Democrats & Liberals Archives

It is Time to Develop Peacful Nuclear Energy

Many people - liberal environmentalists, Democrats and Republicans are afraid of nuclear power but it is time to get over it. There have been many good reasons to be afraid of it in the past - Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, nuclear waste, nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism, plus a boat load of unreasonable fears…

Dawn posted a pretty good article over on the Republican column on April 20, 2006 titled: Oil Wars and Energy Independence. In the commentary thread I promised to write an article in response to hers - so here it is. While I thoroughly enjoy ripping Republican heads off - this is one area where I think I have some agreement with our red friends. We Democrats need to jump out ahead of the Reds on this one - we are the party of science after all - the Reds are antagonistic to science - yet they are pro-nuclear. Of course the reason that they are pro-nuclear has little to do with being pro-science and much to do with being sold out to big money from big utilities. Still, for whatever corrupt reason, they are on the right (correct) side of this one thing and it is time for the party of science to look at the science and take the lead on this.

There is an excellent article in the December 2005 issue of Scientific American written by William H. Hannum, Gerald E. Marsh, and George S. Stanford on this subject. The title of the article is: Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste. You can read part of the article at: Scientific American archives.

Dawn was correct to say that the high oil prices are not entirely Bush's fault. But make no mistake, the Bush regime is sold out to big business, and big oil, and that is a large part of the current problem.

Light Water Reactors:
Currently most nuclear power plants in the U.S. are "light water reactors". I won't bore you with all of the science for why that is so - you can find that in the SciAm article - but simplistically, they use the water as coolant to slow down the neutrons and carry the heat away from the nuclear core. This leads to a number of safety problems which are well explained in the SciAm article. One problem is that the water is vaporized into ultra high pressure steam, so any crack or flaw in a coolant pipe threatens to explode and deprive the nuclear core of coolant which can then promptly melt down and cause problems that you don't want to imagine.

Light water reactors also produce about 100 tons of spent fuel each year. Again, I will spare you the details here, (read SciAm), but that fuel will remain dangerous for over 10,000 years. There is no way to safely store something which is that dangerous for 10,000 years. In 10,000 years, the U.S., at least as we know it, will be gone - long gone. If we are really lucky there will still be humanoids around with computer chips implanted in their genetically engineered brains that will tell them that the U.S. ran a global empire right before the second dark age. The computer chips will probably say that the Bush dynasty was the beginning of the end. The chips will probably say that the U.S. could have withstood papa Bush and "Orwellian Big Brother" "W' Bush, but that - that little Jeb just broke its back. That is about the best that we can hope for in 10,000 years. There is no way that we can hope to keep spent nuclear fuel safe for that long - not gonna happen.

Light water reactors also only use "less than 1 percent of energy in uranium ore." See SciAM.

A Better Way:
There is a better way. There are a number of better ways. In fact, this is just about the worst way that there is. One better way - perhaps - I think, the best better way - which is advocated for by this particular SciAM article is fuel reprocessing combined with advanced liquid metal reactors (ALMR).

Advanced Liquid Metal Reactors:
Once again sparing you the details of the science - which is well articulated in the SciAm article - advanced liquid metal reactors (ALMR) use liquid metal to carry the heat away from the nuclear core. The liquid metal does not get hot enough to boil so it operates at ordinary atmospheric pressure. No high pressure - no exploding coolant pipes - no exploding coolant pipes - no loss of coolant to the nuclear core - no loss of coolant to the nuclear core - no melt down - no melt down - no doomsday. The point is that liquid metal reactors are intrinsically safer than light water reactors - by design. There are a number different metals which could be used. One is lead, but the scientists prefer sodium. Sodium is dangerous, because if it comes in contact with water, it catches on fire. This is a little scary to me, but the Sciam article points out that industry has lots of experience with sodium and knows how to handle it safely. It also refers to a sodium fire at a nuclear plant in Japan - it "made a mess but never posed a threat to the integrity of the reactor." If pumps fail "gravity would circulate the coolant." There also are other things that make these reactors intrinsically safer.

Fuel Reprocessing:
There are a number of ways to reprocess nuclear fuel - each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The SciAM article advocates for a new method called pyroprocessing which has not been proven commercially viable as of yet, although the concept is proven and there is no reason that it should not be possible to economically scale it up to large scale production. According to SciAm, Jimmy Carter banned civilian reprocessing of nuclear fuel because the method that was used at that time was the same as the method for making bomb grade material (PUREX). Unlike the inbred baboon that currently occupies the Office of the Presidency - Carter wanted the U.S. to set a good example to the world. Bush on the other hand wants to proliferate nuclear WMD to India, engage in a new nuclear arms race to develop more easily usable mini nukes, and wants to stomp around the world like a belligerent Texan gunslinger and threaten preemptive nuclear attack... But I digress, fuel reprocessing technology has changed. There are two types of pyroprocessing, one Russian, one American. The American way appears better. As I understand it, it basically involves melting the nuclear fuel down and then electroplating it on to an electrode. This separates virtually all of the uranium, plutonium and dangerous transuranic elements from the burnt nuclear waste products. This process never purifies the fuel into pure plutonium and consequently never produces bomb grade material.

The burnt nuclear waste products will only remain dangerous for five hundred years and most of their danger will be gone in the first one or two hundred years. It is possible to design safe storage containers that will last for five hundred years. Turn the burnt nuclear fuel into glass, then store it in heavy stainless steel drums, in a cool dry place - no problem. Five hundred years is easy, ten thousand years is impossible.

The rest of the reprocessed fuel can be burnt - then reprocessed again and again until it is all gone. Plutonium from decommissioned nuclear weapons can also be mixed into the fuel stream and burnt until it is all gone.

