion dollar fund is more than adequate to ensure spent nuclear fuel is safely housed for up to 1,000,000 years, if the politicians ever quit bickering about Yucca Mountain. Michael seriously underestimates solar costs. If he wants to be taken seriously in this debate, he should do a little more research.

Bill Teer

David:
How much air is required to burn the one kilogram of coal? Must be a lot if the amount of CO2 emission is three times as the amount of coal burned.

Hank

How disingenuous of Greenpeace to claim mismanagement of the nuclear industry as a main argument against its use. Most of the nuclear power "mismanagement" was caused by environmental groups blocking nuclear plant construction every step of the way. This caused projects to take much longer than necessary to complete. The whole money thing starts to bog you down when you borrow money to build something and have to wait an extra five years to start paying it back. There are safe nuclear plants designs being built all around the world. Don Quixote's windmills are not going to save us.

Nestor

The "study" that showed the cost in carbon for nuclear probably also assumed that a fuel rod is completely expended at the end of its normal use cycle. In most light water reactors (LWR), this is more or less true, but the LWR is not the end-all and be-all of reactor designs. The integral fast reactor (IFR) with its closed fuel cycle is a much better user of fuel.

Here is a some info on the IFR.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_Fast_Reactor

James Kemp

Even if we assume that nuclear is low-carbon, there is another major problem: How many nuclear power plants would have to be built to make a significant reduction in global (the measure that matters) CO2 emissions?

Figures cited in a recent Council on Foreign Relations paper (April 2007) show that between one a week and one a month would have to be built. This is clearly not going to happen, which brings into doubt the capacity of nuclear to contribute to global CO2 reduction efforts.

Another issue we need to keep in mind is whether we can manage the security risks associated with a rapid expansion in nuclear power. We might be able to do so today, but what will the security environment look like in 30 years time?

Nuclear power is too little, too late and at too great a cost.

Fred Langford

The formula for CO2 indicates that a molecule of CO2 contains two atoms of oxygen and one atom of carbon. Oxygen has a gram molecular weight of 16 and carbon 12. Therefore, burn 12 kg of carbon and you get 12+16+16=44 kg of CO2.

econguy

Consumers got stuck with the cost overruns on nuclear power the last time we built plants. That includes a number of poor states where it took decades of unnecessarily high rates to write down the red ink. These projects are financial black holes, and consumers are stuck with the tab. Eliminate the cost risk to consumers, and you will see what the real cost of power is from nuclear projects. Let the unregulated power investors eat that.

Richard Pore

In terms of the production of carbon dioxide per unit heat energy, gasoline produces 150 pounds mass per million BTU; natural gas produces 330 pounds mass per million BTU; and coal produces 660 pounds per million BTU. The combustion of ethanol produces 152 pounds mass of CO2 per million BTU.

There is a design for a "green" reactor that will produce electricity for up to 30 times cheaper than any conventional electric power station. It is based upon early and abandoned technology from the WW II era and updated for modern times. In terms of nuclear safety, this design has no equal. If a conventional nuclear power facility hiccups, it has the potential for a meltdown as a result of a loss of coolant accident. If this design hiccups, it passes gas in a contained environment. Let's not forget that engineered safety features at Three Mile Island worked as they were designed.

The national average for electrical energy to the consumer is approximately 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. This reactor class would pay for a national health-care program as well as fund public education and teachers' salaries. It may also facilitate the repeal of the 16th amendment.

david

I'm doing an essay on energy, and I'm not sure about most things. I was wondering if you could e-mail me some key pointers, g_rida2007@hotmail.com.

That would be much appreciated--thanks.

John Kerian

When I left the nuclear power industry 27 years ago, we had demonstrated unequivocally the safety of nuclear power, but it didn't matter to the Luddites, who killed our chance of energy independence. Now we have funded the Muslim terrorists with our oil dependence, and the result is war. This was easily predictable 27 years ago, but no one cared, especially our elected officials (the problem was beyond the next election cycle). Excuse my cynicism, but I became an engineer to serve my country; my countrymen were not interested enough to learn the facts, and all of us pay the penalty today, in many ways. From the current discussion, it is obvious things have not changed much.

Kathy

I think we're looking at the wrong nuclear energy. Fission is so very dangerous that I would never approve another plant no matter how clean. On the other hand, whatever became of fusion research?

jim stack

Nuclear is the most expensive power ever created, uses the most water, creates the worst radiation waste (that will kill for thousands of years), and is a terrorist target.

