The Merit and Future Scope of Nuclear Energy

With the melodramatic history of nuclear energy in America, it’s no wonder people look at it with skepticism. But while industry management was lacking, the technology has not disappointed. New concepts now in development will not only help us through the current energy/environmental crisis, they will answer long held concerns about nuclear energy.

Nuclear power is a highly efficient and dense source of energy with no green house emissions and an abundant supply of fuel. But the industry has been plagued by poor management and a communication strategy of tech-babble. There are some valid concerns about safety associated with nuclear energy, but many of the most popular ones are not justified.

Many people are concerned about the radiation risks of living near a nuclear reactor. Thankfully, these risks are overstated. The amount of radiation you get from walking past an X-ray room in a hospital would not be acceptable for workers at a nuclear plant.

What if someone crashes a plane into the reactor? That would be terrible, but not because of radiation leaks. All nuclear plants in America have been retrofitted with redundant safety systems, including ones that make them passively safe. This means even if everybody at the plant is asleep when something terrible happens, natural forces will cause the reaction to shut down.

What about the Three Mile Island accident in 1979? In the worse nuclear reactor “disaster” in our nation's history, the physical plant failure released no radiation thanks to redundant safety systems, but the communication failure was catastrophic. Authorities did little to explain to the public what had happened. And the resulting safety measures put in place in all reactors were largely ignored. This incident was the beginning of the end of open discussion about nuclear energy.

Periodic stupid decisions by plant operators about how to deal with low-level waste have also damaged the credibility of the entire nuclear industry.

The concerns about high-level waste in Yucca Mountain are valid. We can't say what is going to happen in a thousand years. And with current technology, all we can do is sit on it. But that's not to say we don't have a plan.

The Generation IV International Forum (GIF) comprises scientists from 10 nations cooperating on development of advanced nuclear reactors. These concept reactors were designed with several goals in mind including proliferation resistance, improved safety, elimination of high-level waste, and sustainability.

Several of the Gen IV concepts are called fast reactors. These reactors will eliminate the production of high-level waste by using it as fuel. Fast reactors, such as the Sodium-cooled Fast Reactor (SFR), will be able to consume spent fuel from other reactors, and conceivably the waste now stored in Yucca Mountain. The resulting low-level waste will completely decay in much more manageable time frames.

Another Gen IV concept reactor is called the Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR). The high temperatures in this reactor will allow it to excel at applications other sources of energy would be ineffective at, such as high volume production of hydrogen to be used in vehicles and home heating, and manufacturing steel and aluminum.

These concepts include built-in redundant active and passive safety systems. The life cycle of nuclear fuel will ensure that weapons grade material will never be isolated to minimize proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Gen IV reactors could be ready for commercial use as early as 2030, depending on funding of research. Intermediate designs can be implemented before that. Fortunately, these concepts have received vigorous international support so far.

Nuclear energy will be most effective as part of a broad portfolio of energy sources. Wind and solar energy have the potential to be very affordable and portable solutions. Nuclear can meet needs other sources would be poorly suited to, such as efficiently producing hydrogen, metallurgy, and efficient production of electricity on large scales.

Posted by Mark Montie at November 11, 2008 9:07 PM
Comments
Comment #270175

The Navy has been using Nuclear power since the 50’s with no real catastrophic accidents. I served on a nuclesr powered surface ship and it was very safe. IMO nuclear power would be a great benefit as long as the civilian owners think safety before profits, that IMO would be the only downside.

Posted by: KAP at November 11, 2008 9:20 PM
Comment #270178

Hmmmm, sounds like part of McCain’s stump speech.

Posted by: janedoe at November 11, 2008 11:09 PM
Comment #270179

Yeah, if it doesn’t bash rich people, it’s not worth the time of the left.

I was a nuclear reactor operator in the Navy, it was fundamentally safe. Amazing that the left want to glob on to France’s version of healthcare but they don’t want anything to do with their energy infrastructure.

As I said, if it doesn’t get the rich, what’s the real point…

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 12, 2008 1:49 AM
Comment #270180

Is that fundamentally safe, Rhinehold, like our economy being fundamentally sound, like McCain said??