Nuclear Terrorism:
In many cases, the new advanced liquid metal reactors and associated fuel reprocessing facilities could be built on the same site as existing nuclear power plants thereby eliminating the need to transport the spent nuclear fuel and eliminating those attack opportunities for terrorist. Securing nuclear reactor sites would still be a high national priority. In cases where the new reactors could not be built on the same site, they could be built relatively nearby, there by obviating the need to transport spent fuel for thousands of miles in order to ram it down the throat of mutant Nevadians, and also reducing terrorist attack opportunities.

So I believe that the only sensible way to get rid of nuclear waste is to burn it and take the energy out of it. Nuclear energy does not add to global warming. Dawn was correct, that there is a problem with NIMBY people, but it is time to get over it. You don't want a nuclear power plant in your backyard but you will accept a coal fired plant fifty miles away that poisons you and your children with heavy metals like mercury, and disrupts the delicate balance of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere threatening life on earth as we know it.

Posted by Ray Guest at April 28, 2006 3:03 PM
Comment #143919

Well thats sounds frightfully to good to be true. The two main reasons I thought were drawbacks, seems to be addressed officiantly . My first concern was safty . One OOPS is a real BIG DAMN OOPS. Second was storage of nuclear waste, 500 yrs of land that is totally dangerous is a hell alot better then millions of yrs. But at that lvl, (hundreds of nuclear powerplants)waste would take alot of land deemed useless? With the population growth expected in generations to come, can we afford to poisen a great deal of land ?
And it would just grow every yr thereafter. So it would probly be better to get energy with multiple ways then just nuclear. Wind,solar, waves etc..Coal (which is in great abundance)I would frown upon it. Unless they made a great deal of improvements related to the damage to the environment, and health risks to the public. One thing is for sure, we need to address this problem sooner then later. Before we have not a planet to live upon! fossil Resources can only last so long. We as a race,with the intillectual ability to shape are planet to are wills. Might blindly forget what is actually keeping us alive and thriving.

Posted by: nature at April 28, 2006 4:26 PM
Comment #143924

While the need for more energy says that we should turn to nuclear, if we have to, there are some serious reasons to oppose the turn, and there are alternatives.
First, nuclear energy systems require centralized authority and control.
Second, They give additional advantage to big corporations, at the disadvantage to smaller operators and cooperatives.
Read Langdon Winner’s article “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” or his final chapter in his book “The Whale and the Reactor” to see both these arguments laid out.
Lewis Mumford made a similar kind of general argument about technological systems in general in his classic (1930s?) essay “Democratic and Authoritarian Technics.”

The better way than nuclear focuses on CONSERVATION. Ask the question: why do we need more and more energy each year? to run the casino lights in Vegas? to support the profits of inefficient individuals and corporations through tax-subsidized nuclear systems, instead of having to pay for the full cost of the energy?

Posted by: Richard Perry at April 28, 2006 4:35 PM
Comment #143947

Richard Perry and nature,

I agree we need conservation and other forms of energy. As nature’s concern that we would be dedicating more and more land to storing nuclear poison… That would not be the case. We are only talking about the spent nuclear fuel that we are already storing. As I understand it, there is enough of it there to last for 100s of years. We could stop mining uranium and just burn / react the spent fuel and decommissioned warheads that we already have. There is a tremendous amount of energy available and it is a better way to dispose of the waste. We can be stuck with it for over ten thousand years or for five hundred. We would probaly still need to ram the waste down mutant Nevadians throats - but the waste that we rammed down their throats would be much less dangerous for a much shorter and more managable period of time. According to SciAm much of the radioactivity of the waste would fade within a decade. After that Strontium 90 and cessium 137 would be the most dangerous part of the radioactive waste, but within 300 years their radioactivity would decline by a factor of 1000. The real 10,000 year problem with current spent nuclear fuel is the transuranic elements, but they are recycled with the uranium and plutonium with the pyro-processing and the fast ALMR reactors would burn them as well as the uranium and plutonium.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 28, 2006 5:40 PM
Comment #143956

Every fuel source has a huge downside, don’t fuel yourself. I am the greatest supporter of alternative energy sources, but none of them are as universally viable as coal, oil ,natural gas and nuclear. Of those choices, nuclear has the least environmental/sustainability impact even in the worst case scenerio. If I lived in Hawaii I would set up solar panels and a windmill, but I don’t.

Posted by: Loren at April 28, 2006 5:56 PM
Comment #143992

Loren, your statement is factually incorrect about nuclear having the least environmental/sustainability impact. Add the costs of security which will escalate and inflate as more and more global plants come online, and the political and economic costs of waste management and enforcement of that management, and nuclear is, at present, no more economically sustainable than oil is.

The Sun is the ultimate source of all energy. The sun’s energy captured, stored, and transformed is ultimately where technology needs to go, along with oceanic storm and wave action energy harvesting. A 100 square mile solar panel in the S.W. would have the capacity to supply all of America’s energy needs. We just need the technology to efficiently transform and distribute that energy. That is the future, we should be investing in that future today.

Solar heat energy can dual purpose as fresh water humidity condensers in desert areas, and store in heavy liquids for short distance distribution of heat energy. Solar converts to electricity, which can fuel half or more of our vehicles. Solar roofs can provide household energy and reduce summertime cooling costs dramatically. These are just some mechanisms of solar power, more will be found if we make the investments now.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 28, 2006 8:09 PM
Comment #143993

I agree that we should rely more on nuclear power. It is cleaner than coal. We should be buying up all the uranium we can lay our hands on anyway, to keep it from going to troublesome countries. Not using this technology is wasteful.

I have always lived in areas that relied on nuclear power for part or most of the electricity production, and there has never been any kind of a problem. I would not advocate building nuclear power plants in any area which earthquake faults, like the whole Diablo Canyon fiasco, but I think it is a safer alternative than anything that would produce any more greenhouse gases.

