Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nuclear Power – No Silver Bullet

I have been an advocate of nuclear power, but it is not the panacea we imagine it to be, even putting aside the current Japan crisis.

I demand intellectual honesty from those I argue with, but I also demand it from myself and the ideas and philosophies I adopt and espouse.  I've been reading about nuclear power, and while I am far from the No Nukes crowd, I now see it is not all it's cracked up to be.

It’s Not Cheap
Affordable nuclear power, says Taylor, is a Republican fantasy. Promoting it makes no more sense than Nancy Pelosi's promotion of wind and solar power. "Take a Republican speech about nuclear power, cross out the phrase 'nuclear,' and put in 'solar' — you've got a Democratic speech about energy." (Stossel)
Environmental Impacts?
Water usage is another issue. Nuclear power advocates speak in eye-droppers, while opponents invoke billions and billions of gallons, so I don’t know what the facts are. I have heard credible sources say that nuclear power requires a lot of water. We had a plant in Northern Colorado, Fort St. Vrain, that was build specifically to save water, and it ended up a failure and was converted to a conventional natural gas plant.

Construction costs aside, here is what each form of energy is projected to cost in 2016:

Reason:  Veronique de Rugy

Nuclear beat Bio, Fossils beat Nuclear

This doesn't take nuclear power off the table, it just puts it in perspective.  It is a cheaper, more reliable alternative to wind and solar.  Still, natural gas beats it hands down, and the US has been described as the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, notwithstanding extraction problems.

Nuclear only really makes sense from an environmental standpoint as a replacement for coal-fired plants, which are being replaced anyway by natural gas.  Only around 1% of our energy is produced by petroleum, so nuclear does little to break our addiction to dictator-provided oil.

So nuclear stands between cheap efficient fossil fuels and green pipe dreams.

The Economic Solution? Keep using coal and natural gas to power the nation.  Drill for oil for our cars.  As the supply diminishes, the price will go up and other forms of energy become economically viable. Not because government apparatchiks manipulated price schedules, but because of the law of supply and demand. 

Once people start using these new technologies, the market, as it always does, will become a contest to see who can provide energy to the consumer for the cheapest price.

Such a strategy will not put us at a global economic disadvantage since other nations will be facing the same fossil fuel shortages and forced to go through the same conversions to alternatives.

The Environmental Solution says clean coal, nuclear, wind and solar.  Costs be damned.  As the technology advances, prices will go down, as is always the case in a free market.  But here's the wrinkle:  Prices cuts will only occur if government can refrain from worming its tentacles into every aspect of the green energy industry while simultaneously fending off the crony crapitalist rent-seekers.  Fat chance of that happening.

Wind, Solar and Nuclear can cut petroleum use only by the US embracing electric and natural gas powered vehicles.  And this saves us nothing, because these replacement energies are not free.

It's true, there really is no free lunch.  As Dr Thomas Sowell is fond of saying, there are not magic bullets, only trade-offs. 

Further Reading:
Stossel – What We Know that Just Aint So
Reason – The Truth about Nuclear Power


Divine Theatre said...

We live very near to a wind farm. On a sole occasion I have seen the turbines moving.

Sam Huntington said...

Necessity is the mother of invention, but if we decide that nuclear power is off the table, then we must stop whining about the cost and impact of other sources of energy. To my knowledge, we are not investing much money in nuclear power R&D. Why not?

But, you are correct: Nuclear power is no panacea. Stuff happens. Every machine is capable of producing problems. Now with that said, should we refuse to drive our car for fear of being stranded along a deserted highway? Should we refuse to drive out of fear that we’ll be killed in an accident?

We need an honest broker to tell us the unmitigated truth about nuclear vs. hydrogen power, clean coal, and wind/solar energy. So far, all we’ve heard is BS from people with personal agenda. Honestly, I’ve heard as much from Gore as I ever want to hear.

Anonymous said...

According to your chart wind energy is cheaper to produce than nuclear.

Why should we take construction costs off the table? Then we have to add the "incidential" costs of a nuclear meltdown and for comparsion I guess a wind meltdown.

Then of course you have the age old problem of who wants a nuclear power plant in their backyard? An oil refinery? A bunch of wind turbines?