Posted by: janedoe at November 12, 2008 2:55 AM
Comment #270188

Mark Montie, nuclear waste is not something one gambles with.

WHEN the technology exists to safely and cost effectively resolve the nuclear waste issue, THEN and ONLY then, should we invest in the erection of new nuclear power facilities, and not one hour BEFORE then.

Prudence is the foundation of conservative principles. Let’s be prudent about this very deadly waste product to our planet and our species. Safety first means having the means to safety before undertaking the risks.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 12, 2008 8:22 AM
Comment #270190

Mark-

You left out the 25MWe mini reactor concept.

“Perfect for moderately-sized projects, Hyperion produces only 25 MWe — enough to provide electricity for about 20,000 average American sized homes or its industrial equivalent. “

Posted by: George at November 12, 2008 9:23 AM
Comment #270198

Rhinehold,

Thanks for ruining the thread from the get go with a kneejerk partisan insult that has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Anyway, yes nuclear energy can be safe, but not completely. When one talks about powering the entire country with nuclear energy that would require too many reactors to ensure safety.

I’m all for nuclear energy, but it would have to be limited to what almost all experts can agree would be a safe number of reactors. You can’t afford to have even one accident in these cases, obviously.

Posted by: Max at November 12, 2008 11:32 AM
Comment #270200

Rhinehold, are you unfamiliar with the nuclear accidents on our submarines? Are you assuming that because your sub’s nuclear reactor didn’t sterilize or kill you, that the entire fleet was without incident?

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 12, 2008 12:06 PM
Comment #270202

No David, please enlighten me with the list of all of the submarine nuclear accidents that the Navy has had in its history. I will be interested to read this long and extensive list you seem to have that I don’t.

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 12, 2008 12:15 PM
Comment #270203
Thanks for ruining the thread from the get go with a kneejerk partisan insult that has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Right, because the comment that I responded too “Hmmmm, sounds like part of McCain’s stump speech.” WASN’T a partisan insult that has nothing to do with the topic at hand. How insensitive of me, I should just shut up and go die somewhere quietly, hmmm?

Anyway, yes nuclear energy can be safe, but not completely.

Nothing is, unfortunately. Coal, Oil, Solar and Wind all have their problems and dangers. Good luck on finding that non-dangerous energy source that is also clean and can cost effectively power our society, and do it right now.

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 12, 2008 12:19 PM
Comment #270208

I’ll tell you what the problem with Three Mile Island is: half the nuclear fuel melting into a puddle at the bottom of the reactor vessel.

Spin that any way you want, but that and Chernobyl (admittedly a very inferior design) woke people up to a stark fact: something goes catastrophically wrong at your typical powerplant, and the consequences are problematic for the neighborhood. Something goes wrong at a nuclear plant, and you can measure the consequences in timespans greater than the expanse of human history.

Of course, we can engineer the plants to make them very unlikely to fail in that way. But that makes these things very expensive and very slow to build, which means that anybody hoping to have a whole bunch of these online to replace fossil fuels is going to be disappointed.

Rhinehold-
The problems with Wind and Solar do not scale to the level that problems with Nuclear and Fossil Fuels do. If a Nuclear Plant fails despite the safeguards, the results could be unhealthy for the locals for tens of thousands of years. If we continue to generate most of our power with fossil fuels, we’ll be generating permanent climate change in the bargain.

What’s swatting a few birds by mistake in comparison? What’s a manageable problem with toxic ingredients, or the soon to be moot issue of how much territory would be covered by the solar panels, in comparison?

Just because every power generating technology has its drawbacks and environmental problems, doesn’t mean that all those drawbacks and problems are equivalent to each other.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 12, 2008 12:57 PM
Comment #270211

Stephen,

You are ignoring the long term effects of electricity in general. Ever wonder why large electrical clusters are called ‘cancer clusters’? I wouldn’t live under one…

Electromagnetic radiation is nothing to sneeze at and exists around us at all times in huge quantities… From TV and radio transmissions, to cell phones, to junk from space, to radiation from electrical lines that are laid everywhere, we are constantly bombarded with harmful radiation…

The issue is are we, as a society, willing to accept the risks for the convenience, the same has to be said of nuclear power, and using fear as a political tool I thought was a no-no?