Posted by: ohrealy at April 28, 2006 8:10 PM
Comment #144000

I agree that we should look to using more nuclear fission power plants in the short term. But what we need is an Apollo sized program challenging our scientists and engineers to design clean alternative enrgy syetems. Simply waiting for the demands of the free market to get us there will be too late and cause alot of suffering. So here is my solution:

Short term:

Allow more nuclear power plants of the type Guest was describing to be built. Give tax breaks for the purchase of hybrids, solar panels for homes and businesses, and geothermal heat exchangers for homes and businesses. The government should start increasing fuel efficiency standards for all vehicles, and set a goal that within 5 years all new autos will be built flex-fuel, and within 10 years all autos will be built with hybrid engines. The government should encourage the production of ethanol within the US using tax breaks and subsidies, and eliminate tariffs on foreign ethanol imports. There should be more grants for scientists to find better ways to convert cellulose and other bio mass waste into ethanol for large scale production. Get more people to buy compact fluorescent and led lights for their homes by offering government rebates, and set a timetable to eliminate the conventional light bulb. In areas where it can be applied, the government should require that within 10 years all new homes be built with geothermal heat exchangers instead of furnaces and central air cooling systems. Within 20 years we could have an ethanol economy, and greatly reduce our use of oil.

Long term:

More research is needed to improve the energy capacity of hydrogen fuel cells, as well as better methods of obtaining hydrogen. More funding should be put into solar cell technology so that solar cells can be put in roofing shingles, the bodies of cars, alongside roads, and anywhere you can think of without being expensive and obtrusive. Set up solar farms in areas like the mojave desert (a 100 square mile solar array could provide enough energy for the whole US). Make it a goal to create a fusion power plant by mid century. If you think the coming oil shortage will be bad, just wait until we use up most of the aquifers and we have a fresh water shortage. Cheap abundant electricity from fusion and solar power will be needed to run huge desalinization plants. Within 50 years we could have a sustainable hydrogen economy.

Posted by: bushflipflops at April 28, 2006 8:33 PM
Comment #144002


I agree that we need alternative energy - including solar - the cost of solar cells has been prohibitive, but with new emerging technologies and the economies large scale production - prices will come down. There are other technologies that are viable. I like bio-diesel. The technology is not there yet, but I like hydrogen.

I agree. That is not the point of this article.

The point of this article is that there better ways to handle the nuclear waste that we already have. Nuclear technology has evolved. The situation has changed. There are safer ways to handle the nuclear waste that we already have and those ways will also allow us to produce substantial quantities of environmentally safe and clean nuclear energy. That is the point. If you ALMR reactors, then you the fuel can be reprocessed and used in pebble bed reactors which are also intrinsically safe. The energy is there in the spent fuel rods - it is already there - it is wasted - leaving it there makes the nuclear waste more toxic and more dangerous - extracting it and using it makes the nuclear waste less toxic and less dangerous - so you may as well use it.


We do not have to buy more uranium - in fact we can stop mining it - we have plenty of it in the spent nuclear fuel rods. But I agree that we need to fight proliferation and choose the sites for nuclear power plants very carefully.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 28, 2006 8:57 PM
Comment #144008


Bush does flipflop… anyhow… I agree with the thrust of your plan. I might fine tune a couple of very fine points - but overall if we could get plan like that - the world would change for the better - not gonna happen in the real world - nobody would allow it - not even the liberals - but that is what we should be pushing for. I work for GM and I am a proud UAW member. The fought for and supported the liberal agenda. They have made the world a better place. But if you start threatening to mess with fuel economy and power train which threaten to kill the GM golden egg laying goose and they will fight you. They are on the wrong side of this issue. I hate to go off on a tangent, but this is why we need public financing of elections. Politicians have to sell out to big money special interest. Normally the UAW is on the correct side of most issues so the Democrats do not have to sell out quite so bad as the Reds do - but not on this one.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 28, 2006 9:13 PM
Comment #144024

Ray.good post and great information.! any inside info on the new duramax lbz?! it looks strong.

Posted by: RODNEY BROWN at April 28, 2006 10:51 PM
Comment #144030

all those years of protest and riots, anti-nuke anti-war save the earth demonstration’s not in my back yard, don’t let our children glow in the dark.The flip-floping hypolpisy of the left is alive and well and spinning so hard I can smell the rubber burning in this post. Let’s jump ahead of the red’s on this one, what a pile of crap.Next you will want to drill for oil in Alaska and claim it was your idea.High gas prices? compared to what?I see people carrying a little bottle of water around that they paid $6 to $8 a gallon for.In my america water is free.Where I live in 1956,wages were around$1.35 per hour,which bought four gallons of gas.Today,average wages in this area are about $12 per hour,which also buys four gallons of gas.In 1956 a mid-size car cost $2,500. In 2006 the same car cost 25,000 In 1956 a home cost $15,000. Today a similar home is $150,000 I could go on and on with this list.This fuel situation should have been delt with 30 to 40 years ago as we all know, this is just one more thing the Bush bashers blame the Bush administration for. As you are all looking towards the 2008 presidential election and have been waiting and dreaming of how you can get the Clintons back in the White House.I would think that you would be pretty tired by now waiting and dreaming from the day Bill pulled his zipper down to 2008 is a long time to try and rebuild a legacy that can never be saved and history will lay proof to that. So hybrid cars,ethonal,bio-diesel, drill in Alaska and we could all drive a little less .President Bush has mentioned all these things ,but of course, the Bush-bashers don,t agree with any of it. Yes of course you forget that Ronald Reagan did more for nuke power research in this country than any president with the lib-left kicking and screaming all the way.Now you want to be just like your mentors the French and go nuke power. As I tell my children and grandchildren “think before you complain”.

Posted by: angry white man at April 28, 2006 11:39 PM
Comment #144036

Ray, folks are getting the wrong impression from what you are writing that the after reuse, nuclear waste is safe. It is NOT! And it cannot be made safe. Safer in nuclear terms is still deadly to living tissues. It can only be put out of sight and away from human and environmental habitation. I think you may want to clarify this for folks since you appear to have done your homework. From some of the comments above it appears they are not understanding your word “safer” for what it really means.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 28, 2006 11:58 PM
Comment #144039

Build the nuclear reactors and just put the nuclear waste in a rocket and shoot into space. End of problem. we’ve sent enough other junk up there what a couple billion tons of waste? Any way it won’t weigh anything up there.

