Skip to comments.Rise of the Nuclear Greens - Some environmentalists see atomic energy as the answer to global...
Posted on 03/07/2013 5:57:08 PM PST by neverdem
Some environmentalists see atomic energy as the answer to global warming.
In theory, the March 11, 2011, disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant should have bolstered environmentalists opposition to new nuclear-energy projects. But in the wake of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, some of the worlds leading Greens have done just the opposite: they have come out in favor of nuclear power. Perhaps the most prominent convert is British activist and journalist George Monbiot, who even cites the disaster as one reason for his change of heart. Just ten days after Fukushima, in a column for the Guardian, Monbiot called the use of solar energy in the United Kingdom a spectacular waste of scarce resources and declared that wind energy was hopelessly inefficient and largely worthless. Moreover, he wrote, on every measure (climate change, mining impact, local pollution, industrial injury and death, even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power. He concluded: Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.
A number of prominent British and American environmentalists were pronuclear before Fukushima. Among the Americans are longtime environmental activist and publisher Stewart Brand, as well as Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, founders of the Oakland-based Breakthrough Institute, a center-left think tank. The Brits include environmentalist Mark Lynas, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock. Theres also a Canadian in the group: Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore.
The emergence of the pronuclear Greens represents an important schism in modern environmentalism. For decades, groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace have pushed an antinuclear agenda and contended that the only energy path for the future is the widespread deployment of wind turbines and solar panels. But fear of carbon emissions and climate change has catalyzed a major rethinking. As Brand puts it in a new documentary, Pandoras Promise, which explores the conversion of antinuclear activists to the pronuclear side: The question is often asked, Can you be an environmentalist and be pronuclear? I would turn that around and say, In light of climate change, can you be an environmentalist and not be pronuclear?
Newfound support can only help the nuclear-energy sector, but it remains to be seen whether nuclear will play a major role in the burgeoning global electricity market, which has grown by about 3 percent per year since 1985. Its already clear that the Greens pronuclear stance wont have a significant impact on the American electricity market over the next decade or so, for a simple reason: the shale-gas revolution here has produced abundant supplies of low-cost natural gas. In 2010, one of the largest electric utilities in the country, Exelon, said that for new nuclear projects to be economically viable, natural gas would have to cost at least $8 per million Btu. Today, the price is about $3.50, and the shale-gas boom means that a price anywhere near $8 is exceedingly unlikely for years to come. Four nuclear reactors are now being built in the United States—the Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors in Georgia and the Summer 2 and 3 reactors in South Carolina—but the projects are going forward only because regulators in those states have allowed the utilities that own them to recover costs from ratepayers before the projects are finished.
Nuclear advocates may have more influence in Asia and Europe, where natural gas remains relatively expensive. For instance, in Japan, where the nuclear industry is fighting to stay alive after Fukushima, natural gas must be imported in liquefied form, and it currently costs about $17 per million Btu. In Western Europe, imported, liquefied natural gas costs nearly $12 per million Btu. When natural gas is that expensive, nuclear reactors can make economic sense. According to the World Nuclear Association, a trade group, some 62,000 megawatts worth of new reactors are now being built—58,000 in Europe and Asia and the remainder in South America and the Middle East. (The WNA figures dont count all 4,400 megawatts of capacity under construction in the United States.)
The biggest obstacle to a rapid expansion of the global nuclear fleet isnt natural gas, however; its coal, the leading source of carbon-dioxide emissions. In China, for example, about 500,000 megawatts of new coal-fired electric generation capacity came online between 2000 and 2011. Between 2013 and 2016, China will probably build another 315,000 megawatts of new coal-fired capacity. Electricity producers are building new coal-fired power plants because coal is relatively cheap and abundant and because no OPEC-like cartel controls the global market (see Coal Comfort, Summer 2012). Those factors help explain why, over the past decade, the global consumption of energy from coal grew by about the same amount as the consumption of energy from oil, natural gas, hydropower, and nuclear power combined. In just one year, 2011, global coal use increased by the equivalent of about 3.9 million barrels of oil per day. That daily increase was nearly as much energy as the total amount provided each day by all global non-hydro renewables.
For nuclear energy to gain significant momentum in the global marketplace, then, it has to get much cheaper. In a September essay published in Foreign Policy, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, with coauthor Jessica Levering, provided a road map for revitalizing the nuclear sector. They called for a new national commitment to the development and commercialization of next-generation nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors. The goal, they said, should be reactors that can be built at a significantly lower cost than current designs, as well as a new, more nimble regulatory framework that can review and approve the new designs.
While that plan is sensible enough, its not clear whether groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace can be persuaded to abandon their antinuclear zealotry. Nevertheless, its encouraging to see that some influential environmentalists are realizing that we have no choice but to embrace the astonishing power of the atom. We do have to get better at nuclear power, and that will take time. But were only at the beginning of the Nuclear Age.
