Rethinking Nuclear Power   (January 24, 2009)

All energy sources require tradeoffs. Perhaps nuclear-generated electrical power is less negative than commonly assumed.

Knowledgeable reader Chad W. recently offered a fresh look at the positive tradeoffs in generating electrical power with nuclear energy. Yes, storage of waste is an issue--but perhaps the danger of much of the waste has been blown out of proportion.

I have read that uranium is in its own "peak" depletion cycle, which raises the security issues of using plutonium/breeder reactors on a long-term basis.

Another contributor (Bart D.) recently asked if weapons-grade material from recycled nuclear warheads could be used as fuel--an obviously better use than letting it sit around unused. Though I do not know enough to say, I suspect the plutonium cores of warheads are difficult to fashion into fuel--but I welcome any more knowledgeable opinions on the subject.

Here is Chad's commentary:

I enjoy reading your blog a lot, you are a positive and progressive thinker. This essay is regarding your post Innovation Comes in Many Forms.

I think you are missing the mark on you concern over electricity generation. Here are the statistics on the sources of electric generation in the US:

As you can see, Petroleum is a small fraction. Even though the problems caused by Peak Oil will be numerous and severe, I believe the impact on electricity generation will be minimal based on these numbers.

On other words, you are misleading when you confuse the issues of Peak Oil with the future of electricity generation in the US. Even though it does not fit in with the traditional green activist positions, I believe the Nuclear power is an extremely viable answer to this problem. I grew up in Carlsbad, New Mexico where there is a Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) facility for low-level nuclear waste. It is fine. A complete non-issue, other than the local people employed there for going on two decades, and related economic stimulus to the town (which is otherwise dependent on the dying tourism and potash industries).

Since my Peak Oil awareness moment, I've been thinking a lot about what the future of energy could look like, and discussing the topic with people.

One of my best friends works for a power company in New Mexico, and he claimed that nuclear energy was the most viable short and long-term option, if fuel recycling is allowed as an option. Why don't more people talk about nuclear fuel recycling? It makes nuclear much closer to a 'renewable' energy source.

Small Reactors - "Nuclear Batteries":

In Defense of Nuclear Energy:

Solar Panel Toxic Waste:

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant:

Recycling links:


Bottom line, when I look at the downsides of Nuclear, they are miniscule compared to the alternatives, and for quickly ramping up, the practical logistics of nuclear are much better than building billions of dollars of solar panels and windmills which will have their own environmental impact.

I am not afraid of nuclear waste. I AM afraid of the the long term effects of coal mining/burning, acid rain, etc; as well as the devastating effect of dams on the nation's waterways; as well as the risk that we simply won't be able to meet our short-term electrical generation needs with solar, wind - and that these deployments would cause their own problems. Nuclear is here, it works, and we have already overcome the majority of the logistical and technological hurdles, as you mention in this article.

The only opposition is political, ironically from the green movement and other like-minded activists, as well as the coal/construction lobby. Greens and activists due to knee-jerk reactions (Three Mile Island was a non-event!) and the coal/construction lobby due to blatant financial interests.

We really need to think outside the box, and for electrical generation, I think nuclear is clearly the best short-term solution. Also, if it enables us to move more quickly and cleanly (than solar/wind) to an electric-based rather than fossil-fuel-based society, it is a long-term benefit as well.

Thank you, Chad, for a well-reasoned and sourced essay on a topic of ever-greater importance.

The "endgame" series continues next week.

Housekeeping notes: Unfortunately no readers stepped forward to host a forum for readers. Thus that remains a future possibility only at this point.

In another show of astounding idiocy, I just completed another comic novel nobody asked for and few if any will ever read, title "Bidding for Love." My initial pitches to agents have been rejected at a brisk pace.

I apologize for falling behind on my correspondence, and will be better able to respond in a timely fashion in February. I have read each email received and thank you very sincerely for writing.

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