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Obama’s nuclear policy takes one step forward and two steps back


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In 1983, a Columbia University undergraduate named Barack Obama wrote an article, “Breaking the War Mentality,” for the school publication Sundial. Obama expressed the hope that someday humanity would abolish nuclear weapons and create a “nuclear free world.” Obama never abandoned that dream. The Nobel Foundation awarded him its Peace Prize last December in large part because of his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”

Obama has recently taken one step toward a nuclear free world, and two steps away from it.

First, the forward step. Last week, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to slash their strategic nuclear arsenals from 2,200 warheads each to 1,500. The U.S. and Russia will still have almost 20,000 warheads between them, but this step still deserves a big  yay.

In February, however, Obama took another step that will make it harder to rid the world of nuclear threats once and for all. He announced that the Department of Energy would provide $8 billion in loan guarantees to help a utility build two new reactors in Georgia. Hoping to prod Wall Street into funding a renewal of nuclear power, Obama has proposed additional guarantees of more than $40 billion for other reactors. This means that if a utility abandons construction of a new plant because of cost overruns and political opposition–as General Electric did with its $6 billion plant in Shoreham, N.Y., in 1989–taxpayers get stuck with another bailout.

Obama has been pro-nuclear-energy since his days as an Illinois state senator and U.S. senator, when he accepted donations from the giant Illinois-based nuclear utility Exelon. Obama says we need more nukes to help us counteract global warming, a position with which many prominent greenies–notably, Whole Earth Catalogue founder Stewart Brand and Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace—agree. I disagree. More nukes may make the world less warm, but they will also make it less safe. Materials and technologies for nuclear energy can be diverted into making nuclear weapons, either overtly or covertly.

Moreover, every nuclear site represents a potential dirty nuclear bomb. My perspective on this issue stems in part from the fact that my family lives in Garrison, N.Y., a hamlet on the Hudson River. About five miles south of us the twin domes of the Indian Point nuclear-power plant squat on the Hudson’s east bank. On September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 skimmed just a few hundred feet above Garrison and Indian Point before plowing into the World Trade Center.

As “60 Minutes” pointed out a month after 9/11, the Boeing 767 jumbo jet could have caused much more death and destruction if it had smashed into Indian Point and spewed radioactive debris into the atmosphere. In 2004 the 9/11 Commission reported that Mohamed Atta, one of the pilots who flew into the Twin Towers, considered attacking a nuclear facility in the New York region, almost certainly Indian Point.

Then there is the waste problem, which brings me to Obama’s other backward step. For decades, the Department of Energy planned to bury the literally hot waste generated by reactors inside Yucca Mountain in the Nevada Test Site, which is already contaminated from decades of nuclear-bomb tests. But the Yucca Mountain project, which has cost more than $9 billion, bogged down in technical and political obstacles, notably adamant opposition from Nevada Senator Harry Reid. Last year Obama pulled the plug on the Nevada repository, perhaps as a political favor to Reid, the powerful Senate majority leader.

For the foreseeable future—and conceivably forever–waste will keep accumulating at 104 nuclear plants around the U.S. Each of these waste-storage sites represents another potential target for terrorists, in addition to active reactors.

We’re stuck with the existing reactors and storage sites. But given the volatility of world affairs, creating still more potential targets for nuclear terrorism would be irresponsible. And if the U.S. starts building more nukes and even selling them to other countries, it is in no position, for example, to tell Russia that marketing modified reactors from nuclear submarines as commercial devices may be a bad idea.

To my mind, these security issues trump economic and even environmental considerations. If Obama really wants to take us toward a nuclear-free world, he should reconsider nuclear energy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Horgan, a former Scientific American staff writer, directs the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology.

 

Image of nuclear power plant: iStockphoto/MichaelUtech

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

 

 





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  1. 1. YMP_Supporter 6:10 pm 03/30/2010

    With all due respect to the guest blogger, he overlooks several important facts, not the least of which is the program (described, among other places, in Stewart Brand’s book) under which surplus nuclear weapons are "downblended" into nuclear fuel for use in commercial reactors.

    This program, a joint venture between Russia and the U.S., has quietly contributed more to nuclear non-proliferation than any other endeavor, effectively turning nuclear swords into ploughshares.