If energy companies could build new plants the obsolete plants like Fukushima would be gone, and the meltdown likely would not have happened.
What do you want for polution, CO2 that only lasts till a plant breaths it, or radio-active crap that kills everything for a hundred thousand years. For some strange reason, the enviro-weenies always end up wrong side up.
Could you explain the issue with Fukushima in real terms. Meltdown and all? what were the actual results as you see them? Just curious.
Results of the meltdowns? As I understand it there is a slightly elevated amount of radiation in the area surrounding the plant. Up to about 10 miles out. Some reports that incidents of cancer will increase but so far no real data.
In other words a fraction of what the anti-nuke people have been claiming would happen.
Molton Salt Thorium reactors are a very big deal in some sectors.
Modern-design reactors, i.e. those that the Watermelons so vehemently oppose, are far cleaner than the old designs. Thorium/molten-salt reactors not only don’t produce much long-life radioactive waste, they can be used to process such waste from older reactors into much more benign substances. The half-life of thorium reactors is measured in decades or less, instead of centuries or millennia.
I guess that would be my point there was no real problem. But somehow we should spend Billions, upon Billion to replace functional plants with unproven "safe plants" or additional Billions on "Green Energy" plant that are proven failures in terms of sustainable energy production. just saying
“Some environmentalists see atomic energy as the answer to global warming.”
1. It’s about time.
2. Man made global warming is a farce.
Who wrote this article, an energy company heavily invested in nuke plants? What propaganda. The only thing an environmentalist would consider green about a nuke plant is the glow from the spent fuel containment ponds.
Don’t believe this article. Enviros do not support nuclear power plants. They support measures like conservation and solar, mostly distributed solar generation as opposed to large utility scale solar.
Hey, how is that brand new equipment at San Onofre working out?
Its a great idea, but it will never happen, because the ultimate goal of the Greenies is to thwart the progress that the industrialized nations have made over the last couple of centuries.
Very cool, have not kept up on reactors since my military days.
I had an acquaintance make a good point about nuclear energy the other day: who will be building the plants? The same people who build new homes? Who will work at the plants? The same people working in government now? Scary thought.
That said, i am all for nuclear energy sources.
Thorium or bust!!!
The chumps think that after they build billions of dollars of infrastructure that relies on a large 24x7 supply of natural gas that they'll just be able to snap their fingers when the price of gas hits $20 instead of $3.50.
Something is only “pollution” if it is released into the environment.
Submarines are designed to run for twenty-five years on one load of fuel that could fit under your desk, and the sailors aboard, breathing air created by the power from that reactor, get less exposure to radiation than the average surface-dweller. You want “zero emissions?” That’s the very definition of submarine warfare.
Let's look at reality: How many were hurt or killed by radioactive attributes of the Fukushima meltdowns? Answer; none. How many were hurt or killed at the Three Mile Island meltdown? None.
Chernobyl was not a commercial reactor, and not just because it was built in Communist country. Westinghouse was building boiling water reactors, the basis for the Fukushima and Three Mile Island designs, when Chernobyl was built. Chernobyl was a graphite core reactor, not much different from the Fermi pile at Chicago. It's objective was to produce plutonium for weapons; its excess energy drove steam turbines and provided heat for nurseries in the vicinity. It had no pressure vessel and no six foot thick reinforced containment. Still it killed only three men outright. The range of excess leukemia deaths ranged from 20 to 60 deaths over five years.
The epidemiology remains in doubt because the average death rates in Chernobyl were lower than the average in most of Ukraine, and much lower than those in major cities. By being off line the Chenobyl reactor's power was replaced by importing coal generated electricity, which, according to US EPA estimates, results in 200 premature deaths each year. In other words Chernobyl was saving 967 lives over the five years of measuring the injuries resulting from the meltdown.
The author's assumptions about costs may have been naïve, and some of the assumptions about hazards certainly were. Natural gas is a source of radionuclides in the atomosphere. Natural gas, like coal and uranium comes from deep underground where nuclear activation occurs naturally. When natural gas is burned radionuclides are simply release into the atmosphere, along with minor waste products and CO2, which the plants love. When nuclear fuel is consumed by fission the radioactive atoms give up some of their energy as heat, are concentrated, shielded, and later, chemically bound for storage or, if we ever get back to it, reprocessing. It is alpha emitters in the air we breath that the small risk of inhalation is known to increase cancer risks. Neither coal nor natural gas plants would meet, if they were tested as nuclear plants are, NRC emissions standards.