I am not real sure why the issue of "...we are not investing much money in nuclear power R&D..." it seems an odd comment to make on a blog that is anti government? Why should "we" invest in R&D when we can let the power of the market decide for its self when R&D is necesary...

Jersey McJones said...

There's no such a thing as "Clean Coal." We can "drill" more all we like and it won't accomplish anything. Wind and solar are certainly viable options, and why people are against them I will never understand. It's so intensely stupid. Clean coal needs more time to develope, and our commercial transportaion fleet could be moved to natural gas pretty quickly. Solar technology is rapidly advancing, and soon enough we could have cheap, replaceable solar panels on all our roofs. Once we have enough electric power, we could move our auto fleet to electric and the days of dependency on foreign oil would come to an end.

Nuclear is extremely expensive and unnecessary.


Silverfiddle said...

TAO and Jersey: Valid comments. As I say, its all about tradeoffs, and it depends on what your driving motivator is. It it the environment or is it cheap energy. Right now, we can't have both.

Yes, wind is cheaper according to the chart, but it is not as reliable a nuclear.

And TAO, I am not anti-government. I am for keeping it in its constitutional bounds.

Silverfiddle said...

Jersey: Wanna talks stupid? Abandoning cheap available resources for expensive, immature technology. That's stupid.

Leticia said...

So far all we hear are probabilities but no hard facts. And I am not going to pretend I understand a whole lot about nuclear energy, but I feel, at this, point,it is our only option.

WomanHonorThyself said...

I too do not know as much about this Silver as you and trust your assessment but Lord help us if Iran gets their bloody hands on any for misuse....happy mid week my friend~!:)

Jersey McJones said...

Silver, we're drilling now more than ever, so, you really don't even have a point there. Also, wind is very cheap, and solar is getting cheaper everday, so, again, no point. Wind power is not an "immature" technology - it predates almost every other form of power. Solar, again, is improving by leaps and bounds.

Also, for a capitalist and a nationalist, you sure do seem inanely biased. Oil is going to get a lot pricier in the future. Why would we even want to hurry up and tap all that we have now, knowing it won't effect costs, or our import demands? It's stupid on sooo many levels.

I just think you've bought a bridge in Broolyn on that one.

There are deeply entrenched moneyed interests in mainatining the status quo. Rather than be their patsy sycophant, think about how we could improve and progress as a people and a nation.


Silverfiddle said...

Jersey: Are you just naturally argumentative?

This post counters the myth that nuclear energy is a panacea. I showed you the pros and cons of each.

If wind and solar were economically viable they would stand on their own. They don't because they are not.

Finntann said...

Google: Pebble Bed Reactor

If you're interested in state of the art nuclear power.

For this bugaboo we see Nuclear Power as being, the numbers just don't support the accusations.

Deaths per Terawatt/Hour

Coal: 161 (26% of world energy)
USA death rate is only 15

Oil: 36 (36%)

Natural Gas: 4 (21%)

Solar: .44 (.1%)

Wind: .15 (<1%)

Hydro: 1.4 (2.2%)

Nuclear: .04 (5.9%)

The numbers are from the World Health Organization.

And according to the UN Scientific Commitee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) the number of deaths attributable to that great catastrophe Chernobyl is 64. 31 deaths resulting directly from the meltdown and 33 subsequently.

The WHO suggests the death toll could reach 4,000... still over the same period of time coal will kill far more people than Chernobyl will.

For the most part, fear of nuclear power, contamination, or irradiation is an irrational fear unsubstantiated by fact. Burning coal releases Uranium, Thorium, Radium, Radon, Polonium, etc... and far more radioactive materials are released into the environment from coal plants than nuclear plants.

I'd buy a house next to a nuclear plant long before I'd buy one next to a coal fired one.


Lisa said...

wind and solar are fine for supplementary means of power for certain things but not sure if they would ever be able to power our 14 trillion dollar economy.
Just like that cash for clunkers money pit,Obama is giving subsidies to people who install solar power. Don't you think if someone can afford 50,000 to install solar panels they don't need a $5,000 subsidy to do it?
Just what we need,another governmnet program. geez!

MK said...

If natural gas is cheaper and you have plenty of it, then why not, it's a no-brainer as we say out here.

Ah but then you have leftards with no brains, same problem as us.

Silverfiddle said...

Windmills and choo choo trains are so much more fun...