Only renewable power, energy efficiency, and technology can be sustainable. I know, because I live in a grid-tied solar home and ride a bicycle to work for the health of it--and try to make a positive difference every day.

perry brett

Nuclear, only if built by the French. They have the greatest experience, technology, and safety record in commercial nuclear-power generation in the world. Their breed of reactor technology is well proven--exporting power to much of Europe. Why reinvent the wheel?

Alec

Kathy, fusion reactions that have been created have required more energy to create than they can produce. Self-sustaining fusion reactions are still in the realm of science fiction.

As far as all of the safety concerns, who exactly has been killed by nuclear waste? Or by terrorists attacking nuclear power plants? How many people have been killed as a result of nuclear power plants? Aside from Chernobyl, I know of no nuclear disasters that resulted in any public harm.

Chandra

I don't think there is one source of alternate energy that will help us get away from fossil fuels. We will have to use a combination of all: wind, solar, and nuclear. I don't see any problem with building more nuclear plants in the USA. It's very safe and getting better each day. The USSR had a leak because it used a faulty design to make its nuclear reactors. This was well-known in the West way before the accident took place. We can also recycle and reuse the spent fuel from the reactors.

Coal is still a good source, but we have to modernize the plants to make them cleaner. The tech is out there; it's a matter of investment. South Africa has already perfected and advanced the German WWII tech to convert coal into liquid fuel. This tech is being tested in the U.S.

Kathy

It only takes one accident, and we're stuck with uninhabitable land for millennia. Look at Bikini Atoll. Some types of nuclear waste have a half-life of 10,000 years. We can afford mistakes with other fuel sources, but we must be absolutely perfect with nuclear fission.

Naveen

Nuclear energy is only relatively clean. I have read that its emission levels are around 1/4th of those of a coal plant. I am concerned about the dangers posed by nuclear plants. The choice between an accident at a nuclear plant or global warming due to coal plants is not really a choice. Please give me something better. Before we rush to select the nuclear energy option, we need to push ourselves harder on other alternatives like solar and wind energy.

I am not really in favor of ethanol either. It's an economically bad idea to divert basic food items (corn) to industries as raw materials. The food chain gets broken, and we might be fighting starvation in the near future.

Grady

We are already strapping future generations with insurmountable debt in the U.S. We pile on the debt so that we can "maintain our lifestyle." We need to avoid leaving future generations with this deadly nuclear material that will last thousands of years.

Nick

As someone who has worked hands on with nuclear reactors and the associated systems for years now, I can assure you all that nuclear power is not as dangerous as some may think. Training to operate and maintain the plants must be thorough and continued during operation. Radiation exposure is not taken lightly either. If I spent my days working in the plant and you spent yours as a lifeguard outdoors, you would receive far more radiation than I would. In addition, every example of nuclear accident or dangerous radiation areas all happened so long ago. Most of them are spots used for testing. Nuclear technology is far more advanced these days. Costs are dependent upon the contractors who love to overcharge the government for components and their repair parts. Many years of physics, thermodynamics, chemistry, mathematics and many other areas of study have been used to develop safe parameters and procedures for operation. Production costs to build the reactor plants and waste disposal are the biggest costs of the nuclear option.

Clarence Funk

The pro and con arguments presented in this article reinforce my belief that the human mind is capable of justifying any idea that can be imagined. The witch trials of the past centuries provide ample demonstration of the point I am trying to make.

My suggestion is very simple. If people do not want the benefits of modern technology, they should retreat to caves and live in peace with nature.

Smiley

Too many people, not enough caves. Besides, the average environmentalist wouldn't last a week without electricity and running water. And while I agree that the beauty of a rational mind is that it can rationalize anything, the anti-nuclear people are using deliberately misleading information. They harp on Three Mile Island even though no one died, and bring up Chernobyl even though everyone knew it was a ticking time bomb years before the meltdown. And someone mentioned the Bikini Atoll. That wasn't a nuclear reactor--it was an atomic bomb. It is absolutely impossible for a nuclear reactor to explode. All it can do is melt down, a fancy was of saying overheat. And we have the tools to dispose of the incredibly small amount of waste (the size of a car after 30 years), whereas we don't have the tools to dispose of all the CO2 in our atmosphere.

