Nuclear Power’s Double Edge Sword – Renewable Energy Friend or Foe
This is a sequel to an earlier discussion “Nuclear Renaissance,” which was posted to stimulate further discussion. The copious number of comments fell into 3 Camps. Those who see nuclear as: 1) a salvation, 2) an interim necessary evil, and 3) evil. The vast majority of the comments fell into Camp 2, with Camp 1 not far behind. Camp 3 was in the minority. Most questioned the validity of Austin Energy’s (AE) cost of nuclear energy. From showing only operational costs to omitting the cost of waste disposal, the costs seemed inaccurate and incomplete. No one mentioned the possibility that AE’s nuclear plant was fully amortized. The solar and wind folks omitted the cost of storage and downtime in their cost comparison to nuclear.
Nuclear has been a double edge sword. There is no question over the issues of nuclear wastes and actual costs. However, many of the problems have been to our own doings. First and foremost, was the lack of standard reactors and plant design! Without standardization, costs are driven up and accidents are more likely.
This comment does not advocate putting on blinders or to make light of the myriad of issues surrounding nuclear power. However, we have fiddled to long while America slowly burn. We find ourselves in extremely precarious position and at a crossroad. The door is rapidly closing behind us. Now, it’s truly about us, our children, grandchildren and future generations. The U.S. is rapidly becoming a 3rd world country through loss of R&D, manufacturing and our ever increasing and strangling indebtedness. Even our safe havens of IT and medical care are slowly drifting away to foreign shores. Not to mention the idiocy of paying for both sides of the War on Terrorism.
Sometimes we tend to “Maximize the Small” and “Minimize the Large.” This may be so, due to the common adage of “out of sight, out of mind.” Nuclear weapons, which are designed as weapons of mass destruction are not well publicized and in our presence on a day-to-day basis. We know they are there and live our lives accordingly. Without exception, nuclear weapons have two diametrically opposed purposes: 1) the fear of ending the world as we know it, or 2) ending the world as we know it. This is contrast to highly publicized nuclear-power, which is designed for our well-being. Nuclear power has three cohesive purposes: 1) generating relatively clean energy, 2) providing low cost energy, and 3) energy security in terms of using an abundant domestic resource base and reaping the benefits from all the attributes associated with it. If this was not so, would our navy continue to use nuclear powered ships and submarines, where to the best of our knowledge the U.S. has not experienced a major problem in several decades.
Additionally, here are some facts to ruminate over. These facts don’t justify nuclear energy, but tends to put the issue in proper perspective. Source: The Brookings Institution’s 1998 report “The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project,” (http://www.brookings.edu/projects/archive/nucweapons/50.aspx):
• Total number nuclear missiles built, 1951-present: 67,500
• Peak number nuclear warheads and bombs in the stockpile/year: 32,193/1966
• Total number and types of nuclear warheads and bombs built, 1945-1990: >70,000/65 types
• Fissile material produced: 104 metric tons of plutonium and 994 metric tons of highly-enriched uranium
• Amount of plutonium still in weapons: 43 metric tons
• Number of dismantled plutonium “pits” stored at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, TX: 12,067 (as of May 6, 1999)
• States with the largest number of nuclear weapons (in 1999): NM (2,450), GA (2,000), WA (1,685), NV (1,350), and ND (1,140)
• Total known land area occupied by U.S. nuclear weapons bases and facilities: 15,654 sq. miles
• Total land area of the District of Columbia, MA, and NJ: 15,357 sq. miles
• Estimated 1998 spending on all U.S. nuclear weapons/weapons-related programs: $35,100,000,000
In closing, other than nuclear, what renewable energy technology can be implemented today, that will have a major impact on our reliance on fossil fuels. Natural gas, which is an excellent bridging technology, can do it but still leaves a carbon footprint. There is no one cure-all to fix all of our immediate energy problems.