Sunday, November 27, 2005

Anti-Nuke to Get Steamrolled, part II


Over the next decade, anti-nuke activists will ramp up their opposition to nuclear power and will be largely ignored by most national leaders.

Here's why: the governments of the world have studied the issues involved, carefully weighed their national interests and the best interests of their citizens, and finally, have considered oil at $ 60 dollars a barrel.

These deliberations are happening in the US, Canada, UK, Europe, Asia, China, and a number of other nations.

The result of these deliberations are as follows: most governments have decided it is in their national interests to continue building nuclear reactors. They will pretend to listen to public input, but after a bit of rhetoric and hand-waving, they'll just continue building.

They have concluded, quite rightly, that most of the public are not technically savvy enough to make intelligent decisions about power generation, especially decisions that involve 40 or 50 year planning horizons, and in any case, the anti-nukes, while they shout very loudly, are far in the minority. The anti-nuclear arguments are so illogical, and often so contradictory, that they turn into random noise.

That's pretty much the end of that story. We'll see the media thrashing and beating this issue to death; there will be rallies and protests. And none of this will make much difference.

Anti-Nuke Organizations to Get Steamrolled

Tony Blair has signaled he is moving in the same direction.

"Blair seems to have fallen for the nuclear industry's propaganda campaign," Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper told Reuters. "But it is the wrong decision. Nuclear is unsafe, the technology untested and in any case far too expensive."

The shift took the green lobby by surprise after it believed it had won the argument against nuclear power years ago.

It's strange to see the consternation of the anti-nuclear people. How naive can they be? As soon as Blair and the others in the UK government really started to believe in global warming, and considered the potential disasterous effect on Britain, then at that point they are more or less guaranteed to start building nuclear power plants in a frenzy. It's a predictable response.

That's the inevitable outcome of the Kyoto accord: more nuclear power plants. Any environmentalists who don't understand why it's the inevitable outcome should whip out their calculators and do some political math.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

This Month's Scientific American: Nuclear Power With 1/100th the Waste

Great article in December issue of Scientific American, describing a new type of nuclear reactor.

This is a new, more advanced reactor design which:

- Produces as little as 1/100th the waste, and uses 1/100th the fuel, as the normal reactors we use today.

- Uses a new type of fuel processing, almost completely eliminating potential for nuclear proliferation.

- Can burn leftover fuel (what we currently call "waste") from the current nuclear reactors.

- Is inherently safe.

These new reactors could literally power all of human civilization, for many hundreds or thousands of years, without a hiccup.

These reactors require no major scientific breakthroughs. This isn't like fusion. They have already built one (the IFR reactor, tested in 1993) and proven that it works. Yes, there would be many years of hard engineering and testing required to perfect them...they are at least 20 years away, and more likely 40 years away.

The US and other nations have formed a consortium (Generation IV consortium) to do joint design on these reactors. It's a international cooperative project, much like a human voyage to Mars might be, but in this case, the goal is much more practical--to produce a clean carbon-free power source for the future of human civilization.

Once the reactor is perfected and commercialized, the plan would be to build 3 or 4 of the new reactors "next door" to each of our existing reactors, and for the first few decades, just burn up the leftover fuel the existing reactors. .

Yes, you heard right folks. For the first few decades of use, these reactors would actually BURN WASTE. Output of nuclear-generated electricity might increase 500% while the amount of waste drops.

By the way, for this plan to work, we need to build more of the current (2005 model) reactors. We should at least double our "fleet" of current reactors over the next couple decades. Why not? Their spent fuel can be re-used as fuel for the new design, and it gives us clean, green, dependable energy in the meantime. Plus it keeps the nuclear industry healthy so they can keep pouring effort into safety and cost improvements.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Article in the LA Weekly

Interesting article in the LA weekly about the pros and cons of nuclear power:

...We regularly wake up to find evidence in our mainstream newspapers of an ecology gone awry due to warming seas and blistering droughts — disappearing cold-water plankton and starving seabirds in the Shetland Islands, the Russian ship that
sailed to the North Pole in August without the aid of an icebreaker, the sudden disappearance of certain butterfly species in Baja. In light of these conditions, almost anything seems better than burning more coal, which for every
megawatt of power blasts a ton of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the skies. This is one reason why nuclear has reemerged as a viable source of energy for new power plants — not just among George W. Bush and his business buddies (who like the idea of more nuclear and more coal), but even among futurists,
environmentalists and Democrats in the U.S. Senate, from quasi-Republican Joe Lieberman to new hope Barack Obama.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Overview: The New Case For Nuclear Power

Why are people changing their minds on nuclear power? Here’s a summary:

The reasons “for” nuclear are more compelling

• Soaring energy demand

• Entry of 2 billion human citizens (China and India) into world economy – even larger spikes in energy demand

• Stagnant oil output

• Painfully slow construction of wind/solar

• War and terrorism – concerns about the “price” of overseas energy sources

• Global warming – still hotly contested, but the people who believe it are probably in the majority.