Wayne Holbrook

I was wearing a radium dial wristwatch when I took a course in occupational radiation protection at NIH. The most memorable thing I learned was that if my watch were a nuclear power plant, it could not be licensed, because its emissions were 100 times higher than the allowable emissions from a nuclear plant.

Vince Farina

The politicians gave in to anti-nuke paranoia from ignorant political leftists after Three-Mile Island. We should start building nuke plants on the scale of a fast-food chain. We also need to invest heavily in fusion power by cutting wasteful social programs, including useless expenditures on education in the inner-cities. As for the nuclear fission plants, the French have a highly successful track record. Let's contract out the building of nuke plants to the French, so we don't have to waste money reinventing the wheel.

nanheyangrouchuan

No form of energy production is without its pitfalls. Wind power has been shown to disrupt regional wind patterns, affecting pollination and weather, and killing birds.

The worst producer of greenhouse gases in the U.S. is the automobile. Trains and semi-trucks actually offer better efficiency due to regular professional maintenance, and they are used only when there is cargo to be hauled, not for recreational purposes.

Infrastructure for, and a suitable supply of, electric cars would be a better way to augment more nuke plants.

Also, I wonder who is doing some of the anti-nuclear studies. NIMBYs and hippies are obvious targets, but so is the oil and gas industry. They have the most to lose by an expanding nuclear power grid.

Guy V

It is rarely mentioned that although we should do everything possible to choose the least-polluting source of energy and activities, nothing will be good enough if population growth is not stopped and reversed. If all the Chinese and all other people start living like Americans, the planet is doomed. If population was at the 1900 level, there would not be any danger to the planet, assuming we exercised proper restraint. Of course, we all hope fusion will become the large-scale energy source someday in a clean fashion, but if there are 30 billion people on the planet, there just won't be space for the other species (including trees) whose presence makes the earth inhabitable for us. These facts are considered politically incorrect, but if we don't manage our size, we will be managed and controlled by nature itself: Ten years ago, projections on population growth would transform the complete mass of the planet into human flesh by year 3000.

cahitoz

I am pro-nuclear. I am not concerned as much about the cost of producing energy as I am about the environmental cost. We are living at a time where our energy consumption is rising every day. Just think how many of you have the TV on while doing something else. Yes, wind energy or sun energy may be the cleanest, but for a sun energy system to produce as much energy as a nuclear plant, you would have to place 20 x 1,000 x 1,000 square meters of solar panels.

Zac

Drilling for domestic oil doesn't help our ecological issues; it's not as though American oil burns any cleaner than Iraqi oil.

The laws of conservation of matter and energy state that the sum total of all matter and all energy is a constant, and that while each can be converted to the other, neither is created or destroyed. This applies to manufacturing processes as well. Stop worrying about the three--no, four! wait, six!--gallons of water used to make a gallon of ethanol. The water isn't destroyed; it's released as vapor at various stages, including the reaction inside your car's engine. It'll all wind up back where it came from.

Nuclear energy does offer fantastic quantities of electrical power, but that's only recently become useful for consumer vehicles. We can't run those vehicles on a reactor, of course; we discourage the distribution of fissile materials to just anyone with a driver's license, even if the reactor would fit in the car (it won't). Now that electrical storage systems have progressed to the point where we can store and use realistic amounts of electrical power inside a passenger vehicle, perhaps we should restart the nuclear reactors we've taken off-line. They're already built, anyway.

Andy

People who just think the debate is just about CO2 emissions are misdirected. That is a subset of the total cost equation of power generation.

rabs

I saw a study a few years ago that estimated American taxpayers subsidized coal and nukes to the tune of $1,200 per household for each technology vs. around $10 for wind and solar. If nuclear industries are so safe and so established, why do they need subsidies to maintain themselves, let alone having taxpayers build new plants and foot the bill to dispose of their waste?

Take all the money used today to prop up these antiquated technologies, and invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Then we won't need coal or nukes at all (or even oil, if plug-ins ever become a reality).

Chris

Everyone who is preaching about bio-energy needs to look at the long-term implications of this process as well.

Bio-energy is great as a local resource in sunbelt areas, but at the moment is unable to meet any large-scale demands.