    It is also irresponsible to compare 9/11 as perpetrated on the WTC with some hypothetical scenario in which a commercial airliner is crashed into a nuclear facility. The "60 Minutes" story notwithstanding, to my knowledge no credible study exists in which such a scenario results in the widespread devastation the author implies. In fact, they have simulated such an event using a fighter plane crashing into a concrete wall the same thickness and strength of a typical nuclear containment structure. The plane basically vaporized on contact, with no appreciable damage to the concrete structure.

    Not to say that such a scenario, involving a commercial airliner, would not produce serious consequences, but to suggest that it would necessarily lead to a nuclear catastrophe is a bit misleading and irresponsible.

    I also hasten to add that people who make such arguments rarely invoke analogous dangers posed by chemical facilities, which are far less robust in terms of physical protections and the ability to withstand terrorist attacks.

    A useful comparison, with respect to transportation risks, can be found in my neck of the woods, where local residents blithely ignored an incident involving a train tanker carrying chlorine. A university study found that this event could have resulted in 70,000 to 90,000 deaths if the tanker had crashed and spilled its contents. Such tankers pass through the heavily populated center of town daily.

    But those same residents will voice fear and concern at the prospect of nuclear waste shipments to Yucca Mountain, which would be relatively rare, heavily guarded, and transported in virtually indestructible casks via a special rail line that comes nowhere near a large population center.

    It’s always a matter of relative risk, in other words, which the guest blogger’s article fails to appreciate.

    Link to this
  2. 2. YMP_Supporter 6:35 pm 03/30/2010

    Here are some quotes from the very "60 Minutes" segment the guest blogger relies on; one is from reporter Steve Kroft, the others from experts interviewed on the subject. I’m not going to cite the opposing view, which has been referenced by the guest blogger.

    “These [reactor containment buildings] are strong, shell-type structures, shaped the way you see, the dome shape, that can disperse tremendous forces. So we have real confidence that that containment building would hold up. And even if it were substantially damaged, the reactor vessel itself is so well protected that it would be hard to imagine that it also would be damaged.”

    “There’s another big difference according to several engineers we talked to. The World Trade Center was made of relatively light steel and glass and the plane was able to penetrate deep into the building. The damage was caused by its fuel exploding and fire that raised the temperature above the 1,500 degrees it takes to melt steel. Hijackers could not expect to get that kind of penetration into a containment building with walls up to six feet thick of concrete and steel rebar reinforced with steel lining of up to four inches.”

    "To give you some idea of a reactor’s durability, back in 1989 the United States and Japan asked Sandia National Labs to find out what would happen if a pilot flew a jet directly into a nuclear plant’s containment building. So they sent a rocket-propelled F-4 fighter down a track towards a mock containment wall at 480 miles an hour. The fighter plane disintegrated into dust. The deepest point of penetration, just 2.4 inches. Although a commercial jumbo jet is much bigger and heavier, [the expert interviewed] believes the result would be the same."

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  3. 3. icahrus 7:03 pm 03/30/2010

    I have to completely disagree with this author. More than 60% of the power in the United states is produced by Coal. Coal!! It would take about 8 more Nuclear reactors to power all of North America. This is clean energy. By products of nuclear wastes can be used for various things that need not be weapon related. The main point is that is is clean energy and is vastly more efficient and reliable than any other type of energy available today.

    I’m from Canada, and am very pro Obama’s initiative to produce more Nuclear Power plants.

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  4. 4. icahrus 7:09 pm 03/30/2010

    I completely and utterly disagree with this author. Over 60% of power generation in the united states comes for coal power. Coal!! Nuclear power is clean energy that is the most efficient and reliable form of energy production available today. It would take approximately 8 more reactors to power all of North America, whilst eliminating all coal power sources.

    I’m from Canada, and am very pro Obama’s Nuclear Initiative and am very disappointed in Scientific American posting an article to the contrary when the benefits of a Nuclear power change from current means is not only the best available option, but a prudent step into moving forward and putting ancient technology behind us.

    Cleanest, most efficient, reliable form of energy per cost.

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  5. 5. Michael F 8:37 pm 03/30/2010

    "More [nuclear reactors for power] may make the world less warm, but they will also make it less safe. Materials and technologies for nuclear energy can be diverted into making nuclear weapons, either overtly or covertly."

