Monday, June 1, 2009

The Nuclear Debate

An article from the StarPhoenix “news”paper in Saskatoon is haunting me from overseas.  Bob Fink doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about.

If you don’t want to read it, I’ve been so kind as to write a short summary:

The first part is some nonsense about Nuclear Power actually producing a lot of carbon emissions, the government and media are involved in a conspiracy to make you love nuclear power by censoring bad informaion, and some other “facts” that are probably not true and the last part is a bunch of information on the Chernobyl incident in 1986 Russia.

I have strong feelings for Nuclear Power, so I apologize if that comes through too strongly,  but I’ve tried to present true facts as they are, instead of doing as this guy did (writing with such a huge bias that it even makes FOX anchors like Bill O’Reilly a little nervous [seriously, that guy is a slanted, senile old man who will likely get a whole other post sometime soon]). 

I'm not really sure what Sir Fink-a-lot is talking about right at the beginning or where he got his facts. The processes of running a Nuclear Power plant generates no CO2, some CO2 emissions arise from the construction of the plant, the mining of the uranium, the enrichment of the uranium, its conversion into fuel, its final disposal and the final plant decommissioning. The amount ofCO2 generated by these secondary events depends on the method used (gas diffusion vs. gaseous centrifuge) to enrich the uranium and the source of electricity used for the enrichment process. So extrapolating, if you had an existing nuclear power plant powering the enrichment process, that would make the nuclear power plant itself nearly 100% emissions free.
I think what people don't understand is that nuclear power isn't supposed to be lumped in with "green" energy. It's just a lot more efficient than wind or solar at the moment.  No one is pretend there aren’t some wrinkles in the whole plan to be ironed out, but this guy just doesn’t seem to know what part needs ironing.

"Government and industry already have all these facts available, but pretend the reactor is still plausible."

This is laughable and just shows how much the author really knows about nuclear power.  NO ONE pretends that the reactor used at Chernobyl (type RBMK) is still a good idea. Not one educated person. There are still a bunch being used in Russia, but no one is building new ones ever again. That was Russian technology from the 50's and is considered all but obsolete today.

I'm not sure about all the Chernobyl facts there, but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he did some research, I’m too tired of Thailand to bother fact-checking.  Anyway, true or not, all of that information is totally irrelevant to the current nuclear power debate.  In fact, one of my biggest pet peeves in the nuclear power debate (besides people pronouncing it NUKE-U-LER) is when  Chernobyl is discussed.

Now, loving Science first and foremost and above all others, I will agree that there is NEVER zero risk, because that would imply zero probability of disaster.  And that’s impossible.
Always.
For everything.
That is just math--the probability of things happening is never zero, there are anomalies that one simply cannot predict (see: Barack Obama’s election to the White House).

However, I can say beyond a reasonable doubt, that the probability of a Chernobyl-type disaster occurring in Canada is INFINITESMALLY small. Using information about Chernobyl as a reason not to use nuclear power is akin to comparing the current working conditions or safety standards in Canada to Russia's in 1986 (OK, that picture might be a bit older than 1986, but still, Soviet Russia). We all see how ridiculous that is, so I don't know why anyone will accept Chernobyl as a valid argument against nuclear energy..

Nuclear power is not perfect, far from it. But the biggest challenge facing nuclear power today is NOT the safety of the reactors, it is dealing with the waste products. Wasting time telling people about Chernobyl isn't advancing the cause or fixing our energy problems by offering viable solutions.  All it amounts to is complaining.  The fact of the matter is that, barring huge developments in high-efficiency solar panels, nuclear power IS the best bet to reduce carbon emissions.

Following are stats for Sweden's Vattenfall plants:

The total amount CO2 emitted per KW-Hr of electricity produced is 3.3 grams per KW-Hr of produced power. Vattenfall measures its CO2 output from Natural Gas to be 400 grams per KW-Hr and from coal to be 700 grams per KW-Hr.

There's no pretending that isn't a HUGE benefit to our atmosphere.  Nuclear power makes sense, and more time and research should be devoted to nuclear waste management or recycling.

4 comments:

Lojo Beautiful said...

Interesting!

deedub said...

Recently I saw an interview on TV where a guy who was an engineer running a coal plant. The point this engineer was pushing is that even though you have "green" energy like solar and wind, the sun isn't always shining and sometimes the wind doesn't blow when you want it to. It is in these times that you need a *reactive* power source -- something you can conjure up to meet the current [dynamic] demand.
Of course, this guy was arguing for coal power, but the same argument can be made for nuclear or any reactive power. Like you said, no one is saying nuclear power is the best choice; the reason why I say nuclear is *better* is that while we sit here yammering on about what could be better, we are continuing to construct and commission NEW coal-burning power plants -- we are making things worse!
The bottom line is that we have to bite the fucking bullet and choose something; if it means sitting on a pool of radioactive waste long enough until someone figures out how to make more electricity with it, then I say do it. Coal is no fucking worse than nuclear power, it's just that the garbage ends up in your lap instead of pumping it out of a fucking smoke stack into the air we breathe. There is NO such thing as "free and clean energy;" we can't hold our breath and wish a pipe dream comes true while our planet is being shit on every fucking day. A properly constructed (see: not RBMK) and operated (see: not Three-Mile Island) modern-day nuclear reactor has multiple dead-man switches to stop a meltdown (see: most light-water reactors), or designed in a way that don't allow meltdowns to occur (see: pebble bed reactor). Either magnetically restrained control rods and moderator poisoning can shut down thermal emissions in a fraction of a second.
Also, on a side note, there are reactor designs that transmute non-fissionable long-life radioactive isotopes into other elements that can participate in the nuclear reaction; so called "fast breeder reactors." There are also designs that minimize proliferation risks, as well. I would say the only problem is that there is not *enough* nuclear waste to justify someone building it (yet).
As far as meltdowns and safety are concerned, some valuable lessons were learned; if you don't believe me, look at how many reactors have operated (note how many still are in operation)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_reactors

also note the amount of MWe nuclear power produces in France.

deedub said...

Well, that was almost a post of its own. As you can see, I am pretty passionate about the whole subject. In the big picture.. I think coal power has done more damage to the Earth than nuclear has. Finding a duffel bag with a hundred million dollars sitting in the middle of a field might seem like an alarming amount of money, but what if you found a penny in every square metre of the earth..

That is $5,100,720,000,000
and, in my eyes, that's the difference between coal/natural gas/gasoline and nuclear.

deedub said...

That's my gut feeling, not some sort of scientific fact.