As of late the discussion between pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear activists is flaring up. People like Naomi Oreskes, Mark Jacobson, Joe Romm, Helen Caldicott are dogmatically attacking nuclear energy and proposing their own renewable energy visions, while on the other side rational individuals like James Hansen, and my dear friends Alex Cannara and George Erickson and Robert Hargraves are telling the world that we need all energy sources and in particular nuclear if we want to punch out coal, gas and oil. Consider the fact that the first named individuals have an influence on the general public and as such I consider them dangerous.
The funny thing is that the first group of people fashion themselves "environmentalists", whereas I am confident that the latter has a better grasp of the moral implications of our choices regarding energy and nature. "What will the heritage be that we will leave our kids?" Is the main question we tend to ask, and answer. The what-if we do and what-if we don't questions, the meticulously weighing of arguments and facts, the deriving of conclusions through careful investigation and free inquiry and rational thought...
Why is it immoral to discredit nuclear energy and to try to shut down the entire nuclear industry?
- It destroys 3.500 TWh worth of non-carbon emitting energy generation
- It hinders possible technological breakthroughs through innovation
- The no-lessons-learned issue
- It limits the effectivity by which we can curb carbon emitting energy generation
- We limit the potential for carbon sequestration in Basalt
- We limit the potential for massive desalination through decay-heat removal processes.
By looking at these six points we can derive a simple conclusion : People who are opposed to nuclear energy do not have their priorities set right. Instead of thinking about how to mitigate Anthropogenic emissions, they focus on limiting our capabilities to do so. And as such I will not regard these people as environmentalists.
Also consider these simple facts, that erode the base of their "environmentalism"
- They advocate mass scale RE and thus :
- Endorse a slow growth curve due to mining / material limitations
- Mass scale mining and purification
- Mass scale denudation of the Earth
- Mass scale deaths from impacts, use of pesticides, changes in the hydrological cycle
- Endorse more Bautau - Rare-Earth dystopias
Stanford University seems to be a hotspot for anti-nuclear activism. Mark Z Jacobson and the Precourt Institute seem to be the focal points of these activities. Mark Z Jacobson is a Professor at Stanford University. He is the man behind "The Solutions Project", a website that proposes a 100% WWS future. Jacobson thinks that Wind Turbines and Solar Panels are the panacea required to save the earth, or does he?
The Precourt Institute is the funding Jacobson's research and the contents of their website shows a set of biases in favour of renewable energy matters and clearly drives home an anti-nuclear agenda. Let's explore :
Leads to This : http://www.globalresearch.ca/nuclear-power-is-not-the-answer-2/5502496
What do we have here, which parties are involved?
Stanford University(Since Ken Caldeira is at Stanford's Carnegie Department...)
- Precourt Institute for Energy (The major investor of Jacobson's work)
- Global Research - Centre for research on Globalization (whatever this might be? )
- And an anonymous blogger called "Washington" who has a blog which seems to be tailored to discrediting nuclear energy as much as possible
First of all, why do
Secondly : Why is the Precourt institute so pre-occupied with pointing out negative aspects of nuclear energy? Is there an anti-nuclear culture @Stanford?
Opened three SU related webpages and each of them contains at least one article that questions nuclear activities. It starting to slant toward an anti-nuclear bias, doesn't it?
Also consider the fact that Stanford Professors are working on feasibility studies of 100% WWS scenarios. Is there any place for certainty in institutes of intellectual mentation? I find this whole attitude and sense of hostility against nuclear utterly distasteful, especially from a much lauded University such as Stanford, no less...
That one is critical about nuclear is justified, we need people who think critically about nuclear energy. But just as
Stanford is in the business of making a lot of positive headway for renewables and storage and "smart grids" so can they also provide a positive contribution to the nuclear industry. But they don't, and this is something that bothers me. The aura emanating from Stanford Precourt is particularly anti-nuclear, with Jacobson as the tip of the spear...
There is also a small light shining in the darkness : The Hoover Institution at Stanford is occupied with policy research on Small Modular Reactors. And Ken Caldeira is also occupied at Stanford at the Carnegie Institution. Caldeira is a prominent that has enunciated the necessity for nuclear, together with climatologists James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, and Tom Wrigley. These facts have forced me to re-evaluate my stance on Stanford University, and as such this article remains a criticism based on Precourt's decision to give credibility to "Washington's blog".