    I love this part. Mention nothing of the fact that uranium used in reactors is enriched to a max of only about 2%, while the highly enriched uranium needed to make a viable nuclear weapon is enriched to at least 85%, with even the most crude weapons requiring uranium enriched to at least 20%. It’s not that easy to separate isotopes – the uranium used in reactors could almost certainly NOT be turned into a weapon by a group any less funded that a medium-sized government – certainly not by a terrorist group with only a few million dollars at their disposal (let alone the fly-by-night types that can only dream of raising that kind of money.)

    This article is very irresponsible and not factual. If you read it, accept it as the editorial that it is and nothing more.

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  6. 6. sethdayal 9:13 pm 03/30/2010

    More antinuke claptrap brought to you straight from the backrooms at Big Oil HQ by Sci American. You would think that the author’s here could be at least be trained to use Wikipedia.

    The Shoreham shut down and cost overruns were because of idiots at the Greenpeace idiots running the NRC. Chu has made sure that won’t happen again. So bailouts NOT!! Loan guarantees’s won’t cost the taxpayers a dime.

    The author if he learned how to read – a typical problem with those of the Nuclear Denier religion – he would find no nuclear weapon states have ever used $1B power reactors to join the nuclear club. $1M cheap research reactors and centrifuges are the route. Nuclear waste from power reactors is unsuitable for use in nuclear weapons in any case.

    Since 99% of the worlds GHG production comes from countries that already have nuclear power its a moot point anyway – as if Russia gives an rat’s what we think about their nuclear sales anyway.

    Terrorists wanting to make a dirty bomb would find it much easier to raid hospital cancer clinics than heavily guarded nuclear facilities.

    All the worlds nuclear waste would fit in a soccer stadium filled to the bleachers. Compare that to the hundreds thousands of sq miles destroyed by the coal,solar and wind industries.

    Nuclear waste is valuable fuel for 4th gen reactors like the IFR. IFR’s at $1B/Gw could supply all the world’s power for hundreds of years on existing nuclear waste The tiny amount of low level waste from IFR’s is safe enough to put back in the mine. We need to build new types of nukes to clear the mess from the old types.

    The author should take a basic course in grade 3 level science before he decides to write on article about something he knows nothing whatsoever about.

    Why Sci American would publish such tripe goes to show whose paying them.

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  7. 7. physicist 11:37 pm 03/30/2010

    Nuclear reactors are not "nukes" and this article is garbage.

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  8. 8. tomgarven 11:53 pm 03/30/2010

    I worked in the nuclear power industry for 20 years and helped build, license and operate one of the best facilities in the U.S. Having said this I find the following to be mostly true.

    1. We will build more nuclear power plants when we see people marching in the streets with signs that say build one in my backyard. It doesn’t make much difference how much data you present, how big your list of pro nuclear reasons are, until a NIMBY solution is found we probably won’t be building more nukes.

    2. Nuclear plants are expensive and take a long time to build. Currently I don’t know of any financial institution [or utility] willing to risk from $3-12 billion and 4-8 years to build a bunch of new units.

    If we can fix No. 1 & 2 then thousands of us can go back to work. Until then we will just have to keep on installing wind turbines and solar panels.

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  9. 9. sethdayal 12:45 am 03/31/2010

    There are numerous examples of Western designed reactors being sold in Asia for under $2B/Gw so far in oneseys and twoseys. It would stand to reason that after a hundreds of these get built mostly in factories the costs will drop drastically.

    Westinghouse and AECL are claiming 3 years builds at under $1B/Gw are possible with factory mass production.

    A big task for Energy Sec Chu is to find out why it costs four times as much and takes twice as long to build an identical nuclear plant in the US as in China and make it right.

    The answer is an out of control NRC.

    We have the FAA and DOT regulating the aircraft and auto industries and yet we have no trouble competing with the rest of the world.

    But in the nuclear industry we invented and once led the world in we are now a sad joke because of these NRC fools. Americans need to feel the shame and the anger and demand their politicians fix this now.