(I have worked fields on tractors powered by diesel, soy-based, soy-mixed, and recycled fry oil...all converted diesels, and I have to say that so far, the straight diesel has the best performance vs. cost vs. environmental impact of them all, with the soy/diesel hybrid coming in a very close second--well, the fry grease was free, because Mickey D's was happy to give it to us, but it would not be free for long, if someone discovered they could charge for it instead of having to pay someone to haul it away).

I'm not sure which is worse: the fact that it costs more energy than it produces to get fuel from a bio-crop (corn or soy. for this example) or the fact that this kind of agriculture has been proven to be terribly "un-green."

Corn and soy deplete the soil horribly. Yes, you can rotate crops and all that, but eventually, you end up having to use the same piece of land again--before it's had a chance to recover. And how do we do this? By soaking the ground with fertilizers (nitrates especially), which run off and eventually end up in our waterways--causing all kinds of undesirable side-effects (algae/bacterial bloom/red tide, oxygen deprivation to aquatic livestock, and contamination of our drinking water).

There's also the issue of the incredible amount of pesticides/fungicide required for a viable corn/soy crop. All of this needs to be included in the "cost" of alternative fuel sources. You also have to consider that scientific studies have estimated 1/3 of the U.S. would have to be planted in a bio-crop in order for it to make any significant contributions.

Bio-energy has a long way to go before it can be considered a viable energy source. There are other plants that do offer better results with fewer side-effects, but I'm not going to discuss the marijuana vs. hemp issue here--as it has other issues not related to global warming and alternative fuel (you can skip several steps in the fermentation process when converting hemp seed oil to ethanol, thus eliminating the need for some really nasty, environmentally unfriendly chemicals, such as benzene).

My father spent 30 years in the Navy, circling the globe numerous times on various oil- and-nuclear powered aircraft carriers (17 consecutive sea tours). He has seen the best and worst of both sides, and his favorite quote has always been:

"More people have died in Teddy Kennedy's car than have ever died as the result of a U.S. nuclear accident."

One other thing to think about: Guess who owns most of the patents on photo-voltaic energy production devices. Some company called BP...

Dr I

We need to take a step back. The arguments above seem to always include CO2, which I shall refer to as carbon dioxide. Please note carbon dioxide exists in the atmosphere as a fraction of a percent (nitrogen makes up 79% and oxygen 20%). It's surprising that this gas (there is not much of it) has been named and blamed for nearly every weather-related disaster. Governments and environmentalists (both ill-informed) exploit the fact that carbon dioxide might be responsible for the theory of global warming (note it is still a theory) to push forward their agendas, be they nuclear or non-nuclear. Then again, if the majority of the world's governments decide to disregard the theory of global warming, they might be forced to tackle other more-severe and immediate problems where the results are more tangible. This would also spell economic disaster for all the business plans based on the flimsy theory of global warming.

Dr. B

Denial doesn't make problems disappear. Ask yourself what the consequences of being wrong might be, other than your ego deflation. The rest of the world is already moving on with distributed power systems that mitigate the huge line losses of major power distribution centers. Everything matters. There is no viable long-term storage for nuclear waste. We Americans are huge consumers of nearly all the world's resources and yet fall low on the list of world's most content citizens. No wonder. The comments in this forum are discouraging and divisive at best. We are more interested in being "right" than doing the right thing. Thus far, Bush has not made a single decision that has not been either dishonest, ill-informed, or self-serving to his higher power--Cheney. Take his recommendations and do the opposite, and we should be on the right track.

Roger Evans

We are at the dawn of the electric automobile, perfectly feasible for urban runabouts right now. To charge up all these cars will require considerably more power available on the grid as the urban fleet changes from the piston engine to electric motors. Apart from areas that can dam up valleys for hydropower such as Quebec and British Columbia, most areas will need amounts of power in excess of that available now and will have to build more capacity. It's a no-brainer to think that we can build coal- and gas-fired power stations ad infinitum. We have to go nuclear to get the capacity we will need, supplemented by hydro, wind, and solar where appropriate.
See http://www.altairnano.com/markets_amps.html for the latest battery technology.

Joseph Halusic

Solar thermal can produce the same amount of electricity as all the fossil fuel electricity plants in the U.S. in a 10-mile-by-10-mile area in any of the latitudes of the Southern California deserts. Furthermore, Toshiba has a lithium battery, new on the market last year, that charges up to 80% in one minute, 90% in five minutes, and 100% in 10 minutes. Solar thermal doesn't need subsidies as nuclear does, and you can store electricity in many ways--pump storage, like at the Grand Coulee Dam, convert it to hydrogen, or just charge up the plug-in hybrid cars. (I read it in BusinessWeek--don't you guys read it?)