The reasons “against” nuclear are weakening

• Waste – not as big a problem as people have claimed. Plus, people are now beginning to acknowledge the bigger problem of billions of tons of waste from coal and gas-fired plants. Compared to the threat of global warming (the destruction of entire nations) a few barrels of nuclear waste looks trivial.

• Safety – nuclear industry has built a great record, especially compared to the coal, oil, and chemical industries, which cause many more deaths. Even some of the anti-nuclear advocates admit that Chernobyl was not representative of nuclear energy in general, but was a fluke based on very old, very bad Soviet designs.

• Radiation – again, people are viewing this with more perspective. There are thousands, (perhaps millions) dying of lung cancer or other respiratory illnesses caused by choking coal/oil pollution. There are automobile accidents, viruses, and the million other daily hazards. Compared to that, the odds of getting sick from the miniscule amount of radiation emitted by nuclear plants is insignificant.

• Uranium supplies – some studies claim “we’re running out of uranium.” It’s simply not true.

• CO2 emissions– some studies claim that nuclear power emits almost as much carbon dioxide as fossil fuels. This isn't true either; in fact, it's quite the opposite.

• Economics – The price of gas-fired electricity just tripled in some areas. Amazing how economics can suddenly reverse. Many people are recognizing the advantage of nuclear: it’s not the cheapest, it’s not the most expensive, but it’s rock-solid, unaffected by world events. Stability in energy prices provides significant social and financial benefits. Plus, of all the energy technologies, nuclear has the biggest upside, the most room for order-of-magnitude cost reductions from new technology.

The “for” or “against” debate is irrelevant anyway

• Wind/solar/conservation can’t do it alone – many decades of experience has shown us that conservation, wind power, and solar power, while very desirable energy strategies, are just not capable of handling energy demand growth in even the developed nations. If we consider China and India, where energy growth is in overdrive, then the situation is even more impossible. Conservation, solar, wind, and other renewable technologies must be partnered with more “muscular” energy source. Which partner will it be…nuclear or coal? That’s the real debate.

• Nuclear power is like the automobile – like it or not, it’s a technology that is here to stay. The new focus won’t be “yes/no” but will be “how do improve it and eliminate the flaws?”

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Why Greens are Converting to Nuclear

Below are the writings from some prominent environmentalists and thinkers who have come out in favor of nuclear power. These are quoted endlessly by the pro-nuclear people, but are still good and cogent arguments.

Even for those of you readers who are suspicious of nuclear power, I urge you to read these with an open mind.

Patrick Moore, former founder of Greenpeace

Nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand.

I believe the majority of environmental activists, including those at Greenpeace, have now become so blinded by their extremism that they fail to consider the enormous and obvious benefits of harnessing nuclear power to meet and secure America’s growing energy needs. These benefits far outweigh any risks.

Stewart Brand, creator of Whole Earth Catalog

The primary cause of global climate change is our burning of fossil fuels for energy. So everything must be done to increase energy efficiency and decarbonize energy production. Kyoto accords, radical conservation in energy transmission and use, wind energy, solar energy, passive solar, hydroelectric energy, biomass, the whole gamut. But add them all up and it’s still only a fraction of enough. The only technology ready to fill the gap and stop the carbon dioxide loading of the atmosphere is nuclear power.

Technology Review Article

BBC News

Nuclear power looks as if it should be the answer to all our energy conundrums, and perhaps even to climate change. It provides a steady stream of energy, and does not depend on hydrocarbon supplies from unstable regimes. It is the nearest thing we have to a non-polluting energy source, apart from natural renewables. But it still engenders massive distrust, so much that many people say it can never be part of the way to avoid a disastrously warming world.

Mikko Elo, Finnish Member of Parliment

…if we are to help our economy as well as the environment, the answer has to be more nuclear power…We simply could not honour our commitments to the Kyoto Protocol without it.

Wired Magazine

…we've searched for alternatives, pouring billions of dollars into windmills, solar panels, and biofuels. We've designed fantastically efficient lightbulbs, air conditioners, and refrigerators. We've built enough gas-fired generators to bankrupt California. But mainly, each year we hack 400 million more tons of coal out of Earth's crust than we did a quarter century before, light it on fire, and shoot the proceeds into the atmosphere. Believe it or not, a coal-fired plant releases 100 times more radioactive material than an equivalent nuclear reactor - right into the air, too, not into some carefully guarded storage site. (And, by the way, more than 5,200 Chinese coal miners perished in accidents last year.)

The environmental movement, once staunchly antinuclear, is facing resistance from within.

Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer-Prize Author and Historian

Shocking as the statement may sound after all the years of misrepresentation, nuclear power is demonstrably the greenest form of large‑scale energy generation at hand. France, by generating 80 percent of its electricity with nuclear power,
has reduced its air pollution by a factor of five. The U.S. nuclear power industry, by improving capacity and performance alone, has already made the largest contribution of any American industry to meeting the U.S. Kyoto commitment to limiting CO2 releases into the atmosphere...