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  10. 10. hamm 1:09 am 03/31/2010

    I would like to concur with many of the above statements and add one of my own. I’m a HazMat tech with a specialization in radiation. The concerns over a ‘dirty bomb’ are more emotional than factual. It’s very difficult to make an effective (lethal) radiological dispersal device. Other than panic and real estate losses, the actual impact of a dirty bomb is minimal.

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  11. 11. JamesDavis 8:33 am 03/31/2010

    There is still geothermal…and it doesn’t take billions of dollars or ten years to build and it will produce all the clean electricity we will ever need. Big oil, big coal, big nuke, and big natural gas…all very expensive, very dirty, very dangerous, very distructive, and takes forever to build, wants you to believe that geothermal causes earthquakes – which is a big bareface lie -. In West Virginia last week in Mann, big coal caused a 2.9 earthquake. In the fourteen states that has geothermal, there has been no earthquakes, no wormholes opening in space, no nuclear fallout, and no nuclear storage problems, because there is nothing nuclear involved in geothermal; geophysicists have proven that geothermal power plants do not cause earthquakes, devistation of its surroundings or death to its inhabitants that surround it throughout the state it is located in. So all you pro-death, destruction, poverty, and war people should turn you attention to geothermal power and give up your wishes for death, destruction, poverty, and war.

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  12. 12. doug l 8:47 am 03/31/2010

    Interesting article. I think if the author were to simply address each of the comments that have so far been made there could be a pretty nice follow-up article and perhaps, even, some progress towards achieving the overall goal of a workable solution to the current problems regarding our energy future, nuclear technologies and proliferation of nuclear weapons. And if not a follow-up article, a lengthy series of articles. It is complex.
    The point is made that we wont see a resurgence of the nuclear power industry here in the US until people begin marching and protesting to request that power plants be built in their backyards. Intererstingly, we might actually see that as the world spreads about the next generation of smaller, safer and cheaper pre-loaded power generators, and the safer technologies involving thorium, or as Bill Gates has suggested the use of what used to be nuclear waste in ‘traveling wave reactors’.
    As for the government loan guarantees. It should be noted that one of the reasons, in fairness, as to why the costs of building reactors is so high is that the regulatory landscape in which the self same government which formed the regulatory landscape (ill-advised some would say) is beyond being realistic and is instead a thinly disguised attempt to choke a nascent industry while it’s in its crib as a kind of intentional containment. The baby has continued to grow and so must our understanding as to how to manage it, but we really should abandon any plans to place the genii back into the bottle. That truly would be a waste of energy.

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  13. 13. RDH 8:49 am 03/31/2010

    Where am I? I thought I went to the Scientific American site but it appears I was redirected to a site run by the looney left. Do you know what really happens after we achieve a nuclear free world? Some despot drops his nukes on us and we are wiped out.

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  14. 14. namikozcan 9:03 am 03/31/2010

    Dear Sethdayal,
    You say that all nuclear waste would fit into a stadium.

    You can also fit all world population into 1000 stadiums, but no one can deny that this is enough to pollute the world.

    So one stadium full of nuclear waste is not something that could be underestimated. This is about 0,1 % of total human volume.

    No human being should have the right to produce waste that would last longer than his life time. Otherwise we would be stealing the lively earth from our children.

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  15. 15. nuclearvet 10:35 am 03/31/2010

    A few comments from a veteran of this stuff:
    1. Shoreham was tragic, poetic justice. The plant was good technically, and it received its operating license from the NRC. Few people choose to remember this. LILCO surrendered it because Mario Cuomo forcefully argued that LILCO would have to fight to the Supreme Court for every penny it wished to recover for the plant if it operated, whereas, if the company closed it, he would see that the Company was fully compensated, primarily by those who ought to pay for it — the taxpayers of New York who claimed to have opposed it. LILCO, having been bled white by 10 years of litigation-driven delay, did the expedient thing: it closed a fully licensed plant, took the money, and ran.
    2. Current loan guarantees are not a taxpayer bailout — the applicant pays a hefty risk premium, up front, to the Feds, in return for the financial assurance (and presumably lower cost of capital) provided by the loan guarantee.
    3. Even if Yucca Mountain is not completed, even if every reactor in the US were to stop operating permanently by noon today, some equivalent of YM would be needed to store what’s already been generated. If reprocessing/recycling is permitted, the volume of HLW ultimately remaining is minuscule — 5%-7% — relative to volumes in once-through fuel cycle.
    4. Problem is not the NRC. Problem is that nuclear plants are very complex and very expensive and have planning and construction cycles that are longer than political cycles, so the equation is never stable. Maybe new, smaller, scalable reactors will help get away from the fact that a new nuclear project is a bet-the-company proposition for virtually any entity, no matter how large. Until then,…