Mr F

We're having a similar debate on this side of the pond, with Blair attempting to push new nuclear plants through Parliament. When you take into account the fact that nobody actually knows what to do with the waste (and how long we'll need to store it and how much the subsidies for nuclear plants are--billions) it seems like a huge folly to go back down the nuclear path. A high-tech world should take advantage of distributed power generation using renewable sources. That means wind, tidal, solar, and the rest. It doesn't mean centralized, potentially dirty, and certainly very expensive nuclear plants. While we're about it, we could also do with cutting back our consumption drastically--the whole world does not live in the same decadent way the West does. I hope that we won't be building any more nuclear plants in Blighty and that you chaps won't be building any in the U.S.

William Hofmeister

Wind power is limited by acceptable locations. Solar is too diffuse to ever be a main contender. All the good hydro sites are already developed. Ethanol simply doesn't work if you run the energy numbers. For all practical purposes, we are looking at coal or nuclear for the foreseeable future. Unless you truly want to move back to the Stone Age, you will have to learn to deal with one or the other. Take this from someone who worked in the nuclear industry for 20+ years and the coal utility industry for 6+ years.

NRK

Bottom line: Electric energy in the not so distant future is going to cost three to four times what it does now, regardless of the source. Every source has its good and bad. We just have to have the wisdom to know the difference. I get tired of the fringes trying to dictate their pet method to the rest of us.

Rock

What matters most to this country is energy itself, regardless of source. While it is true that greenhouse gases such as CO2 or the fluorocarbons that replaced CFCs contribute to global warming, they are but a small percent of a giant natural cycle. The United States has been blessed with many rich uranium deposits and, given that a 1/4"x3/8" pellet of uranium oxide gives power equivalent to 1 ton of coal, that is certainly a cut in CO2 emissions. Solar and wind power are great, but not everyone wants a solar array on top of the house or a windmill in the backyard.

Nuclear power is a good source of energy to power cities due to its extreme energy output, but certain states, such as those in the Corn Belt, can use renewable energy sources like ethanol, and certain areas provide plenty of wind power in which you could operate commercial-sized windmills. These power sources work better for the farm than nuclear reactors; therefore it makes sense to use them. But for cities (which a majority of Americans live in), nuclear fission energy has no rival. It's all just a matter of investment.

As a side note, a hopeful nuclear fusion project ITER, led by Japanese and French scientists, starts this year. If successful, this magnetic confinement reactor could produce eight times the energy that it takes, and produce 500MW of power in 5 minutes. To put that in perspective, the average fission reactor produces 2 times that amount of power in a year, and fission reactors are our most powerful energy source. There is always hope in nuclear power.

Bill

There must be some reason the French have nuclear power plants all over the country. Ethanol will never be the answer.

Newton

Is the U.S. nuclear industry safe? Much safer than the coal and oil industries for sure. Is it as cost-effective as solar, wind, and geothermal? It depends on whose numbers you follow and what you include. Science is always progressing, and the next decade might bring advances that sharply drop the price of solar panels or sharply reduce the construction cost of nuclear power plants. So to choose your energy resource based on current ability is foolhardy. But human nature never changes and because of that, we should ponder how an increased reliance on nuclear power affects the American political scene. Specifically, the nuclear power industry, like the oil, dam, and coal industries, lends itself to consolidation and monopolization. Examine how the oil, coal, and hydroelectric industries have influenced domestic and foreign policies of the U.S., Germany, England, and other nations over the past 200 years. Do we want to add the nuclear industry to this list of political heavyweights? I hope not. On the other hand, solar power, and to a lesser extent wind power, are both conducive to a decentralized system of power generation, distribution, and consumption. For example, the components needed to assemble a solar-panel system are near commodities. I think the benign political effects of solar and wind power vs. nuclear power tilts the balance toward solar and wind.

Viv. Rendall

How can we have an informed debate and vote on the issue when a great deal of information is deliberately hidden? The public knows there is nuclear power, fossil fuel power, and then there are the renewables. But the thrust of renewables is that they can't provide base power for industry 24/7. This is entirely incorrect.