Posted by: Ron Brown at April 29, 2006 12:02 AM
Comment #144044

Ron, i am not trying to be the devils advocate here. and forgive my use of this term, but those rockets sometimes blow up.

Posted by: RODNEY BROWN at April 29, 2006 12:26 AM
Comment #144050

Rodney Brown,

I have no real inside info on the Duramax. I think it is good. I worked in GM as a UAW skilled employee but got left in behind in a reorganisation and worked on the body platform side of Mid - Engineering anyhow - so I know nothing. I would say that GM has done more for the environment by putting hybred powertrains in buses where they really make a difference than Toyota has by putting them in the wimpy Prius - but Toyota gets all of the good press.

angry white man,

Somewhat more interesting points than your usual raves.


You are correct. The nuclear waste from this process is still extremely dangerous for up to 500 years, well more like 300. I did not mean to minimize that. But the nuclear waste is there already and it is even more dangerous in its current form and in its current form it will remain dangerous for over 10,000 years. The new nuclear power plants will still have some risk as well - but it is manageable - there are no guarantees in life - whatever we choose entails some level of risk. And of coarse the threat of nuclear terrorist attacks on power plants will remain - but those risk are there anyway and would be even worse if we have to transport all of that spent fuel thousands of miles. Of coarse the waste from this process would still have to eventually be transported someplace as well - but this waste is less dangerous for much less time. And there is less of it - especially in the near term - further if there was an attack on a shipment of waste - the damage would be devastating but not as bad as an attack on shipment of our current nuclear waste. My point is that it is the best of a bad situation - squeezing the lemon - as it were.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 29, 2006 12:35 AM
Comment #144052

I agree with Rodney Brown lets not try to shoot it into space.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 29, 2006 12:37 AM
Comment #144056

Ray, thanks for making that point more prominent. I agree absolutely that our current nuclear waste should be recycled to get the absolute most out of it.

My objection is to creating new nuclear power plants around the globe as some energy panacea without FIRST developing an Affordable, Safe, and Reliable way of disposing the increased stocks of waste that would result from such growth in Nuclear Waste.

Where for example, is France dumping its nuclear waste? Where will Indonesia dump its nuclear waste? How about China? Iran? India? Pakistan? N. Korea? How much of it is currently disappearing into our oceans? Do we even know?

I want all those answers before I will support globalization of nuclear power production. Because as you point out, for centuries the waste will remain a hazard to humans and other living things. AND the cost of nuclear cannot be assessed until these questions are answered, because the answers will in one or another add significantly to the cost of nuclear power. Perhaps even raising it to levels higher than our current cost of fossil fuel.

Folks talk about cheap nuclear energy in America without ever adding to their quotes the cost of the Yucca Mt. development project, or what it will cost to finish it, and the cost of positioning it on a seismic fault area. Nuclear is not near as cheap as its proponents claim because of these purposeful omissions.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 29, 2006 1:04 AM
Comment #144069

We of course should depend on distributed power, without a need for a central authority (the centralized plants could be used however for a backup). As long as America is run by republicans who care more about oil and corporate lobbyists than doing what is right, however, this probably won’t happen.

Posted by: mark at April 29, 2006 2:04 AM
Comment #144074

Another good source of information. is from, the world nuclear association. the title is called. processing of used nuclear fuel for recycle. at

Posted by: RODNEY BROWN at April 29, 2006 2:36 AM
Comment #144075


It is scary to think about what some of these countries are doing. If memory serves, I believe that Maddamme Currie kept uranium in her dressor drawer - and died of cancer.

I am certainly opposed to what Bush wants to do in India but some globalization might be preferable since it would give us control over the Nuclear Fuel cycle and waste. There are hidden costs for many of the products that we use. For example, I have never been able to find the discipline to become vegetarian. A calorie is a calorie. There are 4 calories in 1 gram of vegetarian carbohydrate and 4 calories in 1 gram of animal protein. But it takes at least 10 grams of carbohydrate to produce 1 gram of animal protein. We take a high percentage of our calories from animal protein. Even if we think we need animal protein, we certainly don’t need as much as we eat. Most of it is simply digested and burnt as calories or worse stored as fat. So that is ten times as much fuel for the tractors to grow the crops to feed the cows. It is ten times as much fertilizer. It is ten times as much herbicide polluting our water. It is ten times as much insecticide polluting our water. It is ten times as much water pumped out of millions of years old underground aquifers to irrigate the crops. It is ten times as much salination of arable land from the irrigation. It is ten times as much methane from animal dung contributing to global warming. All for the sake of a 49 cent hamburger. Is there intelligent life on earth? If intelligent life ever does evolve on earth, what will its archaeologists think of our idiocy? If I try to imagine what it would be like to be intelligent, I would imagine that they would be simply stupified.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 29, 2006 2:49 AM
Comment #144084

I have thought for a long time that we simply need a manhattan style project to get sustained fusion working and commercially usable. Fusion, unlike fission, can be done using water essentially (two variants of hydron - deuterium and tritium with 1 and 2 additional neutrons respectively).

Fusion does not lead to radioactive waste (fusion makes helium which is quite inert) and would also answer the issue of having to enrich uranium, for instance. We’re currently about 15 years away from sustained fusion based on the most recent articles I’ve read and in this area, it is Europe that is doing the heaviest R&D rather than the US.

Fusion would be a non-proliferation power source as the processes and materials would not lead to the means for building actual nuclear weapons and the source for the fuel is the oceans of the world and therefore would last us a few million years.

Some might confuse fusion with “hydrogen bombs” but the difference is that a “hydrogen bomb” actually uses an atomic (i.e. uranium or plutonium fission bomb) to trigger the fusion process.