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 12, 2008 1:57 PM
Comment #270212


Electricity is dangerous.

How much will it cost to build these nuclear power plants? The cost should include the inflationary runnup to and a period of time after the government gives the ok. It should also include the projected cost plus probably at least a 50% cost overrun.

How much will it cost to maintain these nuclear power plants?

How much will it cost to dispose of the nuclear waste in a safe manner? A lot of plants means a large amount of waste.

How much is it going to cost to decomission these nuclear plants when it comes time to shut them down and dismantle them? It is very expensive.

What will be a good estimate of the true costs involved vs. a pie in the sky low ball estimate.

The American People need to know these numbers before they make any decisions. They need to know how much more they are going to pay in increased utility costs for nuclear power compared to other alternatives.

I am not advocating clean coal technology per-say, it has many drawbacks as well. But, as an example, If, over the next 20 years we were to convert transportaion to electric power (we have the technoligical knowledge necessary to create a highway recharge grid) and build clean coal plants to meet the increased demand for electric power, we could eliminate our need for foreign oil and cut our CO2 emissions by more than half.

If solar, wind, hydro and geothermal sources are added into the mix, the results will be even better.

I think we can do it in less than 20 years. How about you?

Nuclear power will probably be the most profitable way to go but, it will also be the most expensive.

Posted by: jlw at November 12, 2008 2:05 PM
Comment #270215

Rhinehold, OK, just this once, I will do your research for you, since your comment reflects no education on the topic at all. Check this itemization.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 12, 2008 2:47 PM
Comment #270220

Rhinehold-
I would basically agree with this guy on the danger of powerlines

The trick with powerlines is that they give off radiation mainly in the long wavelength bands of the radio spectrum. These are the least likely forms of electromagnetic spectrum to cause cancer.

There’s plenty of fierce rhetoric to support power lines causing cancer, but not much in the way of actual science. What we do know causes it is Gamma, X-Ray, and Ultraviolet Radiation, ionizing radiation that actually causes damage on the molecular level, especially to genetic material. If radiation is your concern, concern yourself with nuclear fission as a power source.

It’s a mistake to let every crackpot with a research grant scare you, but it’s also a mistake to ignore advice when scientists bring a substantial concern about a technology to the fore, especially for political reasons. There are way too many people who ignore science when it becomes a drag on their pocketbook or when it crimps their lifestyle.

Dealing with electronic waste is not such a waste of our time. We really don’t need lead and other toxic heavy metals and other materials ending up in our drinking water or food. Dealing with other pollutants in general will probably do more to prevent cancer.

But powerlines? Cell Phones? Satellite signals? You’re looking at the wrong end of the spectrum.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 12, 2008 3:27 PM
Comment #270224

Some biological effect in the 60 hertz range, but not the mass hysteria of the 1970s and 1980s ,The losses through Resistance are a big thing estimated at 7.2-8%. and the dangers of above ground super high voltage- high amperage bare lines are better off insulated underground.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at November 12, 2008 4:15 PM
Comment #270226

Mark:

Very nice article. IMHO nuclear power has to be an option for the long term energy crisis we face today. It does go without saying that dealing with the waste is the major stumbling block and by far the biggest safety hazard associated with nuclear power. That issue needs to be agressively addressed before we make it worse by vastly increasing the amount of waste we produce. We need nuclear power, but we must address the issue of waste at least in a parallel timeline.

The two reactors that you referenced are better at dealing with the waste issue than our water cooled reactors, but the trade-off is with safety. The thing about the water cooled reactors is that water moderates neutrons and is nonflammable; therefore is inheriently safer than sodium, liquid graphite or hydroxide coolants. Too a certain extent, water even self regulates the reaction. The Chernobyl reactor used liquid graphite which was great for obtaining weapons grade plutonium, but the safety factor is noticebly less. A water cooled reactor would not have had the same end result as that one did. IMHO we need to use water cooled reactors and learn how to dispose of the waste.