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  16. 16. syncratio400 10:43 am 03/31/2010

    The author has a sever lack of education on nuclear power generation, and seems to fuel himself on bias and fear rather than knowledge.

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  17. 17. sir kingsley 12:37 pm 03/31/2010

    I agree with YMP supporter and pretty much all the other comments on here. It is a matter of relative risk — if we are really concerned about climate change and energy independence, nuclear is the way to go, at least for now. If the gov’t is going to invest our money in our "energy future", nuclear will yield the best results. Of course there are risks involved. I think the fact that the 9/11 hijackers flew directly over the nuclear plant when they could easily have crashed into it says something.

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  18. 18. sethdayal 1:55 pm 03/31/2010

    All the world’s nuclear waste would fit on a football field buried 40 feet deep in a concrete containment casks.

    Now if you drained Lake Erie you could fill it forty feet higher every year with coal ash from Canada and the US. Fifty years of ash dump would be a pile 2000 feet high.

    Invisible 28 miles from shore in the middle of that Lake Erie sized toxic radioactive waste dripping pile of coal ash would be that football field of waste buried forever.

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  19. 19. 21stcentury 2:17 pm 03/31/2010

    It is dismaying that Mr. Horgan, with his cherry-picking and bias is directing a center that trains science writers or writings.

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  20. 20. ButWhatDoIKnow 3:49 pm 03/31/2010

    Almost 40 years ago I heard a speaker note that we can’t disinvent nuclear weapons, we have to learn how to live with them. Still makes sense to me and it seems the same can be said about nuclear energy.

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  21. 21. jerryd 5:45 pm 03/31/2010

    Until nukes can pay for themselves without subsidies they should not be built.

    The present designs in the US are not viable though I see good things from more advanced designs that are inherently safe and far smaller.

    I don’t see any problem with nuke waste as it can be dealt with hopefully with future nuke plants burning it.

    Now both wind, CHP, CSP and solar PV for homes, buildings are far more cost effective than present nukes if shopped well.

    Sethdayal, when are you going to supply real cot data in detail of what the costs you say nukes are? You quote costs that are about what just the generating parts are much less the reactor. My guess you are quoting just the reactor core. Prove your costs or stop quoting them.

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  22. 22. gmperkins 6:17 pm 03/31/2010

    I like nuclear disarmerment and also greater use of nuclear power versus coal power (based upon facts already presented by many responders). This kind of non-scientific anti-nuclear propganda is no better than the idiocy we get from coal and oil proponents.

    Scientific American should be SCIENTIFIC.

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  23. 23. Devlbunny 6:44 pm 03/31/2010

    Yes we Can! Build nuclear energy plants, that is. I praise Pres. Obama for taking a firm stance on this issue.

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  24. 24. sethdayal 11:03 pm 03/31/2010

    Well Jerryd never seen anything from you proving any of your cost claims and many times I’ve shredded your WAG’s with actual data from actual construction projects. Wind power is ten times the real cost of nukes once the NRC factor is removed and solar 35 times the cost.

    For the 30th time Google Westinghouse nuclear China. Comes out to $1.2B/ Gw for American designed NRC approved nukes built by American and Chinese ENGINEERS without American attorneys. You have no idea what the cost of a 1 Gw steam plant is now do you.

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  25. 25. elderlybloke 3:47 am 04/1/2010

    How is it that few Americans are aware that France has had nuclear power for decades and 80% of the electricity is generated by nuclear power?
    The citizens of France do not have to suffer from the pollution and deaths caused by mining and burning coal.
    "There have been NO deaths due to nuclear power in the USA, and Three Mile Island which gets dragged out by the ignorant types like Greenpeace, was a non event with no detectable effect on anyone in the area around the plant.