So, to sum it up, fusion energy would be clean, limitless in supply from a practical standpoint and safe.

Some google’d news articles on current efforts in sustained fusion:

Posted by: cbp at April 29, 2006 4:03 AM
Comment #144086

A more useful link:

Posted by: cbp at April 29, 2006 4:11 AM
Comment #144089

Best link of all:

Posted by: cbp at April 29, 2006 4:20 AM
Comment #144097

cbp, if I am not mistaken, there is still doubt fusion will ever be viable due to the physics of how much input energy is required to start and sustain the fusion reaction. Do you know more about this physics debate? My information is dated and rusty.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 29, 2006 6:53 AM
Comment #144098

Ray, I agree, I too am concerned over Bush’s proliferation policy. But I have not too many years left on this planet, so what archeologists in future centuries think of my generation of humans is of little interest to me. Still, it’s entertaining to speculate on how crude and uncivilized they may regard us.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 29, 2006 6:56 AM
Comment #144124

I have never heard of war like nucular energy.

Posted by: jc at April 29, 2006 11:15 AM
Comment #144133


I agree fusion would be great. We have been 25 years away from commercially viable fusion for the last 50 years. I have been waiting. Now we are 15 years away. We are making progress. Another hundred years and we will be there. Milestones have been reached. Fusion does produce a small amount of slightly radioactive waste - just the inner wall of the reactor vessel over maybe a 30 year life of a power plant. But, if / or when fusion comes, we still have spent nuclear fuel, we still have to do something with our spent nuclear fuel, we need to make plans about what to do with our spent nuclear fuel now.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 29, 2006 12:18 PM
Comment #144156


Well done. Important article on an important subject. We must find alternate sources of energy.

I read the material you are talking about in the Scientific American. It sounds good and encouraging, but like David, I’m worried about the safety. This is no small item.

I would rather concentrate on solar energy and other decentralized sources to reduce our risk exposure.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at April 29, 2006 2:48 PM
Comment #144171


I agree that it is dangerous and I am not absolutely positive the solution that I have proposed here is the best. It seems to me that this is a better approach than the one that we are currently following. One can never be certain of anything unless one is named “W” and hears the voice of God in his head. There are not too many people like that. In that case certainty is just a simple matter of common sense.

Common sense as defined by Ray’s Brief Dictionary of Political Buzz Words and Phrases (hopefully it won’t have too many formatting problems):

Common Sense (Căhm-mŭn΄ Sĕnsss΄) noun. 1.) Synonymous with dissembling. As in: Bill Clinton used common sense when he lied about what is is. (in Texan: disassembling). As in: George W. Bush was using common sense when he disassembled the truth about WMD. 2.) A simple concise clear statement of the truth. 3.) A catchy 30 second sound bite about complex highly nuanced issues involving national security. As in: You see… uh… um… thar’s uh… bad people… uh… so… uh… um… we gotta… uh… uh… smoke em out… you see… its uh… just uh… um… common sense – you see. 4.) If you are hunting small pet birds, you do not pull the trigger when your gun is pointed at large orange things.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 29, 2006 4:27 PM
Comment #144254

I am sorry to see that Ray and ohrealy support the use of Nuclear Fission as a source of power.

You are misinformed if you think it is “safe” - particularly as implemented in America.

David Remer was right the first time: not only does fission power present unreasonable dangers with regard to Operation and Terrorism, it is a massive failure when it comes to handling the Waste.

Bear with me, I will get to Fusion Power in a bit, but I want to reveal a few things about the Fission experience in America, first.

I live in California, and the reason why Nuclear Power failed utterly here is the central Plot Point in the prophetic (because of Three Mile Island) movie The China Syndrome. The majority of fission plants built in California were built on Fault Lines. Why? Because it was the Cheapest Land the developers could find to purchase. It was Cheap because it had an Earthquake Fault lying directly under it! And the construction was also done with Low Bid Contractors using the Cheapest Materials they could purchase.

The plants built in Europe and Japan do not suffer from this fundamental flaw in the production of American Infrastructure - but you can bet your bottom Dollar that any future American plants will. Because that is how Corporate and Public engineering is done: Low Bid, Bad O-Rings, Etc.

Further, regardless of how much you “deplete” Uranium, it remains both Radioactive and Toxic. Even the oxides of Uranium and Plutonium can be used by terrorists to build either a Radiological Weapon or (with household processing) an actual Nuclear Weapon. `Don’t believe me? Read “The Curve Of Binding Energy,” by one of America’s foremost nuclear weapons designers and the estimable John McPhee.

Further still, the Waste Problem is horrific. Japan ships its Nuclear Waste here for disposal, for Christ’s sake! And then there was the idea from the Reagan Administration for the Nuclear Priesthood:

(And, after you’ve checked that out, you might want to just edit out everything after the “radiation/” in the above URL in your address-box and hit Return, to do some more in-depth reading…)

“Atomic Priesthoods?” “Nuclear Monks” handing down, through Oral Tradition and Ritual, the message that this stuff is “Cursed” for 10,000 Years?

No, thanks. Not for me.

Now, with regard to Fusion:

cbp, if I am not mistaken, there is still doubt fusion will ever be viable due to the physics of how much input energy is required to start and sustain the fusion reaction. Do you know more about this physics debate? My information is dated and rusty.

Mine isn’t. In fact, it’s right up my alley. It’s not starting the reaction that’s the problem - it’s sustaining it. The unfortunately-named “Bohm Time” (after the even-more-unfortunately-named Dr. Bohm) is the time a “viable,” as you put it, Plasma may be sustained before cooling to extinction.

You see, if the Fusion Plasma touches any part of its Containment, it instantly “goes out” like a match in a hurricane and the process stops immediately.

Which is just my sort of Nuclear Power.

