Opinion

Opposition to Nuclear Power Is Irrational

It’s one of the cleanest forms of energy we have.

Power plant China
Nuclear power plant in China (iStock)

In my latest column for the Dutch opinion blog Wynia’s Week, I argue opposition to nuclear power makes no sense.

  • Fatalities from nuclear accidents pale in comparison to the eight million deaths fossil fuels cause — every year.
  • Uranium, the most common nuclear fuel, is scarce, just like oil and natural gas, but it is two million times more powerful than oil.
  • All the nuclear waste produced in the world so far could fit inside a single football stadium. Modern reactors are able to recycle their waste as fuel until there is almost no radioactive waste left.
  • Nuclear power generation doesn’t emit carbon dioxides (CO₂). The environmental impact of nuclear energy barely registers in comparison to the havoc wreaked on the planet by fossil fuels.

Dependence

France is almost entirely energy-independent thanks to nuclear power. It has four times the population of the Netherlands but half its CO₂ emissions.

With Germany phasing out nuclear power, the Netherlands shutting down natural gas production in Groningen, and both Germany and the Netherlands phasing out coal, the dependence on Russian gas will increase. Germany imports 94 percent of its gas. The Netherlands 72 percent, up from 29 percent as recently as 2013. Europe as a whole buys half its natural gas — used both for heating as well as power generation — from Russia.

Dependence on Russia doesn’t just inhibit European foreign policy; it’s worse for the environment and makes European consumers vulnerable to the whims of Vladimir Putin.

  • Environment: Russia’s gas infrastructure has barely been updated since the Soviet era. Large quantities of methane leak into the environment during gas processing and transport, and methane contributes 84 times more to global warming than CO₂.
  • Consumers: As I wrote here last week, European energy prices are up because Russian gas exports are down.

The governments that can afford it are cutting energy or sales tax to reduce electricity and gas bills.

Upside-down

In the debate about nuclear power, everything is upside-down.

  • Environmentalists who (rightly) argue we must “listen to the science” on climate change wave away facts and figures about nuclear energy.
  • Billions are spent on subsidies for “green” energy, but when it comes to nuclear power, subsidies — needed because governments deny manufacturers economies of scale — are cited as an argument against it.
  • Radioactive waste is a problem, but nobody argues we should stop solar or wind power because they produce waste. Old solar panels are dumped in developing countries, where they are burned, releasing toxic fumes. Wind turbines are partly made out of plastic — the world’s number-one waste problem — and they last only 25 years.
  • Several companies, including General Electric of America and Hitachi of Japan, are working on small nuclear reactors that could compete with coal- and gas-fired power stations on cost. Mini-reactors would also reduce the risk of catastrophe in the (extremely rare) event of a meltdown. Yet such technologies aren’t taken into consideration, because they haven’t been “proven” — and, if greens had their way, they could never prove themselves.

Click here to read the whole thing.

4 comments

  1. Opposition to nuclear power irrational? Yes, but not in a nice way.

    Government money fears that its fossil fuel component will be roughly pruned by nuclear power. That is a rational fear: trillions of dollars have already been left in citizens’ pockets, that might have become government money.

    Uranium scarce like oil or mined gas? Not exactly. When $1 worth of it must replace $25 worth of methane, or $100 worth of petroleum … it still is very, very abundant. This abundance ties into its threat, and history, of depriving governments of oil and gas revenue.

    Radioactive waste a problem? No. Just no. Fossil fuel wastes, now, those are a problem. All over the world they are piling up in the atmosphere, and piling up next to schools, and collapsing, crushing the schools … OK, that only happened once. But things *like* it happen many times every decade.

    Throughout the nuclear age, nuclear power waste has been piling up nowhere in the world, and injuring zero neighbours per year.

    That’s a thought that the oil and gas interests really hate. If you run into intransigent denial of the harmlessness-in-practice of nuclear waste, you’re hearing from them.

    You’re hearing the pot call the refrigerator black.

  2. It’s not gov worried about tax from ff’s. You can tax anything. It’s the pile of money oil, gas and coal deploy to lobby, propagandise (yes, climate denial is anti nuke too.) and contribute to candidates.

  3. On April 2, 2012 a report by the English-language edition of The Mainichi included the following:

    Japan’s Feb. tax receipts up 4.8% on LNG consumption

    TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japanese tax revenues in February increased 4.8 percent from a year earlier to 3,348.73 billion yen as rises in the receipts of tobacco, energy and other taxes more than offset declines in major components, the Finance Ministry said Monday.

    Of the revenues on a general-account basis, those from petroleum and coal tax expanded 12.1 percent to 39.57 billion yen due apparently to more consumption of liquefied natural gas by utilities, which have boosted thermal power generation as an alternative to stalled nuclear power following the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant …

    If only the Japanese government had been aware that one can tax anything, they could already have been taxing, by several hundred dollars per kilogram, the uranium used by the country’s nuclear power plants.

    Then, if nuclear power still got “stalled” — by government fiat, although the Mainichi doesn’t mention that — the thought that the government was motivated by money would not have occurred.

    To many, it still somehow doesn’t.

  4. You are forgetting a thing: nuclear energy is entangled with nuclear warpower. In fact, all countries with significant civil nuclear technology are nuclear powers (all but Japan, which actually can make its own nukes when it wants). And the reverse is not necessarily true, North Korea, Pakistan, India and Israel have too many nuclear warheads, and they are not civil nuclear powers, quite on the contrary. You can believe or not if Iran really is commited not to have nuclear warheads, but this doesn’t even matter, see all the circus around the JCPOA. So it’s very hard for a country to develop its own nuclear tech, letting them be buyers. Buying NPPs is expensive, and you are forced to marry with your seller (Areva, Mitsubishi, Rosatom, General Electric), of course is cheaper in the long run, but oil gives you more freedom, it’s a fact.

    I think this is the real reason behind the nuclear stalling. And nukes make the difference, indeed they do. The awful disaster about the JCPOA (all the resposibility on the USA) very well could lead us to a complete collapse of the TNP, and there are 20-30 countries in the world that could go ahead with nuclear weapons. It would be not a better world nor safer, for sure. Simply think about North Korea, we live in a world where it is easier for a nation of 30 million people, under the worst blockade, to build its own nuclear force without even have a NPP. Survival instinct usually is underestimated.

    I think all of this have to be considered, since the future ahead will be very unsettled.

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