    But that non-event gets dragged out every time,
    by the tree-huggers and just like Bush repeating
    Iraq while talking about your 9/11 event ,getting people to believe there was a connection.
    Dr Gobbles , the Nazi Propaganda Minister would be impressed.

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  26. 26. PJB 9:03 am 04/1/2010

    I cannot agree with the author’s reasons for not installing more Nuclear Power Plants.
    1. The cost of a Nuclear Plant should hencefoth be compared with a coal plant after adding all the costs for exhaust gas cleaning and carbon capture equipment.
    2.Since 9/11 type of attack is a possibility, a propper defence mechanism, which is available, to prevent a hit by plane or missile should be put in place.
    If we apply our mind to solve all perceived problems with the intention of harnessing Nuclear Energy, rather than only oppose it, we are bound to find solutions, which in turn make Nuclear Power safe.

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  27. 27. friend2all 3:20 pm 04/1/2010

    We could build and deploy better less waste generating and more economical nuclear energy. Dr. Edward Teller, the founding director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, wrote his final paper a month before his death on the subject of the advantages of Thorium Molten Salt Reactors and the contribution this style of less polluting nuclear energy could make to achieving energy independence while reducing the need to generate green house gases. This paper can be downloaded from the following URL:
    http://www.geocities.com/rmoir2003/moir_teller.pdf

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  28. 28. Dave Rossin 3:58 pm 04/1/2010

    Mr. Horgan notes that "Obama pulled the plug on the Nevada repository PERHAPS as a favor to Reid" More accurate reporting would say , OBVIOUSLY and not ‘perhaps.’ Yucca Mountain has no real technical obstqacles, but that issue is to be settled by review of its applicaio and safety report, which Sen. Reid is trying to prevent.

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  29. 29. tiger850 11:44 pm 04/4/2010

    Are you kidding….? Is this article a joke? April Fools? Another liberal with no reality? Geez buddy the whole world has moved forward with safe nuclear power 30 years ago. We have a terrific opportunity to put in the highest tech/safest power system in the world and you want to climb under your desk for another cold war. Scare tactics for nuclear energy are unfounded. Look at rest of world, Navy, etc. NO PROBLEM.

    Reality is that nuclear power IS the energy of choice around the world. USA has had their head in the sand for enviromental reasons and safety reasons for way to long.

    Let’s design the safest and most efficient nuclear reactor then copy it for fast track installation. NO NEED to REDSIGN and go through red tape over and over and over again.

    Nuclear energy is a source of power that must be a solution for our future. Coal, Oil, Natural Gas….yuk. Wind, Thermal nice supplements. Have a look at France, Japan, German, England,…oh yeah every 1st world nation…and now China and Mexico putting in nuclear energy. So where does that put USA…a 3rd world energy plan?

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  30. 30. Vir Narain 1:08 am 04/7/2010

    The Guest Blogger has raised some important points; and intemperate comments are no argument.

    It can be argued that each of the following three factors, on its own, is sufficient to rule out, for the present, the widespread use of nuclear energy for power generation:
    1. Irreversible environmental damage caused by uranium mining.
    2. Security of nuclear power plants from sabotage or hostile attacks (by bombs or missiles). It is naive to think that nuclear facilities are – and will remain – immune to these.
    3. Problems of long-term waste disposal.
    The operative phrase in the above formulation is for the present. As technology advances, reliable solutions may well be found for these problems. For example, advocates of Fast-neutron Reactors claim: As todays thermal reactors reach the end of their lifetimes, they could be replaced by fast reactors. Should that occur, there would be no need to mine any more uranium ore for centuries and no further requirement, ever, for uranium enrichment. For the very long term, recycling the fuel of fast reactors would be so efficient that currently available uranium supplies could last indefinitely. (William H. Hannum, Gerald E. Marsh and George S. Stanford: Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste, Scientific American, Dec 2005 page 91). It is also claimed that the problem of waste disposal will be very greatly reduced. As of now, it is acknowledged worldwide that the problem of long-term waste disposal remains unresolved.
    The problems of security (as distinct from safety), however, are bound to remain. Given the world’s unstable security environment, there can be no room for complacency in this regard.
    The worldwide operation of nuclear reactors in large numbers, in countries big or small, some technically backward and politically unstable, multiplies the probability of catastrophic consequences.