The difference between "their" (the anti-nuke agenda and mine are the stakes. I have no monetary stakes in this quest, I want to leave this world a better place than I found it. I don't earn any money from this blog, it is ad-free (in contrast to the website of Global Research - Centre for research on Globalization). The few bucks I earn are from book sales so if you want to keep this boat floating amidst the storms of denialism and financial agenda's : http://amzn.com/1516899369 - don't forget to rate or leave a review!!!
End of blatant and unshameful sales-moment.
Let's return to the issue at hand, The Precourt Institute chose to give legitimacy to a "Washington Blog" by presenting an "article" shared by Globalresearch.ca
Consider this first quote from an article that "Washington" immediately references :
Nuclear energy is not the “clean” energy its backers proclaim. For more than 50 years, nuclear energy has been quietly polluting our air, land, water and bodies—while also contributing to Global Warming through the CO2 emissions from its construction, mining, and manufacturing operations. Every aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle—mining, milling, shipping, processing, power generation, waste disposal and storage—releases greenhouse gases, radioactive particles and toxic materials that poison the air, water and land. Nuclear power plants routinely expel low-level radionuclides into the air in the course of daily operations. While exposure to high levels of radiation can kill within a matter of days or weeks, exposure to low levels on a prolonged basis can damage bones and tissue and result in genetic damage, crippling long-term injuries, disease and death.
These are the arguments against nuclear energy? First of all, we have to put them into context and contrast them with either A. Fossil Fuels and B. Renewables. We're going to cut this text into pieces.
Nuclear energy is not the “clean” energy its backers proclaim. For more than 50 years, nuclear energy has been quietly polluting our air, land, water and bodies
With what? Water vapour from it's cooling towers? From mining tailings? From processing tailings? Construction and transportation tailings? Let me tell you something : There is not a single energy source that is free from these. In fact nuclear energy - given it's supreme high energy density - is the least polluter of all. Since the processes concerned are dwarfed by those needed to sustain any other form of energy generation / capture.
while also contributing to Global Warming through the CO2 emissions from its construction, mining, and manufacturing operations. Every aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle—mining, milling, shipping, processing, power generation, waste disposal and storage—releases greenhouse gases, radioactive particles and toxic materials that poison the air, water and land.
Okay this word-soup needs to be dissected with a scalpel.
Nuclear power plants routinely expel low-level radionuclides into the air in the course of daily operations.
Even the banana's in my fruit basket routinely expel radioactive particles into the air, just by lying there. My granite kitchen top is radioactive, my smoke-detector is radioactive, the air I breathe is radioactive, heck even the seas we swim in are radio-active.
Radio-activity by itself is harmless. We can use the aspirin analogy : If you take an aspirin a day, nothing bad will happen, eat an entire box and your stomach will cry and you can die.
We have years of empirical evidence that support the idea that radioactive particles are in fact good for you. A. We use them in a medical sense, without them we wouldn't have targeted cancer-treatments, organ function scans, mri's, x-rays, etc. B. Studies have shown that certain levels of radiation actually are beneficial to life in general : Radiation Hormesis: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Or consider this article : Radiation : The No-Safe-Level Myth
An entire medical world has been built up on the notion that small doses of radiation can help humans recover from certain ailments. This flies directly in the face of the claims made by "Washington's Blog" which is in one of the links on the page. But I suppose that this "Washington" grudgingly accepts his oncologists advice once he has been diagnosed with a certain form of cancer that can only be cured using nuclear medicine, the one thing he has been attacking. Don't take this for a non-sequitur... There is no nuclear medicine, without nuclear reactors. And to make matters worse, IF we take into account the need for medical isotopes like Bismuth213, nothing beats the MSR, of which there are now a dozen start-ups working on realizing them (thank you Kirk Sorensen for educating me on this).
While exposure to high levels of radiation can kill within a matter of days or weeks, exposure to low levels on a prolonged basis can damage bones and tissue and result in genetic damage, crippling long-term injuries, disease and death.
This is the most specious argument of all, in fact it is no argument against nuclear energy at all. It is an argument against not living in a lead casket. If you want a radiation free life, you should extract yourself from nature, even worse you should kill yourself. A human body is radioactive...
Acknowledge the fact that there is no epidemiological evidence to suggest that there are heightened levels of cancers in the direct vicinity of ANY nuclear plant, not even those that went wrong.