Nuclear power stations will not be a reliable power source in a warming global climate, Dave Lochbaum, the Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear safety project director, said. "The industry can't use global warming as a justification for building more plants without papering over the fact that they don't do well in extremely hot weather." We also have to cite the very obvious that we will never have a safe nuclear industry because we live in a world entrenched in crazy ideologies. We are in dire need of safe cheap power sources and reduced global warming, and only renewables will in the end do that. We should understand and be aware that renewable power sources can be the alternative to nuclear power despite what the pro nuclear lobby says. We are at the crossroads of that happening now.

There has been a breakthrough in renewable energy base power production. I refer to solar thermal power using a cheap flat mirror system and storage by the disassociation of ammonia in an endothermic reactor, then stored at ambient temperature and used at any later time. Even during wintertime, the sun's energy is not lost being chemically locked up. Then reapplied to an exothermic reactor, heat is produced at about 500 degrees to provide steam for power generation. This closed loop system enables 24/7 base power production for industry, and it also can provide medium or peak power on demand. That storage system is easy to do and cheap and is based on mature technology and enables the sun's energy to be stored for any length of time without loss--so that the energy can be extracted in the wintertime if necessary or any time in the future. No other storage system can do this, and it is a real breakthrough. A gigawatt plant is being built in America financed by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla (together with Australian scientist Dr David Mills), who says solar thermal power is poised for explosive growth because of its low costs.

David

Nuclear power is dangerous and dirty from the time the uranium is mined until the fuel rods are disposed of. Except for the fact that, so far, no one has a way of accomplishing that last step. Too many deaths and cancer cases have resulted from this process already. Without government subsidies, the nuclear industry is too expensive to exist. Countries like France that do depend on nuclear power are starting to second-guess their decision. We can avoid those mistakes if we say no to nukes.

Michael

Nuclear power is not an efficient way to produce electricity. It's basically boiling water with nuclear power and then driving turbines.

Just really look at the facts.

To run nuclear reactors is just a "side product" of another production line of other vested interests.

There are much, much more efficient ways to produce power, but these technologies are sufficiently suppressed, because they don't yield huge amounts of profits.

Anyhow, one day we perhaps will have responsible people in key positions who don't compromise on what is ethical and pro-survival for mankind--and have enough power to keep their position despite vested interests.

That's my comment.

Cedric Chin

I don't have any problems with nuclear energy. I have problems with the humans managing it. The Chernobyl meltdown was a result of testing the limits of a nuclear reactor. They sure found out. Nuclear power is safe in theory. In practice, it's another matter.

Nuclear power also makes us more energy dependent. Additional sources of power do not teach us to conserve energy, any more than abundant food prevents us from excess weight.

Is there anything particularly wrong with solar power or wind power? Certainly, solar technology isn't yet cheap, and those windmills are an eyesore, but at least they have no history of widespread radiation contamination or three-eyed fish.

dr r

No, Dr. B,
Denial doesn't make problems disappear. Ask yourself what the consequences of being wrong might be, other than your ego deflation. The rest of the world is already moving on with distributed power systems that mitigate the huge line losses of major power distribution centers. Everything matters. There is no viable long-term storage for nuclear waste. We Americans are huge consumers of nearly all the world's resources and yet fall low on the list of the world's most content citizens. No wonder. The comments in this forum are discouraging and divisive at best. We are more interested in being "right" than doing the right thing. Thus far, Bush has not made a single decision that has not been either dishonest, ill-informed, or self-serving to his higher power--Cheney. Take his recommendations and do the opposite, and we should be on the right track.

shadow

Nuclear energy can indeed be made a lot safer than ever before. New technology affords us to use it more efficiently than before, and certainly we have learned a lot of lessons from the past, which means we should know how to make it safer than ever before.

We should use much more nuclear power. It's way more efficient and cleaner than coal or oil.

shadow

Someone here mentioned getting a suitable supply of electric cars. I'd like to ask that person how it is the average Joe is going to afford one.

The cost is just not within the average Joe's means let alone the cost of maintenance.

On top of that, they look like crap, and don't go far enough mileage-wise in any day for the average driver. What is he or she going to do when the battery goes dead on the highway? Plug in on the side of the road?

Not!

Also, what then are we going to do with all the dead batteries. They don't last forever either. And how do we charge those batteries?

