The Fallacies of Nuclear Power

Nuclear power need not be feared like the red death!

Nuclear power plants currently generate over 20 percent of the power in the United States. In other countries, like France, they power upward of 80 percent. There have been 884 coal mining related deaths since 1980 in the United States alone. Even wind turbines cause more deaths than the nuclear power industry, amounting to a total of sixty deaths (PDF) since the 1970s.

In one case you have an industry that is guaranteed to cause death and severely lower the life expectancy of those involved. In the second, you have an alternative technology with a large number of accidental deaths. Third, you have a proven technology with a solid history of little to no problems and much fewer deaths. You do, however, have a word that can also be associated with powerful weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear as a word tends to scare people. We think of bomb drills and nuclear holocaust. But it’s really just a word like any other. Nuclear power need not be feared like the red death!

This quote is from Greenpeace’s website. I decided to break up the summary against nuclear power into section to better analyze it:

Despite what the nuclear industry tells us, building enough nuclear power stations to make a meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would cost trillions of dollars

Building a nuclear power plant costs more than building a wind farm or a collection of solar panels, but the ratio of wattage output of a plant isn’t comparable on a per watt basis. Where did they get “trillions of dollars”? I’m at a loss about where to begin with that one. And besides, the implementation of nuclear power plants will decrease the need for old fossil fuel burning plants that output tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases. I personally could care less about greenhouse gas emissions, but since they do I’m surprised they forgot to mention that.

Create tens of thousands of tons of lethal high level radioactive waste […]

If disposed of properly, Mother Nature and radioactive half life do all the work for us. You just need a place to put the waste.

I personally think we should launch it into space, but a more cost effective solution would be to use a massive mountain in a desert where you don’t have to worry about water runoff or a nearby population. In fact, such a site already exists, Yucca Mountain, although the project has recently been shut down. Which makes no sense considering instead of being stored in the best possible location, it will now be stored in higher risk locations, but I digress.

[…] contribute to further proliferation of nuclear weapons materials, and result in a Chernobyl-scale accident once every decade.

The plants in operation today aren’t even remotely in the same class as the plant in Chernobyl, at least in the US. And that is including the oldest plants in operation! And since they have been in operation for forty years (that would be four decades for all you non math folk), and there hasn’t been one Chernobyl scale accident, I would have to disagree.

For Three Mile Island fans, there were no casualties and the radiation amounted to that of an X-Ray you would receive at the doctor’s. Did I already mention that if these organizations had left the industry alone, we wouldn’t have any older plants to deal with anyway? And we would already be off of foreign oil and fossil fuels? And our air would be cleaner?

Perhaps most significantly, it will squander the resources necessary to implement meaningful climate change solutions.

By resources I assume they mean money? I don’t understand that logic at all, considering it will be more expensive to create the same amount of energy with wind and solar, not to mention the existing loss in tax revenue due to the tax credits that have existed for quite some time.

That said, I’m not against other technologies. In fact I love technology and new ideas. I love entrepreneurship. I do’’t love intangible promises from new technologies. Sure, a breakthrough could happen in solar and wind power that makes them the clear choice. But the same could happen in nuclear or even coal power too! In the short term, I would place my money on nuclear and get us off of reliance of foreign oil, something that inherently undermines our position in all things foreign policy and affects us in a tangible way every day.

Comments

  1. Perhaps you downplay the problem of nuclear waste a bit, but other than that, I agree wholeheartedly. Nuclear power is not only an extraordinary achievement, it is safe, renewable, and has the potential to ensure total energy independence. Just look at France. As you pointed out, the country’s almost completely reliant on nuclear energy, and that’s an enormous relief in terms of energy policy and foreign policy.

  2. “Perhaps you downplay the problem of nuclear waste a bit”

    If the space industry starts to take off (no pun intended), launching it into space would be a plausible solution.

    The most dangerous radioactive waste has a shorter half-life of a few years. And then it becomes harmless. The materials with a half life of thousands of years give off such little radiation, you would need to be exposed to it for thousands of years to be effected. There are materials that fall in between and these are perhaps the most dangerous. Yucca mountain’s primary flaw was its distance from so many plants and that it would concentrate the waste, thus increasing the overall radioactivity of that location.

    I think it worth noting that France, as one of the most outspoken critics of the US on other issues, would support it wholeheartedly in its expansion of nuclear power.

  3. If the space industry starts to take off (no pun intended), launching it into space would be a plausible solution.

    Maybe it’s just because of Godzilla imagery that I don’t feel much enthusiasm for this scheme.

  4. Know nukes!

    I like this article.

    “Building a nuclear power plant costs more than building a wind farm or a collection of solar panels”

    A great deal of this cost is due to regulation and insurance cost though. Cut these down to reasonable levels and nuclear will become very affordable.

    The scientific and technical problems of nuclear waste were solved years ago. The only thing preventing implementation of nuclear energy as our primary source is politics (and insurance costs).

    We have a solution to all our energy problems at hand but people can’t see this. The key is that if you look at any energy source by itself you can always find problems as you can with nuclear energy. Compare it with any other possible source of energy though and it comes through miles ahead.

    By the way research is underway to develop fourth generation continuous fission reactors which would continue the process of nuclear fission until everything has been converted into non radioactive substances. I’ve heard estimates of about 15-20 years for development.

  5. “By the way research is underway to develop fourth generation continuous fission reactors which would continue the process of nuclear fission until everything has been converted into non radioactive substances. I’ve heard estimates of about 15-20 years for development.”

    Aha, so there is a break-through already in motion? I prefer one break-through in hand than two in the bush!