David:

I must question your source on some of the information under the “Submarines and Ships” section:

“October 1959
One man was killed and another three were seriously burned in the explosion and fire of a prototype reactor for the USS Triton at the Navy’s training center in West Milton, New York. The Navy stated, “The explosion…was completely unrelated to the reactor or any of its principal auxiliary systems,” but sources familiar with the operation claim that the high-pressure air flask which exploded was utilized to operate a critical back-up system in the event of a reactor emergency.” All high pressure air generated on a submarine/ship or prototype reactor is stored in air banks. All needs for high pressure AND low pressure air comes from these banks and are regulated to the desired pressure. This “flask” was not exclusively for the reactor and therefore was not a nuclear incident. I do not understand why this was included unless he was suggesting something that is not true.

“21 May 1968
The U.S.S. Scorpion, a nuclear-powered attack submarine carrying two Mark 45 ASTOR torpedoes with nuclear warheads, sank mysteriously on this day. It was eventually photographed lying on the bottom of the ocean, where all ninety-nine of its crew were lost. Details of the accident remained classified until November 1993, when Navy reports revealed that the cause of the sinking was an accidental detonation of the conventional explosives in one of Scorpion’s warheads.” As with most of his cited nuclear incidents, this was not the fault of the reactor or its operation.

“14 January 1969
A series of explosions aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier Enterprise left 17 dead and 85 injured.” No cause of the explosions cited nothing nothing nuclear power related here, except the location.

Basically I am showing that most of the incidents listed are there NOT because of unsafe reactor operations. I do not pretent to speak for Reinhold, but I would like to point out that the term “nuclear accidents’ has a different meaning for those that have operated the reactors and auxillary equipment.

Posted by: submarinesforever at November 12, 2008 4:24 PM
Comment #270236

David Remer,

If we have designs in development that will handle the problems of waste in 20 years, I see no reason to start throwing up new plants right now. We just need to see that the research is well funded. Nuclear energy is a long-term solution, not a band-aid.

I agree that safety is paramount. But I agree with Submarinesforever that some of the incidents cited at your link are suspect. (Although Al does have some great pics of his vacation to Florida on that site worth looking at.)

In the early days there wasn’t much care in handling low-level waste. At the Idaho National Laboratory, for example, the accepted way of disposing of low-level waste was to back a dump truck filled with 30-gallon barrels up to a six-foot deep pit and let them go. They then covered the pit with a thin layer of dirt. The government is now cleaning up the Idaho desert. This is a failure of oversight, not technology. The same is true of nearly all of the incidents in U.S. history. (Chernobyl was a failure of a poorly designed plant along with having Homer Simpson at the helm.)

So oversight and plant operation practices reform, IMO, will do more to improve safety than anything. And that’s not just a hallmark of nuclear energy.

Submarinesforever,

That being said, safety in the technology must be addressed and enhanced with any new plants built. And that is being figured into the very design of these new concepts. Look at A Technology Roadmap for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems to find out more. One of the concepts being researched is a water-cooled system.

Posted by: Mark at November 12, 2008 9:46 PM
Comment #270242

So all we have to do is get Congress to repeal Murphy’s Law and its a gofer? If nukes are so safe why did Bushco find it necessary for the Feds to assume liability coverage?Yes, us taxpayers are on the hook again because private insurers are not stupid enough to underwrite nuclear power plants.
The biggest advantage they have is because of the huge capital outlays needed they assure that the energy oligarchs now in control will remain so. Other safer alternates pencil out on smaller scales. Can’t have that now,can we?’

Posted by: bills at November 13, 2008 3:34 AM
Comment #270247
Rhinehold, OK, just this once, I will do your research for you, since your comment reflects no education on the topic at all. Check this itemization.

Please David, let’s agree that you not do any more research for me in the future, ok?

Of the 11 ‘incidents’ listed for submarines in the article you reference, *0* of them are ‘nuclear accidents’.

