Sunday, March 22, 2009

There Is No Such Thing as Nuclear Waste

About a week and a half ago there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about nuclear power entitled "There Is No Such Thing as Nuclear Waste". After reading it I would say that it expresses my sentiments on the subject. An even better commentary is given by my brother on his blog here. I think that nuclear power is a proper and viable option and should be heavily invested in. If we are concerned about the CO2 output of the US then we should definitely invest in more nuclear power. I think that the moratorium on new nuclear power plants in the US has done more to increase the CO2 output of the country than any thing else. As my brother puts it, "radical environmentalists of the 1960s and 1970s (even continuing on to today) did far more damage to the global environment than any other group." They are uncompromising and prevent any rational discussion of the problem at hand.

I just thought I would throw that out there and see what you guys think about it. I know I'm preaching to the choir here but with more and more people becoming environmentally minded how do we prevent the old school anti-nuclear environmentalists from taking over the new global warming scare and preventing a solution being found?


  1. I'm all for the spread of nuclear technology. I think it is safe and effective.

    However, the only drawback is it can't be a permanent answer. Nuclear fuel will eventually run out. (I think) The question in my mind is "How many times should we push a temporary solution?"

    I think the only things we are sure to not run out of are wind, solar and hydrogen fuel. If either of those three where gone, it would be a bad day.

  2. I recently saw a presentation by a physicist from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado and his basic conclusion (supported by some very good analysis) was that with our current model of electricity generation and use we have two long term (next ~30 years) options: coal using some sort of carbon capture mechanism or reprocessing nuclear fuel. With either option we have on the order of 3000 years of natural supply at current consumption rates easily available in the Earth's crust.

    If we want to go to something like a wind or solar based system, we need a storage mechanism like hydrogen, but his estimate was that a full-scale revolution in the generation, storage, and distribution of wind or solar energy was on the order of 50 years off.

    Bottom line: If we want to continue to generate more energy without destroying our climate due to CO2, the solution in the near term must be either coal with carbon capture or reprocessed nuclear fuel.

  3. Well, if it really is the case that nuclear fuel will easily last on the order of ~3000 years, and if it will really require ~50 years to go the wind/solar/hydrogen route, then I say go nuclear, then shift later.

    My issue is I saw a scientist from the same lab Nick mentioned who said in 20 years and 1 trillion dollars we could get to a Wind/Solar/Hydrogen infrastructure in the US. 20 years may be a short enough window that it would be worth it.

    So, is it 20 or 50? (Al Gore thinks 10.) Those two(three) numbers make a big difference in my mind.

  4. Also, you have to factor in exports.

    If we make wind/solar/hydrogen technology on scales to sustain the US, we will be selling it to the rest of the world in great quantities. Not only would it produce jobs and clean renewable fuel, but will be a cash-cow from exports.

    Can any of you for a second think we would make a dime selling nuclear technology? Nuclear technology != Cash-Cow from exports. (!= means does not equal)

    We spend all our time keeping nuclear technology away from the rest of the world.

    Here is my capitalist idea: invest in technology you can turn around and sell to your neighbors for money. :)

  5. I agree that wind/solar with hydrogen storage systems is the answer in the long run, but the issue is that even if we can economically viable wind/solar generation with a hydrogen storage system in 20 years, it's not like we're just going to shut-down all other existing power plants right then. The power plants we build in the next 10-20 years will be in operation for the next 40 to 50 years. So unless we want to go the coal route, we need to start building nuclear reactors now.

  6. By the way, I think that we need to implement a market-based way to provide an economic incentive to power generation systems that do not emit CO2. Right now coal power is cheap because they can vent their waste products into the atmosphere for next to nothing. If we made coal power pay for the CO2 it emits, it would give an economic incentive to (1) carbon-capture mechanisms, (2) nuclear power, and (3) wind/solar energy in a way that will allow the market to determine what the cheapest way to produce energy will be. Maybe nuclear isn't the short-term answer, but that should be decided by economics that include the true long-term cost of any power source.

  7. I agree Nick. When I was at Los Alamos I saw a panel of scientists on clean energy and all were convinced you have to have market forces on your side to get anything done efficiently.

    However, they also were unanimous in their conclusion that is often takes some government intervention to get the market up and running properly.

    They wanted the government to do this in a mixture of two ways:

    1. Make regulations, like taxes, that make it finanically enticing to make changes. (Giving tax breaks to companies that take initiative falls under this category too.)

    2. Use national labs, etc..., to get a lot of the initial research and development hurdles out of the way. (It's easier for a company to take the baton once the first few billion dollars and years of initial work are out of the way.)

    Finding that winning formula is hard.


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