With traditional power sources, nothing is for free; everything costs something. You don't get more out than you put in, meaning it takes more energy to charge those electric cars than you get out of it and less energy to run a car on oil than electric.

Electric cars are a nice dream, but unless something fantastic in technology happens, it will remain a silly dream.

Randy Zaucha

How about setting the record straight on nuclear energy? I keep seeing disturbingly deceptive articles published by nuclear industry shill Christine Todd Whitman stating that the nuclear energy process does not produce any airborne pollutants.

In reality, not only are vast amounts of fossil fuel burned to mine and refine the uranium for nuclear power reactors, polluting the atmosphere, but also those plants are allowed "to emit hundreds of curies of radioactive gases and other radioactive elements into the environment every year," Helen Caldicott points out in her authoritative book Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer.

What’s more, the thousands of tons of solid radioactive waste accumulating in the cooling pools next to those plants contain "extremely toxic elements that will inevitably pollute the environment and human food chains, a legacy that will lead to epidemics of cancer, leukemia, and genetic disease in populations living near nuclear power plants or radioactive waste facilities for many generations to come," Caldicott writes. Countless Americans are already dead or dying as a result of those nuclear plants.

Whitman purposely deceives when she neglects to mention nuclear fuel production and waste disposal as being part of the process. With that kind of logic, I could say that my car does not pollute the air--while it is switched off.

Nuclear energy is not the answer to our energy needs.

Randy Zaucha

bob

It's bad for the environment, because it can cause a nuclear reaction that can kill thousands of people and other life sources.

TOM

Hey imbeciles,
Facts:
1) Nuclear power produces three things.
a. electricity
b. radioactive cancer causing waste.
c. the means to create nuclear weapons.

Simply ask yourself: Is this the best we can do? Our great grandchildren are going to laugh at us, and shake there heads.

gayan

Could you give reasons as to why photo-electric solar panels may not produce net energy during the operation of its life span (25 years)?

vaughn nebeker

It's a lithem core; soft carbon shell; oxadiser shell; hard carbon shell. Burn temp 8,000 degrees for 75 years. None nuclear none radio-active. Chernobyl spin off. It's like running the U.S.S. Nimitze at sea none nuclear.

Jerry Field

Nuclear power is not clean. Each year nuclear reactors release millions of curies radioactive isotopes that go into our air and water. These curies are unregulated due to the nuclear industry thinking that these radioactive parts are "biologically inconsequential." This is not true at all.

Lawrence Sharman

Okay, nuclear energy at the moment isn't the cleanest it can be, e.g building the plants, gathering the materials for the reaction, etc., require gasoline powered vehicles; however that is the same as all energy production methods at the moment. And yes it does produce harmful radioactive ions, but that's just because we havn't put resources into this technology to stop that. All the resources we are putting into finite renewable sources like wind farms and tidal generators that will lose effectiveness if global warming changes the climate as it is. If we put our resources into nuclear fusion (which is different to the reaction we use at the moment for nuclear energy, which is nuclear fission, which is basically splitting atoms to produce energy which does also produce harmful by products), and then we will get 100% clean energy as nuclear fusion combines atoms to form new ones which is how stars produce energy and is the 2nd most exothermic reaction known to science, the only by product from the proposed deuterium + lithium reaction is helium which is a inert gas (dosn't react with anything and I mean anything won't react with stuff at all), and because it is lighter then air it will float up into space. Also the fusion reaction requires a constant feed of reactants whereas fission is stockpiled for several years, so if there is a problem you can cut the feed and the reaction stops in milliseconds, stopping any damage or harm the reaction could do. So potentially nuclear energy could change all of human life (also Deuterium is a isotope of hydrogen which is the most common element in the universe and lithium is the most common metal on our planet so the reactants for this power generation are numerous).

Aaron

I would just like to point out that the Army's attempt at reactors in 1961 led to the death of 3 people when the operator manually pulled a control rod too high out of the core. It is the only accident in the U.S. that resulted in death.

Karen

Wayne,You are minsisg the distinction between existing nuclear and new nuclear. The former is a cash cow by de facto existence from a different era; it makes no sense to sell or immediately decommission it, but rather let it quietly generate hefty profits until it can't anymore rather than let that lucrative revenue stream go to someone else. The key is they have no interest in *NEW* nuclear projects because building fossil is so much easier.

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