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  31. 31. Vir Narain 1:16 am 04/7/2010

    The Guest Blogger has raised some very valid points; and intemperate comments are no argument.

    It can be argued that each of the following three factors, on its own, is sufficient to rule out, for the present, the widespread use of nuclear energy for power generation:
    1. Irreversible environmental damage caused by uranium mining.
    2. Security of nuclear power plants from sabotage or hostile attacks (by bombs or missiles). It is naive to think that nuclear facilities are – or can remain – immune to these.
    3. Problems of long-term waste disposal.
    The operative phrase in the above formulation is `for the present’. As technology advances, reliable solutions may well be found for these problems. For example, advocates of `Fast-neutron Reactors’ claim: “As today’s thermal reactors reach the end of their lifetimes, they could be replaced by fast reactors. Should that occur, there would be no need to mine any more uranium ore for centuries and no further requirement, ever, for uranium enrichment. For the very long term, recycling the fuel of fast reactors would be so efficient that currently available uranium supplies could last indefinitely.” (William H. Hannum, Gerald E. Marsh and George S. Stanford: Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste, Scientific American, Dec 2005 page 91). It is also claimed that the problem of waste disposal will be very greatly reduced. As of now, it is acknowledged worldwide that the problem of long-term waste disposal remains unresolved.
    The problems of security (as distinct from safety), however, are bound to remain. Given the world’s security environment, there can be no room for complacency in this regard. The worldwide operation of nuclear reactors in large numbers, in countries big or small, some technically weak and politically unstable,is bound to multiply the probability of a catastrophic failure

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  32. 32. semmster 1:31 am 04/7/2010

    Which is better, no nuclear weapons (especially in the hands of liberal, western societies) and inevitable rise in the incidence of conventional warfare, or nuclear weapons (especially in the hands of etc.) and an obvious deterrent to those of us with genocidal and homicidal inclinations?

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  33. 33. Hippiefreak 10:15 pm 04/16/2010

    There is one important issue regarding Nuclear Power that must be considered and not addressed in this blog or comments. One of The biggest limitations on how many Nuclear reactors that can practically be built may not be the technology but the limited talent pool. Where are you going to find someone competent enough to run a nuclear reactor? Some engineering professionals have surplus talent, such as aerospace engineering who are capable of applying their talents to the private sector in related fields, but what about a Nuclear Engineer who is out of work? Unlike an aerospace engineer who is out of work, the Unemployed Nuclear Engineer can have countless job offers from many sources beyond the commercial market place. The same is true for employed Nuclear Engineers and crews. Currently, most nuclear engineering in the private sector comes from the Military or Industries requiring security clearance. to expand the demand for commercial talent means expanding the demand for such talent in the military which means investing more and more in nuclear capacity for the the military in order to supply private industry. It is a double edged sword. If more plants are built and you establish private sector training protocols to fill that demand we come face to face with important issues our market economy has never solved . One is that our modern industrial economy cannot create zero unemployment as employment is driven by market conditions in flux and subject to the business cycle. Private sector training of people working up the ladder on commercial reactors results in more decentralized training and less oversight than in the Military. Today there is a limit on the available talent pool for commercial reactors. Military driven supply to create nuclear professionals for private sector jobs requires greater use of Nuclear technology in our military which leading to nuclear proliferation while endeavoring to establish Detente. Private sector jobs training has serious security risks, and sudden changes in the business cycle can make the black market demand for nuclear engineers far greater than what can be created in the Private sector. This problem seems to be avoided by persons on both sides of the nuclear debate.

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  34. 34. eco-steve 7:53 pm 04/18/2010

    The only way to get rid of all the plutonium that the cold war created is to burn it in nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors are so expensive to run that they are subsidised by selling some electricity to unsuspecting taxpayers. Nuclear eactors cannot follow instantaneous demand, so coal has to be burned creating CO2 pollution and climate change. Every country wants the nuclear deterrent, so illicit proliferation has spread to such countries as Pakistan, Israel and Irak, where the reactor Osiris was destroyed. Whether we kill our enemies with radioactive waste or the bayonette, it is human greed and cupidity that needs to be abolished to restore peace.

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