5 of the ‘incidents’ involved the release of some contaminated water that the article even admits was a practice that was considered safe at one time but was stopped when discovered not to be, the last one in 1978.

4 of the ‘incidents’ involved damaging or the sinking of 2 submarines, one carrier and one warhead that fell off of a carrier with a plane and crewman, none of them having to do with the nuclear reactor or system in any way. Apparently any nuclear material being on the ship is enough to trigger an incident in this guy’s mind.

1 of the remaining incidents involved a very very early prototype that in the early 1950s and it appears that the ship was simply scuttled because of issues. This is probably the closest that I would grant was a nuclear accident except that it wasn’t an accident, just a poor design that was scrapped.

The remaining incident was damage to a part of a land-based prototype plant that had nothing to do with the nuclear reactor but a backup system that was not in use at the time.

So, thanks for letting us know what constitutes research on your part, David, it starts to become clear why very rarely do you back up such outrageous accusations.

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 13, 2008 8:38 AM
Comment #270254

Subs, I provided a source. I didn’t even imply that all the information in that source was relevant. There is relevant data there, though.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 13, 2008 10:46 AM
Comment #270256

Mark, see my comment to Subs above.

In reply to your comment: “They then covered the pit with a thin layer of dirt. The government is now cleaning up the Idaho desert. This is a failure of oversight, not technology.”

That was NOT a failure of oversight, it was a failure of the incestuous relationship between capitalist greed and our government elected officials. And that SOURCE for the problem is only getting worse, NOT BETTER.

Nuclear waste will remain a threat until we can either divorce corporate influence on government officials or we can cost effectively off load the waste well beyond capture orbit of the earth’s gravitational pull, and that ain’t even in our children’s lifetimes, or we can utterly and completely deplete its half-lives in save and productive recycling ways which are cost effective (another very, very long shot).

There is no getting around the waste cost and waste security issues of developing large numbers of new nuclear power reactors. All calculations that incorporate the nuclear waste cost issue render nuclear power an extremely expensive, even prohibitive, source of energy going forward. That simple truth is what is causing energy companies to spend 10’s of millions of dollars in advertising to hide and cover up and swiftboat.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 13, 2008 10:55 AM
Comment #270260

Rhinehold, that’s like saying a terrorist driven plane that misses the reactor and only takes out a cooling tower, was never a threat to the nuclear facility.

Your logic utterly fails. The infrastructure to the nuclear core is vital to the safety of the nuclear core as Three Mile Island meltdown demonstrated. Your argument that failures aboard a nuclear power ship constitute no threat to the nuclear power aboard is absurd on its face. A little common sense is all that is required here, no Ph.D. in nuclear fission.

As a public policy issue, nuclear power will always remain an inherently and potentially dangerous source of energy. And there is one very simple reason for that. Because it is!

And the comparisons of danger between solar, wave motion, and wind to nuclear, as competitive is ludicrous on its face. It’s like comparing the safety of a bicycle with less efficiency to a jet car with greater efficiency on a residential street where children play.

Using nuclear sources of energy must be subjected to thorough, transparent, objective cost-benefit analysis with consumers and their hired specialist’s data as to the costs (risks) evaluated alongside the corporate investor’s specialists data regarding benefits.

Can such a process be insured in our current regulatory environment? NO, is the simple answer. That may change under Obama, we will have to wait and see.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 13, 2008 11:28 AM
Comment #270263

David -

I might be a bleeding-heart liberal, but submarinesforever and I are on the same page here. I’ve served in engineering on both conventional and nuclear-powered ships, and let me tell you that the nuclear-powered ships are FAR safer than the conventionally-powered ships. There is simply no comparison.

When I was qualifying in Reactor Department on board the USS Abraham Lincon (CVN 72), I remember looking at the design and the safeguards of the reactor system and marveling to myself. It was clear to me that if the entire reactor watch team got together and actually tried to cause a meltdown, they still might not succeed.

You’ve no idea of the level of training these guys go through - not just once, but even after they’re fully qualified, they continue their training every doggone week of the year during normal ops.