No “China Syndrome.” No waste to steal or store. Clean, friendly (you can pour ALL of a City’s garbage, sewage, etc. through a vented Plasma Jet and instantly decompose it into its pure atomic constituents, which are quite valuable, thus solving the problem of Waste Disposal entirely) - and safe.

At present, Bohm Time is measured in milliseconds - but that’s largely due to Criminal underfunding of U.S. Fusion projects! At one point during the VietNam Elective War, the U.S. Government took the funds away from Fusion Research and transferred them directly into the development of the Maverick Missile. Now, as much as I think the AGM-65 is neato-keano, we would damned sure have been better off with working Nuclear Fusion Reactors!

(Angry Betty)

So the problem with Fusion isn’t feasibility, it’s that it has met with concerted lobbying efforts against it by Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Electric Power (yes, I know: but they don’t want to have to re-tool either), and Big FatCats in the Military-Industrial Complex that Ike warned us about as he was completing his distinguished National Service.

Back to Fission: I don’t know whether The Problem, my dear friends and fellow Progressives, is that you are too young to Remember, or if you merely don’t understand the full import of the Science, or if you just think American Human Nature will let us do this perfectly and everything will be hunky-dory -

[NOTE: MUST be done *Perfectly*, in order for things to be Hunky-Dory and not Humpty-Dumpty…]

- but you are way, way, way, way, way off base here, on this one thing, and I hope to God you will listen to Betty (who Loves you dearly, remember?), and back swiftly away from it…

Posted by: Betty Burke at April 29, 2006 11:24 PM
Comment #144260

Betty Burke,

I think that I am going to have to write almost another whole article to fully respond to your comment. I don’t have time right now but will try to respond tomorrow. I enjoyed your comments. I agree with some of them - partially agree with others - and disagree with some. So stay tuned… and I thought that the debate was finished here… that this thread was about dead… looks like it is just heating up. I know that I will never convince you Betty, but atleast we can both air our opinions.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 30, 2006 1:00 AM
Comment #144307

Betty Burke,

Betty I checked your links and I think that they actually support my position here. Yes, even from this distance, I can see your BP rising… well mine would be anyway, if you were going to use my own evidence to argue against me.

First, lets handle the things were I agree with you:

You are misinformed if you think it is “safe” - particularly as implemented in America.
There are serious concerns about the implementation. Any large organisation of people - government, political, business, or religious - is prone to become beauraucratic, corrupt, inefficient, and subject to group think. This is your strongest argument I think. Nuclear Power plants on earthquake faults… low bid contracts (if “W” has anything to do with it, no - bid contracts)… quality control… It sends shivers up my spine, and again leads me to repeat the question that I ask above: Will intelligent life ever evolve on earth?

I complain about NIMBYs above… but that is the pot calling the kettle black, because as an activist, I am a NIMBY, so, above; I am really only complaining about the NIMBYs that disagree with me. Your concerns about implementation are serious, but I have some faith in NIMBYs to watchdog these issues - as a NIMBY, I have seen them in action - and I think that is my best argument against your best argument. Long live NIMBYs.

Now, to a misconception in your post:

Further, regardless of how much you “deplete” Uranium, it remains both Radioactive and Toxic. Even the oxides of Uranium and Plutonium can be used by terrorists to build either a Radiological Weapon or (with household processing) an actual Nuclear Weapon. `Don’t believe me? Read “The Curve Of Binding Energy,” by one of America’s foremost nuclear weapons designers and the estimable John McPhee.
I am not talking about depleting uranium. I am talking about fissioning / burning all of it - so that is all gone - converted to radioactive short half life strontium 90, cesium 137, and a variety of very short half life radio isotopes that would “degrade” within 10 years. In fact, depleted uranium can be added to the fuel stream and bred into fissionable uranium and burnt until it is all gone - gone - gone - not stored - gone. Now, the strontium and cesium would still have to be stored for 500 years… 500 years… a long time… but one hell of a lot better than over 10,000 years - more than 20 times better. Better… and even better than shooting depleted Uranium all over the middle east where it can be gathered up, mixed with a little diesel fuel and fertilizer and used to poison and render uninhabitable large valuable sections of world class cites. The spent nuclear fuel is there. The depleted uranium is there. This is about what we do with it. So, do you get this Betty? We are talking about the uranium, plutonium, and transuranic elements being gone - such that the only thing left (after ten years or so) is strontium 90 and cesium 137. The half life of strontium 90 is 28 years. The half life of cesium 137 is 30 years. So, after 30 years half of the strontium and cesium will have decayed into safe forms. After 60 years, three quarter of it will have decayed into safe forms. After 90 years five eights of it will have decayed - by 120 years, fifteen sixteenths of it will have decayed into safe forms. Now, it will remain dangerous for several hundred years and at least slightly dangerous for up to 500 years. The half life of the main isotope of plutonium is 24,000 years and uranium isotopes half lives range from hundreds of thousands to billions of years. In conclusion, we must convert the uranium, plutonium, transuranic elements, and depleted uranium into safer forms and this proposal is one way to do that. And that is why your link about the absurdity of nuclear preists trying to use smoke and mirrors to keep this stuff safe for over 10,000 years supports my position. There is no way to keep this stuff safe for over 10,000 years and that is why we must do something.

Also, this process as articulated above in the article and thread, reduces the risk of proliferation, which is why your first link supports my position.

So, please reread the article and thread more carefully.

Finally, the potential of fusion is great, and should be pursued, but it also does produce small amounts of nuclear waste.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 30, 2006 12:25 PM
Comment #144310


For absolute rigorous accuracy, I should add that when I say gone, gone, gone, in the above post, that there still would be “trace” amounts of tranuranic elements mixed in with the cesium and strontium. There are “trace” amounts of uranium in the cement foundation of your house. So when say I gone, I mean gone for all practical purposes gone - as gone as gone can be - but not absolutely gone - just gone.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 30, 2006 12:41 PM
Comment #144342

Betty Burke,
We do not agree on everything. I would be hypocritical to oppose nuclear power while using it. My main point is to keep it out of the hands of countries that would use it to create problems for others.