This piece of fear mongering is nothing but unsubstantiated hoopla.
Also consider this erroneous statement :
Nuclear plants are so slow and costly to build that they reduce and retard climate protection.
They reduce and retard climate protection? What the hell does this even mean? Do you mean to say that money spent on nuclear is money not spent on renewable energy? If it does, this is a retarded statement that shows an absolute lack of aptitude to understand basic and fundamental economic processes. Also note that renewable energy only manages to grow if the incentives are there. As soon as the incentives are gone, renewable growth stagnates. You want to know why this happens? Because of its technological inferiority and additional technological countermeasures to offset the shortcomings of renewable technologies.
Shall we continue dissecting this article?
Mark Jacobson – the head of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program – who has written numerous books and hundreds of scientific papers on climate and energy, and testified before Congress numerous times on those issues – notes that nuclear puts out much more pollution (including much more CO2) than windpower, and 1.5% of all the nuclear plants built have melted down.
We've addressed Jacobson's junk science before. He is wrong. Since Wind and Solar required 22 to 36 times more materials to get built and bring to bear significant cumulative issues, we can call this claim : Baloney.
Jacobson also points out that it takes at least 11 years to permit and build a nuclear plant, whereas it takes less than half that time to fire up a wind or solar farm. Between the application for a nuclear plant and flipping the switch, power is provided by conventional energy sources … currently 55-65% coal.
Which is yet again a non-issue : where does it take at least 11 years to permit and build a nuclear plant? How many wind turbines need to be built to offset ONE nuclear power plant? Why can't we build both? Wind where it is beneficial, and nuclear where solid base load grid power is required? But that's the all-or-nothing frame of mind that these people have, isn't it?
Nuclear power cannot be globally scaled to supply the world’s energy needs for numerous reasons. The results suggest that we’re likely better off investing in other energy solutions that are truly scalable.
This is the pot calling the kettle black, I submit to you that wind power cannot be globally scaled up to supply the world's energy needs. See what I did there? And you know what? I have the evidence to back that claim up.
Now we get a row of bullet points that are supposed to be arguments against nuclear energy :
Land and location: finding 15,000 locations on Earth that fulfill these requirements is extremely challenging.
Is it now? Are we still living in the Generation II era, or are we pushing for the implementation of Generation III and Generation IV reactors? We're not living by renewable standards in which small iterations edge technologies towards sub-par efficiencies and capacity factors. In fact Nuclear Energy is set to become dozens of times more safe and efficient than it has been last decades. Also the area requirement is laughable at best. Presenting an arbitrary 15.000 locations metric is a total non-issue. "Washington" Likes to make it seem as if the entire earth is one big disaster zone. If this is the case, then in his optimal world we would see thousands of wind-turbines destroyed due to fires and excessive winds.
Lifetime: one station would need to be built and another decommissioned somewhere in the world every day.
And how many solar panels and wind turbines should be replaced annually with a lifespan of 15 to 20 years? How much chemical doping activities would be required to build these hundreds of billions of PV panels? How much toxic sludge and waste water would be created? How much steel would we have to make to keep erecting these tens of thousands wind turbines each year? Any idea how much coal is required to create this steel? Or the amount of energy required to repurpose all these materials? I guess not, you like to make a problem of decommissioning and building old-school nuclear reactors, but clearly are blind for the shortcomings of the alternatives. The problems haunting these technologies are also manifold and certainly not negligible.
Nuclear waste: no universally agreed mode of disposal.
We have plenty of opportunities to do something useful with spent fuel and other fission products, in fact these are unused golden opportunities - more on this later on. Let's just say : another non-argument. Also note that even though it might seem as if we are having problems with keeping nuclear waste, it is being done effortlessly all around the world. Most of it spends its time packed in containers submerged in spent-fuel ponds... The volume on a world-scale is laughable...
Accident rate: 11 nuclear accidents at the level of a full or partial core-melt. Considering that these 11 accidents occurred during a cumulated total of 14,000 reactor-years of nuclear operations, scaling up to 15,000 reactors would mean we would have a major accident somewhere in the world every month.