When it comes to nuclear ‘accidents’, David, in your reference there were several incidents that had NOTHING to do with the operation of a nuclear power plant, but more to do with anti-nuclear paranoia. During NORMAL operation of a nuclear power plant, a watch team member gets more radiation from the overhead fluorescent lights than from the reactor core and primary coolant system thirty feet away.

One of the biggest a**holes in human history was a man by the name of Hyman Rickover, the ‘father’ of Naval nuclear power…and he was truly the right man for the job. The Naval department that is his legacy is - with the possible exception of NCIS - the most feared by the commanding officers of nuclear ships. I’ve got a very good friend that’s been in this department for over a decade now, and Reactor Department personnel quake at his approach - and I’m NOT kidding. submarinesforever will recognize the department: NAVSEA 08, and you can rest assured that there is NOTHING else in the military or civilian world that comes close to the anal retentiveness of these guys.

David - if I had my druthers, the next ‘stimulus plan’ would include huge public works for solar, wind, geo-thermal, and nuclear power. France gets 70% of their electricity from nuclear power and Japan isn’t that far behind.

Again, I might be a bleeding-heart liberal, but the ‘Contrarian’ is part of my screen name because I base what I believe on what I can see, feel, and prove. Nuclear power plants - even counting Chernobyl - have killed FAR fewer people and cause FAR less environmental damage than oil- and coal-fired power plants. To borrow from Palin’s puerile slogan, “Zoomies baby zoomies!”

Posted by: Glenn Contrarian at November 13, 2008 12:09 PM
Comment #270264

David -

Know what happens when the cooling towers of a modern nuclear power plant are suddenly destroyed? The moment the automatic system senses a loss of cooling water, the electrical power that holds back massive springs shuts off…and the springs slam down the cooling rods into the reactor core. The reactor scrams automatically.

The world had a lot of growing pains with nuclear power…but if France and Japan could do it safely, then why can’t we? It’s just like my argument with Universal Health Care - if they can do it safely and economically, then we can too!

Posted by: Glenn Contrarian at November 13, 2008 12:19 PM
Comment #270266

I Agree with Subs about the Water Reactors, and I don’t have a PhD in nuclear science either, but just some observations about those newer designs they appear to be very Active they have a large amount of Pumps and condensers and piping right in the medium, and I’m sure they have all the safety backups in place,the mediums used are corrosive and caustic. I know the Gen 3+ AP 1000 has more of a passive design and a modular design they claim three years after the concrete is poured.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at November 13, 2008 12:33 PM
Comment #270272

David Remer,

I would say an incestuous relationship between capitalists and government officials is exactly a problem of oversight – the same kind of problem the airline industry has been going through lately with people cycling between government agencies and corporate offices. Congress recently and successfully pushed for a large-scale investigation into FAA oversight problems. I don’t see why it would be any more difficult to get the current Democratic Congress to prompt a similar investigation of the NRC.

The designs I cited DO cost effectively recycle waste to deplete half-lives – not completely, but to a manageable extent. Again, read A Technology Roadmap for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems.

I think the reason energy companies spend 10s of millions of dollars in advertising is because people who know practically nothing about the nuclear energy industry have equated Chernobyl and atmospheric nuclear bomb testing with American nuclear energy. Every hiccup (whether it involves radiation or not) becomes the Cuban Missile Crisis. Your earlier source was a perfect example. These kind of fear tactics are the only swiftboating I see.

Posted by: Mark at November 13, 2008 2:46 PM
Comment #270280

Glen
I couldn’t agree with you more. I also served on The USS Bainbridge CGN 25 {it was DLGN when I was on it}.

Posted by: KAP at November 13, 2008 4:37 PM
Comment #270286

Nuclear power has come a long way since Oak Ridge and Hanford. Without nuclear, there will be more coal instead. Anybody can look up the fatalities involved in that. I would consider it hypocritical to oppose nuclear power since I have always lived in areas reliant on it. I wonder if the people opposed to it are just convinced that Americans are too stupid to be able to do anything right.