Posted by: ohrealy at April 30, 2006 3:14 PM
Comment #144372

I believe that Barry Commoner wrote something like: “splitting the atom to boil water is like ringing a doorbell with a bazooka.” Nuclear power may have a place in a comprehensive energy policy but except for the largest industrial requirements it’s place is small. Our problem is sustaining our way of life in a decentralized country. No solution is more appropriate or elegant than placing photovoltaic cells on the roofs of our homes. If the government would only lead the way by creating a demand (buying the cells for their own use) the price would come down to be affordable to most of us. Adding solar heated hot water would complete the loop.

Investing in nuclear power or fusion before exhausting solar photovoltaic is just the type of proposal I would expect to come from Dick Chenney

Posted by: kelfeind at April 30, 2006 8:01 PM
Comment #144373


I agree that there are things that can be done to make photocells more viable. This article is about addressing what we do with the already existing nuclear waste from power plants and decommissioned weapons. That is not a small problem and the energy that we would derive from this proposal is not small.

Posted by: Ray Guest at April 30, 2006 8:20 PM
Comment #144374


that there is a problem with NIMBY people, but it is time to get over it.

I take it this means you are volunteering to be the first to host one of these new-fangled ALMR reactors in your backyard, is that right?

disrupts the delicate balance of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere threatening life on earth as we know it.

I don’t see where you or anyone else you quoted/linked has provided convincing proof that a) global warming is caused exclusively by hydrocarbon combustion emissions or b) cutting out all powerplant emissions will neutralize global warming.

The premise in your argument in favor of nuclear power is faulty. I absolutely, positively agree we are experiencing global warming on the mere basis of temperature statistics. I couldn’t possibly disagree more with the conclusion you and a lot of others have jumped to, that we can significantly affect the progress of global warming by converting to nuclear power.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way afraid of nuclear power. Why is it that whenever there is a debate about the wisdom or folly of nuclear power, pro-nukes inevitably must play the “C’mon, don’t be such cowards.” card? Could it be that there are plenty of good reasons to question the wisdom of having more nukes than we already do, and the only response you really have is to question the bravery of those who disagree with you?

Now, I don’t have access to Scientific American, and I’m not about to pay to read it online. But I do possess some knowledge of the technology and technology in general, so permit me to try to shoot some holes in your puff piece:

If pumps fail “gravity would circulate the coolant.”
Interesting theory. Totally wrong, of course, but interesting nonetheless. Do you not realize that what you’ve described here is a perpetual motion machine, which if such a thing existed, we could use to produce as much energy as necessary without hydrocarbons or nukes? In truth, once the coolant is moved by gravity to the lowest point in the system, it will cease to circulate.
The point is that liquid metal reactors are intrinsically safer than light water reactors - by design.
Not true by a long shot. The design of the ALMR is practically the same as the LWR, the only real difference being the coolant material used (sodium instead of water). Although the sodium is not under as high pressure as water in an LWR, it is nonetheless under pressure for the sake of efficiency. So it is not true to say there is no chance of exploding coolant pipes, etc. etc. Not only is there still the possibility, in fact the consequences of an exploding coolant pipe carrying molten sodium are even more serious than one carrying water.

Now to the subject of waste, which is my main concern on about nukes:

Five hundred years is easy,

I assume you are engaging in relativism here. 500 years is 20 generations. The US hasn’t even been inhabited by white men for 500 years yet, but you presume to say safekeeping something as hazardous as these reaction products which will “only” be hazardous for 500 years is “easy”? Preposterous.

The bottom line problem with nukes are that they are inefficient if you include the total cost from mining to reaction to waste. Nevermind the fact that all we’re going to have if we replace all the coal- or NG-fired powerplants with nuclear powerplants is electricity. Can airplanes run on electricity? What about ships? Is there the slightest chance that airplanes or ships will ever run on electricity? Are you suggesting we just trash all the existing hydrocarbon-burning engines and replace them with electrical motors?

No, the answer to our woes is to get oil prices about 2 to 5 times higher than they are now, then conservation will make sense. Then, the prices need to be kept that high with a tax if need be.

Nuclear power is nothing but a potential industry cash cow that we will regret for hundreds of years if we are so short-sighted to turn to it.

Posted by: wanna_be_jack at April 30, 2006 8:23 PM
Comment #144456


I read it. And I understood it - this may surprise you: since I am a Gurl, after all - the first time. (As it so happens, I know a Few Things about Physics, Astrophysics, Astronomy, Cosmology, Etc.)

Now you go and read the Book I recommended to you. (It’s a Really Good One - as are all of McPhee’s, incidentally: if you like it [you will], try “Oranges” or “The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed” next…)

And, while you are reading it - starting with about 1/4 of the way in, let’s say - you just think about Human Nature, and the Historical Record, and about Corporate Ethics and about Fanatical Zeal…

And then come back here and tell me how sanguine you are about the notion.

Like Cassandra, I have issued my Warning and will now leave you be. (You remember Cassandra, don’t you? And what happened when her Warning went unheeded?)

Posted by: Betty Burke at May 1, 2006 3:07 AM
Comment #144479

>>Nuclear power is nothing but a potential industry cash cow that we will regret for hundreds of years if we are so short-sighted to turn to it.

Posted by: wanna_be_jack at April 30, 2006 08:23 PM


You misspelled newkewler…

Posted by: Marysdude at May 1, 2006 8:45 AM
Comment #144561

One thing amazes me is the absolute blind-spot we have over geothermal energy.

Look I’m going to start a howl here but dammit we can’t afford the cost of our sentimentality here any more.

We have 2 of the 7 biggest volcanoes in the world right here in the US and we could easily build enormous generators at both of them. One of them is in the Long Valley Caldera in California and the other is Yellowstone Park. Blah, blah, ruin the environment and nature.

