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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Greens and Nuclear Power

Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, has rescinded his opposition to nuclear energy. It`s about time.

If you fear that Global Warming is being caused by the release of carbon dioxide from industrial activity, you should advocate non-carbon emitting energy sources. Nuclear is CO2 free! A nuclear reactor uses Uranium (not the heavily enriched Uranium used in bombs) or other very heavy elements (Plutonium can be used, but wouldn`t be since there is no way to prevent someone from using it in an atomic bomb) to produce heat via fission. When aligned properly, with the correct amount of mass, a ``slow`` chain reaction begins whereby neutrons from the decaying atoms strike other atoms, knocking off more neutrons to strike still more atoms. (Neutrons, being larger than protons and electrically neutral, drive the process of nuclear decay-the ``weak nuclear force``.) This process produces heat, which in turn is used to produce steam which drives a conventional generator to produce electricity. The exhaust from a nuclear reactor is good old H2O, a greenhouse gas to be sure but one which was taken right out of the air. The only worry is the waste product left after the reactor is shut down; this material remains radioactive for quite some time after shutdown, and has to be specially contained in some fashion. THAT is what the environmentalists have worried about, and the American public shared their fears after Hanoi Jane Fonda`s movie ``The China Syndrome``.

But if CO2 is driving Global Warming as the Environmentalists fear, if the danger is as great as they suggest, then they simply have to support nuclear. People are not going to dismantle our technological civilization. We couldn`t do it, at any rate, without triggering worldwide catastrophe; there are simply too many people on Earth, and nobody is going to live an 18th Century lifestyle when it is unnecessary. People will starve, people will suffer, people will die if we were to be so foolish as to dismantle industry to stop a nebulous warming. But, people will gladly accept an alternative energy source, if it does not require reducing their standard of living. Nuclear is the way to go in that regard. Furthermore, nuclear energy could be used to split hydrogen from oxygen, which could be used to run automobiles. The product of burning hydrogen is water. A hydrogen/nuclear economy would drastically reduce CO2 emissions without reducing our lifestyle.

But the Gang Green has, by and large, continued to oppose nuclear. Why? I strongly suspect that the reason lies not in the dangers of nuclear power but in their particular vision of society; they want a ``return`` to a lost Eden, a pastoral paradise they believe industrialism stole from Mankind. ALL technology is suspect. Nuclear requires maintaining the large industrial/military complex which they so despise, so it is not an option to them. THAT has been the whole point on the Global Warming scare! Too many Environmentalists want a revolution, a revolution intended to dismantle modern civilization. They are the intellectual heirs of Rousseau, with his belief that Man has somehow wandered out of paradise and can somehow restore it with proper political alignment.

At least Mr. Moore is honest enough to take a hard look things. But, as Thomas Lifson says in his piece at the American Thinker, what else have the environmentalists been wrong about over the years?

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5 Comments:

Anonymous James Aach said...

Another noted "Green" to call for a second look at nuclear is Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog. Mr. Brand has also been kind enough to endorse my novel of nuclear power "Rad Decision" as a lay person's guide to the good and bad of this energy source. It is available at no cost to readers (who seem to like it, judging from their homepage coments) at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com , and there is also now a paperback available at online retailers. I've worked in the nuclear industry over 20 years.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Thanks, James; I`ll check Rad Decisions out!

12:13 PM  
Blogger RobertP said...

SOLAR not Nuclear

People quite rightly stress the importance of energy security. But does nuclear power actually provide energy security?

Firstly, where does the raw material, Uranium, come from and how much is available? Some comes from politically-unstable countries like Kazakhstan and those supplies cannot be guaranteed.

Uranium is not an abundant material - if enough nuclear fission reactors were built to meet most of the world's demand for electricity, exploitable sources of uranium would be exhausted in about fifteen to twenty years. This is an extreme case, but no-one can deny that uranium will one day run out, just like oil and gas.

As exploitable sources of uranium become exhausted, prices will rise. And as higher-grade ores are exhausted, more energy will be consumed and more CO2 will be released in processing the lower-grade ores that remain.

Secondly, how reliable is the electricity supply produced by nuclear? Nuclear power is not available 24/7 throughout the year. Just like wind power, and all other sources of electricity, nuclear power is intermittent. Nuclear power stations stop producing electricity during routine maintenance and unscheduled breakdowns, and the 'load factor' (the amount of electricity that is actually produced compared with the theoretical maximum) is normally well short of 100%.