The economics of nuclear generated electricity are massively skewed by regulatory overhead. Regulation also raises the cost of money to pay the lawyers and pay the interest on loans while construction is stalled in the courts. Last I heard China was still on track to build 135 new nuclear plants in the 2 GW range before 2025. Anyone who has experience or knows of the air pollution in Beijing understands China's urgency. The world's largest manufacturer knows it must employ more and more, and to do it efficiently requires lots of power. The importance of having no air pollutants emitted while generating electricity is more obvious to the Chinese than to our bureaucrats and our naïve environmental elite.
If you live in Minnesota, or on granite, as I do, you probably have more background radiation coming from your basement than you would from a house built over nuclear waste storage tanks. Too bad Yucca Mountain lost to politicians, who only have a decade or so of cronyism to survive. But long half lives are associated with low radiation power. Grandpa's wristwatch with the radium dial was much more radioactive. Don't learn your physics from the Sierra Club, which, by the way, was a major supporter of nuclear power in the 60s, before some wealthy New Yorkers learned that the power lines from a new plant would be visible from their estates on the Hudson).
So let’s recap:
We’ll al pretend that Chernobyl isn’t still killing people today with cancer, leukemia, early dementia, birthdefects, and what is termed a ‘host of other illness’ and that it will continue to do so for countless generations. Let’s call it a success story.
We should also plan on pretending that Fukushima is NOT an ongoing disaster despite the evidence, with a lasting legacy of pain suffering and early death. I know, I know...you’d like to limit any discussion of nuclear disasters to ARS (accute radiation sickness) so that if a person doesn’t die within weeks of exposure it ‘just doesn’t count’, but it’s well known that cancer, dementia, leukemia etc. take some time and that radioactive waste is very very patient and will kill for countless generations.
So, you think three nuclear core melt throughs is ‘no harm no foul’? The fact that tons of radioactive fuel now sits in an uncovered, damaged pool in the open air, on a building foundation that went through an explosion and tsunami and can’t be approached too closely to conduct needed repairs is ‘good news’?
I remember the good old days when contemptuous nuclear engineers would ridicule members of the public who were concerned about containment of nuclear fuel - the nuclear engineers would sneer that nuke plants are designed to withstand a direct strike by a commercial jet. Rembmer that? Now that water washed away the capacity for the nuke plants to avoid explosive releases of nuclear fuel and catastrophic melt-throughs...it’s no longer a topic they want to discuss.
Nuclear engineers would like to turn the discusion toward how it’s all the public’s fault - if only we have given them MORE responsiblity and resources!!! I have never seen the nuclear pimps accept responsibility for their actions - and I never will.
The way that the Japanese government withheld it’s early warning system (SPEEDI) data from the populace so they “wouldn’t panic” and therefore the populace fled downwind into the radioctive plumes itself during the early aftermath is a “good move” in your opinion? And watching Japan compel school children to eat food known to be contaminated with radioactive waste is not the least bit disturbing?
Contaminated water, air and food is ...what....good for you? So let’s ignore the fact that the government has prohibited doctors from evaluating the health of Fukushima residents without obtaining explicit permission and with it, the nasty, depressing news that approx 50% of children living in Fukushima have numerous thyroid cysts.
Heck, while we are at it lets just praise the presence of 3 nuclear cores which have escaped containment and continue to emit radioative isotopes into the air we breathe with no end in sight...where the contaminated plume joins the radioative waste that Japan has decided to BURN (well how else to spread it around?) I’d think you’d be slightly concerned that there are radioactive hotspots in Tokyo but no...you seem pretty comfortable to me.
Gee...I wonder what the Japanese government would have done if the initial, dense plume of radioactive waste headed straight for Tokyo in the first hours? Would they have done what the Soviet government did in the aftermath of Chernobyl? Would they have brought the airborne waste to earth with cloud seeding (rain) in ‘less populated areas’ before the radiation could reach the metropolis? That’s what the Soviets did - of course the waste was so toxic that entire villages full of people died outright - but hey...they ‘saved’ the metropolis from heavy, unrecoverable contamination. Tough break living in low density areas, huh?
Now looking at the mismanagement, denial and lies and lets admit it...outright incompetence of those running our nuclear power plants (worldwide), you think we should give them thorium reactors...what...as a reward?
Those nuke people who come on to boards like FR and shriek that anyone who questions their decisions or deceptions is a tree hugger etc. Those nuclear experts who demand that the rest of us shut up or perform dosimetry calculations and “post our work” in order earn the right to participate in the public discourse around the disasterous, damaging history of nuclear power and yet who themselves do not understand the difference between bananas and radioactive cesium should just be given more nuclear power plants and never, ever be made to accept responsibility for their actions? The nuclear engineers who post dosimetry calculations which have no medical relevence...should be given a promotion?
I am suprised so see some FReepers join in the gutter with the propagandists (gee - three core melt-throughs in Japan and I feel GREAT! Now, that wasn’t so bad now was it?) I am surprised to see those who feel we should get comforatble to core melt-throughs because we have proven we can’t stop them from happening and we can’t clean them up!