Posted by: ohrealy at November 13, 2008 5:42 PM
Comment #270292

Mark:

Thanks for the links. I hope to be able to read up on the designs this weekend. I must admit that some of my knowledge is a little out of date and new safety designs could alleviate some of my fears. Nice work.

Rhinehold, Glen and Kap:

It is refreshing when people with opposing political views can agree on issues. Thanks for the remarks. By the way, you served on some nice looking ships…..as viewed through a periscope.

David:

Thanks for the reply. I would like to point out that your source was not only irrelevant, but inaccurate. It seems to me as an odd that one would make an accusation then provide a source that does not have any relevance or much accuracy. You said,”Rhinehold, are you unfamiliar with the nuclear accidents on our submarines? Are you assuming that because your sub’s nuclear reactor didn’t sterilize or kill you, that the entire fleet was without incident?”, yet you have not provided one accident to back your rhetorical question. I guess we have the answer.

You said, “I’ll tell you what the problem with Three Mile Island is: half the nuclear fuel melting into a puddle at the bottom of the reactor vessel.” By your statement, there must be no problem with Three Mile Island as nothing near that serious actually occured. Later you say, “Your logic utterly fails. The infrastructure to the nuclear core is vital to the safety of the nuclear core as Three Mile Island meltdown demonstrated. Your argument that failures aboard a nuclear power ship constitute no threat to the nuclear power aboard is absurd on its face. A little common sense is all that is required here, no Ph.D. in nuclear fission.”. Sir, there was no meltdown at Three Mile Island!!! The incident is well documented, was serious, but was not a meltdown.

“As a public policy issue, nuclear power will always remain an inherently and potentially dangerous source of energy. And there is one very simple reason for that. Because it is!” Not only are you incorrect on this issue, you have failed to provide even one serious incident involving the safe operation of nuclear power plants operated by the Navy, which has operated hundreds of reactors for almost 60 years!!! If you wish to argue the safety of nuclear power plant operation by the Navy I challange you again to provide evidence to back your claim.

Apparently some of us have more education and experience in these matters than others.

Posted by: submarinesforever at November 13, 2008 6:44 PM
Comment #270295

Glenn:

Great statements on Adm. Rickover. He was truly the man for the job and he built quite an empire. But most of all, he was a man with very quirky methods. Most of the stories about his methods are very entertaining to read if anyone is interested. IMHO he was more feared than NIS, with NIS you got a trial.

As far as NAVSEA 08, it used a different ancroynm back in my days. We did have the pleasure of having an ORSE and NWST on our first trip out of the yards. We had maybe two people on board that had ever been to sea on our boat, anal did not even begin to describe the ORSE inspectors. We passed with “above average” on both tests. It had to be one of our finer moments as a crew.

Posted by: submarinesforever at November 13, 2008 6:55 PM
Comment #270296

David and Stephen:

I replied to a quote by Stephen under my heading to David. I intended to cite both of you in the heading and to attribute the quotes in a fair manner. I apologize for my error.

Posted by: submarinesforever at November 13, 2008 7:37 PM
Comment #270331

submarinesforever-
Actually, they went back in that reactor vessel and found that part of the core melted down. I wasn’t making anything up there.

No matter how you engineer something, things can go wrong. Three Mile Island was a bucket of coldwater in the face of the assumption that the technology was foolproof. One malfunction caused a partial meltdown. And yes, it was a meltdown; the fuel did go from solid to liquid and flow down to the bottom of the chamber. Fortunately, the containment vessel held and coolant was introduced to prevent further melting.

My feelings are, that so long as you understand the risks and take them wisely, nuclear power is one option. But I don’t think it’s the solution to replace fossil fuels. Nuclear fuel is non-renewable. It’s also inherently hazardous. To manage this hazard, we generally have to overengineer the plants within an inch of their lives; cheaping out on that is dangerous. Whatever people say, accidents with nuclear materials and reactors, have happened to both civilians and the military

Overall, I think Wind and Solar have fewer safety questions, and smaller in scale.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 14, 2008 12:52 PM
Comment #270335

The argument should not be for or against any energy technology but what is the proper energy mix. In the case of nuclear we will build new reactors; it’s just how many.