Really, how did you arrive at this conclusion? Is this a statistical study? Do you have a credible peer-reviewed paper showing that you are right? Since there isn't one, I will call this argument baloney. Not only is it baloney, it also completely disregards modern / contemporary designs that have probably addressed the issues that led to these nuclear accidents. The nuclear industry isn't stagnant you know. They aren't in the business of covering up mishaps. In fact the nuclear industry is the most meticulous industry on earth. It is highly self-critical and aware of the mishaps and failures of the past, and works tirelessly to learn and improve.
Proliferation: maintaining accountability for 15,000 reactor sites worldwide would be nearly impossible
Provide evidence... Substantiation? Citation? Any idea how hard it is to get weapons grade isotopes from commercial nuclear reactors? Do you have a processing plant ready to extract and refine the required isotopes? What about MSR's? What about regulations? What about building a substantial network of observers? Mind you, this is creating an entire new workforce, a meaningful and enjoyable technological job that would employ tens of thousands world-wide.
Do you see how trivially easy it is to refute these arguments?
Uranium abundance: The viable uranium supply will last for less than 5 years.
Considering a 3% burn efficiency, yes. Considering a breeder cycle? no... We have enough spent fuel to last for seven decades (if we would power the entire globe with it...). Add thorium reserves and it will span into thousands of years. We don't even have to extract Uranium from sea-water. What a preposterous idea.
Another chance to deflect / bounce. And PV and Wind do not use exotic metals? What about Gallium, Indium, Tellurium, Cadmium, Titanium (for the beloved Perovskite) Silver... And yes a kilo of copper per panel... per 300 watt of capacity... Neodymium is in high demand as well, and it severely limits wind energy growth. I would be immensely surprised if Wind would manage to add more than 500 TWh of capacity each year, and also would be very keen to see where cumulative upkeep curbs the growth of wind power. Also consider doping chemicals and their respective final destinations... these are the new coal-ash ponds...
Another ridiculous statement that reaches across the board while failing to see one's own shortcomings.
Finally "Washington" rambles on about subsidies, cancer, reactor facilities that are falling apart, japan, fukushima, bribe-money and whatnot. As if these arguments bear any weight around, and are irrefutable. "Washington" you are wrong, and I think you have lost your marbles.
Why the future for Nuclear Energy shines very bright
First of all : It's science... It is irrefutable and incontrovertible that freeing the energy encapsulated within the nucleus of the atom is the highest energy density possible. This happens in both Nuclear Fusion and Nuclear Fission. There is no question, as far as we have unravelled the natural world around us, this is as good as it gets. The big pay off from using nuclear energy is that contrasted with low-energy-density forms of energy you need far less materials to create the device that captures the energy and transforms it into electricity.
I am not strictly against generation II or generation III reactors, I think that the current fleet of nuclear reactors are a great force for good. In fact, since they have offset many billions of tons of fossil fuels, they have saved the lives of countless of beings on Earth. Also consider the impeccable service and safety record, with only a handful notable accidents, without any major impacts on human health. The only problems that loom overhead are the questions about proliferation, waste and economics. All of these are solvable, and solutions loom on the horizon.
And these solutions are real and nigh tangible, the designs are there, the science is solid, the proof concept has been there for decades. Therefore it I safe to assert that nuclear energy is set to grow, rather than shrink.
I am talking first and foremost about the MSR, the Molten Salt Reactor. In short MSR's are a vast improvement over conventional solid fuel reactors in terms of fuel efficiency, passive safety measures, inherent safety, costs, deployment speed, proliferation resistance and feedstock.`
First contender is Thorcon Power
Thorcon basically wants to build a natural iteration of the original MSRE that ran successfully in the 60's. The proposition is such that they envision a ship-building yard that builds reactor units and ancillary machinery. Through this process they will be able to produce a reactor every three days. All the elements of these reactors can be shipped and transported through regular road-traffic.
The photo on the right is a shot of the Hyundai shipyard in Ulsan, Korea. This single yard can turn 3 million tons of steel plate into over 100 large and complex ships in a year. On average, these ships require about the same amount of steel as a 1 GWe ThorCon. The ThorCon structure is far simpler and much more repetitive. In short, a single ThorCon yard the size of Hyundai minus the massive building docks could turn out one hundred 1 GW ThorCons annually.
One of the knocks against nuclear is the plants cannot be deployed in time to make any real dent in coal nor CO2 emissions. For ThorCon, this is not the case. The combination of lower resource requirements and shipyard productivity means that ThorCons can be deployed more rapidly than coal plants. It’s simply a matter of our deciding to take advantage of this capability.