In recent heat waves, nuclear power plants have been shut down owing to shortages of cooling water and unacceptable damage that would be caused by the discharge of hot water into the environment. This kind of problem is likely to become worse as global temperatures rise.

Then there is the risk of flooding. Research commissioned by British Energy suggested that "Nuclear power stations on the British coast will experience storm surges up to 1.7 metres (5½ft) higher by 2080 because of global warming”. The nuclear plant operator suggests that new coastal defence strategies may be needed to protect sites from a combination of more extreme weather and higher sea levels. All of Britain's 15 nuclear plants are near the coast Can these sites really provide energy security?

Energy security looks decidedly questionable. How about carbon emissions?

Far from being low-carbon, nuclear power is a major source of emissions. Even under the most favourable conditions, nuclear plants produce approximately one-third as much carbon dioxide emissions as gas-fired electricity production. Using the richest ores available, a nuclear power plant must operate for ten years at full load before it has generated more energy than was consumed mining and refining the uranium, building the plant etc..
But there is only a finite supply of supply of uranium ore containing reasonable concentrations of uranium 235. When this concentration falls below 0.01%, the costs of energy production from nuclear power can no longer cover the costs of extraction of uranium from the earth, at which time the nuclear fuel cycle will produce no net energy. In other words: below a certain uranium content, nuclear power produces less energy than is needed to build, fuel, and operate the reactor and to repair the environmental damage.

It’s clear that Nuclear scores badly on both energy security and carbon emissions compared to renewables. Even if we ignore the subsidised cost of nuclear, the risk of accidents and the un-resolved issue of waste, these should be reason enough to scrap any idea of more nuclear power.

Renewable energy alternatives exist and have much lower carbon emissions and inexhaustible fuel supplies. One such is Concentrating Solar Power (CSP). The technique uses concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then uses the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and, of course, these are not always nearby! But it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in the US. A recent report from the American Solar Energy Society says that CSP plants in the south western states of the US "could provide nearly 7,000 GW of capacity, or about seven times the current total US electric capacity".

Further information about CSP may be found at www.trec-uk.org.uk and www.trecers.net . Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from www.trec-uk.org.uk/reports.htm . The many problems associated with nuclear power are summarised at www.mng.org.uk/green_house/no_nukes.htm .

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Firstly, the vast majority of uranium in this world comes from Canada and Australia, not Kazakhstan like you seem to think.

Secondly, nuclear power runs at 90% capacity and above 24/7 year round compared to wind running at 25% capacity and solar only producing power when the sun is up. You reference England for how bad a shape they apparently are in for having nuke plants and yet what use is solar going to have throughout England and even all through Europe. There are no deserts in England to provide solar power too.

Thirdly, if you knew anything about nuclear power then you would know about a thing called reprocessing. Spent fuel that has come to the end of its cycle (18-24 months) still contains 95% of its energy content. You seem to think that we can never re-use the fuel.

I suggest you realize that solar and wind can only provide peaking power and that nuclear is the only type of power(C02 free) that can provide the baseload needed in this country and all throughout the world.

3:34 PM  
Blogger GreyFalcon said...

Patrick Moore, has worked as a blatant Greenwashing Consultant for all types of dirty industries for the past 15 years. He calls himself “The Cofounder of Greenpeace”, however that’s just not true. A year later after the organization had already been founded, he send in a letter of request to join as a mere member. In a newspaper column in 1993, Authentic Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter, called Moore "The Judas of the ecology movement."

Eventually he was kicked out of Greenpeace after he started suing other members of the organization. Almost instantly, he then switched sides and started offering his services to any industry that would pay him. Moore says he is the "head scientist" of his public relations firm, but has never published a peer-reviewed scientific study.

He’s made his pay by: “Defending massive clearcuts as an ecologically viable logging practice. He has hyped genetically modified crops, PVCs, and brominated flame retardants. He has soft-pedaled dioxins and toxic mine tailings dumped by Newmont mines into Indonesia bays.”

Now he wants to sell us on the virtues of nuclear, posing as a born again environmentalist who has finally seen the light of “reason”.

Who is patrick moore, and why he can't be trusted
More describing this guy's background

Greenwashing consultant for hire

12:28 AM  

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