We could esily build these plants without significant degredation to these areas and they could generate enough energy to power the entire western half of the country without producing any radiactive waste.

It is stupid not to consider using these existing resources. They won’t pollute in any manner. All you do is pump in water, it comes back out as steam to spin the turbines and you condense it to recycle it.

No carbon emissions, no nuclear materials and only the roads to the plant, water pipes, and the power lines coming out. This is the cleanest possible energy. We are absolutely stupid not to do this.

The only danger at all is eventually they will both erupt but if that happens, so much of the country is toast that losing the power will be the least of our concerns. They are way to big for us to effect them so we can’t cause any problem by injecting water. There is no real downside here other than to a few purists and we can’t afford to be that pure any more.

Posted by: Wayne at May 1, 2006 1:59 PM
Comment #144653

Well people, there are a lot of good ideas and criticisms here. I wish that I had time to make a full response to all of them. I thought that wanna_be_jack had the best criticisms. I wish that I had time to make a full response. I don’t, so I will just hit back a couple of high points and then crawl away bleeding.

Apology to Betty Burke:
First things first, apology to Betty Burke… Betty, my rhetoric made it seem like I was talking down to you. I did not intend that. I was writing quick and did not take enough time to polish my writing and make sure that I was communicating clearly. Parts of comments that you made seemed to indicate that you did not understand what I was saying. Often when these threads get long I skim read and I thought that perhaps you had done that. For example, your earlier comment about atomic priests cursing this stuff for 10,000 years, when I am talking about “burning” it down to bi-products that degrade in 500 years made it seem that you had missed my point. I will buy the book and try to read it - time permitting. That will take me some time - if it changes my mind, I will write a new piece.

Now, wanna_be_jack,
It is you and me buddy, toe to toe, you gave me a bloody nose and a black eye… You are quite correct. Five hundred years really is not easy. I over extended my rhetoric, dropped my guard and you gave me a black eye. But relatively speaking, 500 years is easy as compared to over 10,000. Because, the difficulty of storing this stuff, for longer and longer periods of time, is exponential since our predictions and expectations of what the future will hold become increasingly uncertain. Such that, storing something 20 times as long is probably 200 times as difficult. So, OK… Perpetual motion = bloody nose. Of coarse, once the coolant reaches equilibrium at its lowest point, it will stop. The point that SciAm is making is that there is enough stored gravitational potential energy in the coolant, in the system, to maintain circulation in an emergency until the reactor could be shut down. I was cutting corners for brevity, so go ahead, give me the bloody nose - enjoy. For brevity, I also did not mention that the design allows fast neutrons to leak out of the core in an emergency which also lowers its temperature. Now, I would dearly love to mop the floor with you over the issue of global warming. It is too broad of a fight, I am already bleeding from the nose, and I don’t have the time to fully engage it. But you go ahead, stand with the political hacks of the Bush regime, and pet attack dogs of industry. I will stand with the over whelming majority of scientist and the over whelming preponderance of scientific evidence. First punch back: You are dead wrong. ALMRs and light water reactors are very different. They both split atoms… Light water reactors use “slow” neutrons (that is what the water is for, so that the hydrogen can slow the neutrons down) - so called thermal reactions. ALMRs use fast nuetrons. It is a qualitatively different process. The qualitative difference in that process - the fast neutrons - is what allows ALMRs to fission transuranic elements (the most long term dangerous part of spent nuclear fuel). it is also what allows them to breed depleted uranium into fissionable material. Your lack of understanding of this betrays your ignorance. Second punch back: This process would eliminate the need for mining uranium for 100s of years. Your failure to understand that also betrays your ignorance. Third punch back: No where in this article have I said that nuclear energy is the only form that we should use. I have repeatedly said that I am in favor of many forms of energy. Your failure to understand that betrays your ignorance. But, I agree, we need conservation, also bio diesel, clean coal, hydrocarbon, and (geothermal (Wayne)). Thanks, wanna_be_jack for your excellent criticism of my article.

Correction for my article: In the article, I say that pyroprocessing involves melting the spent fuel and electroplating it onto electrodes. Heat is used, but the fuel is put into solution.

Posted by: Ray Guest at May 1, 2006 8:38 PM
Comment #144770

Punches? Butterfly kisses, more like. Nice try though, Ray.

Read this and weep.

The problem with using SciAm to propose practical solutions to practical problems is that a lot of what they put in there is barely past the theoretical stage. By the way, I’m grossly offended by your b!tch slap lining me up with the Bushacks - I couldn’t possibly disagree with them more on most topics. All I’m saying is that a) human activity may or may not be causing global warming and b) changing human activity may or may not slow down global warming.

If the Chimpies happen to coincidentally agree with me on this, well, they were bound to be right about something eventually; even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.

Posted by: wanna_be_jack at May 2, 2006 9:41 AM
Comment #144814


Well maybe you are not bleeding - but at least I made you mad.

Posted by: Ray Guest at May 2, 2006 1:20 PM
Comment #144965

My Dear Ray:

Not at all! I’ve even forgotten what I wrote that engendered your lovely and honourable apology! (I may be Sensitive, but I don’t usually hold grudges - “Irish Temper,” they call it…)

It’s a Small Book. And a Page-Turner. And what you will learn, apart from the ease with which Bombs may be made with stolen Nuclear Fuel in trans-shipment - and, just how easy it is to steal it - is just how Stupid, Lazy, Corrupt, Lazy, Inefficient, and Lazy America and Americans are about such things!

Which means, 500 Years is Too Long A Time to count on No Disasters occurring from Sloppiness, Laziness, and Criminality.

Not to mention the Shipping Around bit: that’s a major failing of the scheme right there.

Let’s do the EASY thing, shall we? Let’s put Proper Funding into Fusion research and development. Had we dones so 20 years ago, we’d have clean, safe, cheap Fusion Power right now!

Posted by: Betty Burke at May 3, 2006 12:00 AM
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