The MSR does not need a large containment building, since the reactor is a containment vessel itself. Also it built into a concrete pit. The nature of the fuel is such that once it manages to leak somewhere it cools down and basically becomes inert, it solidifies and doesn't do anything. Thus meltdowns are impossible. We could call it a cool-down?
As you can see from the diagram, the Thorcon design is incredibly simple, yet robust. It is orders of magnitude simpler than contemporary nuclear reactors. Also this design is incredibly cheap to build and maintain.
A second serious contender is Terrestrial Energy
Terrestrial also proposes a modular reactor design I.E. reactors that can easily be swapped with new ones, while the "old reactor" rests in a special repository next to the existing reactor. It does so effortlessly. These designs are so simple and robust, and uniform that these will be built at a fraction of the time of contemporary designs. And I would also like to remind you about the fact that these are natural iterations of technology that already existed decades ago.
Terrestrial has an excellent explanation about it's own waste :
Fission products waste are the true waste of nuclear fission as CO2 is to fossil fuel combustion. On the one hand this waste is extremely radioactive, while on the other hand, the radiotoxicity of this waste decays quickly, to insignificant levels after hundreds of years. Safe sequestration over a three-century time-frame does not present a technological or social challenge. With liquid fuel processing, fission products can be separated and safely stored. While solid fuel reactor waste from Conventional Nuclear reactors can be partially recycled into new fuel for Conventional Nuclear reactors, it is a partial, highly complex and commercially tenuous process.
Here you can see the buzzwords for anti-nukes : "See! There's waste and it remains such for hundreds of years." The true question is this : what is its volume? How much of it is fission products, how much of it is "spent fuel" / Uranium, how much of it is (scary) Plutonium? One thing is certain, it is not a lot. Decades of nuclear energy have produced a quarter million tons of "nuclear waste" (stuff that still can be used). That is absolutely nothing on the world-scale. Coal waste alone is more than a million times more each year... That's what you get when you talk nuclear : millions and billions from near nothing, the power of the strong force...
What about this waste?
Enter a great solution... The Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor envisioned by Transatomic Power
Transatomic Power is looking for highly motivated engineers who want to use nuclear power and their scientific ingenuity to help save the world.
As you can see, young millennials are looking to save the world using nuclear power.
Transatomic Power’s overarching goal is to raise global standards of living by bringing the world clean, low-cost electricity. We believe that nuclear power is the clear way to achieve this goal. Transatomic’s advanced molten salt reactors dramatically reduce the cost of nuclear power with a streamlined, passively safe, and proliferation-resistant design. Our reactors have the flexibility to consume both the used nuclear fuel generated by commercial light water reactors and low-enriched freshly mined uranium.
These statements alone should give one pause, what are we trying to do by ushering in this nuclear renaissance? We are trying to save the world...
Transatomic power has designed a reactor that can run on "spent fuel". They estimate that there's enough spent fuel in the world to generate enough power to sustain a growing world population for at least seven decades. Consider this, and also acknowledge that Uranium in a breeder-cycle will last much longer than the aforementioned 5 years, and consider the fact that we have enough thorium reserves to last for thousands of years. In the meanwhile we will have cracked the code of getting these resources elsewhere in this solar system, and we would have probably reached practical ways of using nuclear fusion by then. We look much farther ahead than any renewable advocate would dare do...
We also may consider the successful test of the PBR in China, the push of Bill Gates's Terrapower and can only conclude that the fight against nuclear energy not only is lost, but also is being fought on false premises... Your arguments are old and irrelevant.
The people that write about nuclear energy as if it is ripe with unsolvable issues live in a bubble. They either live in a world of confirmation bias, or are unable to acknowledge what is going on in the industry.
Ignoring "new" developments is the nail in the coffin for people like Jacobson and "Washington" it shows that they cannot get out of their own confirmatory bubble. This is a massive discredit to their arguments and as such deserve push back from marauders like me.
Not only is it immoral to stop nuclear energy, it is even detestable to ignore the possibilities of innovation and improvement, especially if these address exactly the issues you are concerned about. If you are one, consider yourself a hypocrite.
Nuclear energy IS the answer...
So let's grow up, stop this childish all-or-nothing nonsense. You aren't going to save the Earth using Renewables/WWS, Nuclear will become one of the sturdy pillars upon which we will build a new and prosperous and sustainable future.