...from the nuclear power plant, about 20 cubic meters of spent fuel and low‑ and intermediate‑level waste, a volume so small (roughly the volume of two automobiles) that it can be and is meticulously sequestered from the environment; but from the fossil‑fuel plant, thousands of tonnes of greenhouse and noxious gases, particulates, heavy‑metal‑bearing (and radioactive) ash and solid hazardous waste, far too much to allow for sequestration even with the most stringent pollution controls.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Has Nuclear "Crossed the Chasm?"

“Crossing the Chasm” is a common marketing concept used in the high-technology field. Based on a popular book published in 1991, it refers to the process by which consumers and society adopt new technologies.

Although the Chasm is an imprecise (and some would argue outdated) concept, it is interesting to apply to the adoption of nuclear technology.

The Chasm describes a bell curve of technology adoption. In the first part of the curve, a new technology is hyped, eagerly embraced, grows rapidly. Then there is an inevitable dip, or pullback. The technology has been over-sold, people feel burnt, consumer demand is saturated, and competitors finally organize an effective counterattack. Orders dry up, and in some cases people believe “the technology is dead.” But it isn’t dead, it’s just in a lull. After some number of years, the technology rebounds and begins it’s largest growth phase.

Does nuclear technology fit into such a pattern? Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer prize winning author and nuclear historian, believes it does: "Nuclear grew too fast, slowed, and is poised to grow again." (Nuclear Power and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, 2002, p66)

So what does all this tell us? If nuclear power is indeed following the Chasm model of adoption, then it's next phase of growth will be enormous – much larger than expected. (How big could a new nuclear power market become? We'll cover that topic in later posts).

Here are some other considerations:

• Nuclear technology provides a product – large scale energy – which is needed by all of human society. It’s impossible to overstate just how big this market is, and it’s growing much faster than expected.

• Large-scale energy isn’t optional. Without it, people starve, the social order collapses, or in the case of emerging economies, tight energy supply prevents people from achieving the level of prosperity to which they aspire.

• It’s got significant consequences for long-term health of the planet and the human race. One may or may not believe in global warming or peak oil, but the crucial point is, other people do believe it, and they are scared for the future of their children. That's a powerful motivator.

• There are no silver bullets or magic solutions to the problem. Human technology hasn’t found any way around the fact that energy is a limited resource. This means that, barring some unexpected scientific breakthrough, there will be little competition to nuclear power.

If nuclear power does become the next growth industry, then this has significant consequences for the technology communities in various nations. The world is a different place compared to 30 years ago, when the last reactors were built in the US. The new nuclear power industry is more competitive, with nations like Japan, China, India, Russia, France, and South Africa competing with the old-line vendors in the US, Britain, and Canada. With the levelizing effects of new high-technology global economy, these new competitors will be fast, aggressive, well-funded…almost “silicon valley” in their approach. Nuclear technology and licensing, which have moved at a slow pace dictated by government regulation, is likely to speed up.

On the other hand, nuclear power has unique dangers that other technologies simply don’t have to contend with, so it will remain an inherently conservative business.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Welcome to iNuclear

Technology magazines often list the top 10 or 15 exciting technologies predicted to be “big” in the next decade. But there’s one technology which never makes the list, despite the fact that it's already a huge world player, is entering a period of rapid technological improvement, and will likely revolutionize a large swaths of human civilization. Of course, we’re talking about nuclear power…the next, most exciting growth phase of nuclear power.

There is still debate whether nuclear power is “dead” or “rising from the dead.” In fact, nuclear energy was never dead; it was never even close to dead. The slowdown of nuclear construction in the past 30 years was simply a natural, normal hiatus in the inevitable growth of a key human technology.

Here at iNuclear we'll be watching this renewal, especially as it relates to the world of high technology.

Here are some predictions:

• Nuclear technology is in a period of rapid advancement, with great gains being made in waste output, fuel usage, and safety which will bypass or eliminate most of the public’s worries about the technology. In the next 20 years, even greater improvements are on the horizon.

• In our globalized, high-tech civilization—with nanotechnolgy, biotechnology, quantum computers, and tourist hotels in space—nuclear power will be accepted as a reasonable, non-controversial, and appropriate power source to keep civilization humming. Our grandchildren will wonder what all the fuss was about.

• We’re becoming painfully aware of our effect on the ecosystem, with global warming, acid oceans, and all the rest. Nuclear power will be seen as the obvious and straightforward way for the humanity to reduce it’s footprint on the surface of the planet.

• Nuclear power will become the key way to supply the insatiable, overwhelming thirst for energy from nations such as China and India. This will be seen as a good way to lessen rising tension between nations, who otherwise would be contesting scarce oil and gas sources

• The many billions of people in these nations, finally pulling themselves out of poverty and experiencing freedom from hunger and cold, will see nuclear power as an integral and essential part of their success. Widespread prosperity will cause human population levels to stabilize or decline.