There are about 28 COL (Construction and Operating License) applications for new reactors on file with the NRC and 32 expected by 2008. Building 1/2 of those over the next 10 years would merely maintain the current 20% grid share of nuclear power by 2020 (Source: Dr. Dale Klein). Build all of them and you increase the nuclear share, but no where near France’s 70% or so mix in nuclear.

I don’t think there is anyway the next administration can oppose building at least 10-20 new reactors. Forgings have already been ordered for 4 of the new plants so those generators must feel confident that they will happen. McCain advocated for 45 new reactors, and nuclear energy proponents throw around numbers of 100 or so new nukes (using France as a model). I think at least 30 Gen III+ reactors is about right, leaving plenty of room for Gen IV and possibly the mini-nuke technologies to evolve. All the while we must continue working on an acceptable recycling technology that solves Carter’s proliferation concerns.

Posted by: George at November 14, 2008 2:59 PM
Comment #270363

France gets nearly 80% of it’s electricity from it’s 58 nuclear reactors. we have 107-109 Reactors and they produce about 18% of our electric and our reactors are OLD. with the waste problem and complexity and uranium depletion and all the factors associated with Nuclear power I don’t see a long term solution. wind and solar and hydro and thermo and someday in the future collecting our power from space by using collectors to absorb the energy and transmit it back to earth by microwave and not by mirrors , they could position the collectors in two or three locations and axis to collect and transmit the energy back 24/7 and store the excess energy .

Posted by: Rodney Brown at November 15, 2008 11:57 AM
Comment #270365

I read somewhere that one of the main problems slowing down nuclear plant construction is that there is only one company in the world that casts the reactor vessels all in one piece (as is desireable to avoid radiation leaks) and their dance card is filled, more or less, on a regular basis.

We have consider the speed and expense of this technology, if we wish to employ it to replace fossil fuels. If it’s too slow, we might as well go with other sources.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 15, 2008 12:03 PM
Comment #270422

Stephen:

I hope I remember my training correctly and I am hoping that some of the nucs that visit here will correct me if I am wrong. It has been 20+ years since I have had to think about or explain things along these lines, but here is my best shot:

The problem at TMI was with the pressurizer water level not being maintained. This allowed part of the core to be uncovered by water and therefore heat transfer was not properly completed and the core overheated. It did partially melt some of the fuel, but the system’s safety designes worked. Primarily, the use of water as the coolant had the desired effect. As the core was uncovered by water, the neutrons were not moderated(slowed to the point that they could be absorbed by other uranium atoms) and therefore the nuclear reaction went subcritical and stopped.

If my memory serves, a meltdown occurs when the reaction goes critical/supercritical AND out of control. That did not happen at TMI. Phrases such as “half the nuclear fuel melting into a puddle at the bottom of the reactor vessel” and the label “meltdown” is quite an exaggeration and not true, as I remember terms.

Glenn:

I “Chernobyled” at week 19 and became a lowly A-Ganger on the boats, please correct me if I am wrong on my terms or memory about the TMI incident.

Posted by: submarinesforever at November 16, 2008 8:59 AM
Comment #270507

Two Birds with one stone, co2 and erosion, Mngrove Trees.Planting millions of mangrove trees by air, the seeds are incased in wax and dropped by Air http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/project-earth/lab-books/reforestation/reforestation-guide3.html

Posted by: Rodney Brown at November 17, 2008 3:30 PM
Comment #270525

submarinesforever-
I think meltdown means the coolant systems failing and the reactor core melting under its own heat.

But you’re right, in the TMI reactor, removal of water did make it go sub critical. But the danger from a meltdown is not so much the nuclear contamination, as the threat it poses to the containment structure. One such threat with TMI was a hydrogen bubble. If it had gone of, it might have blown open the reactor containment vessel.

I’m not an opponent of nuclear energy, but I am a skeptic of it, and I offered the links to lists of nuclear accidents to tell people that like with other systems, Murphy’s law applies. Only with nuclear energy, there’s an added hazard. That hazard makes nuclear less green than other technologies, but it also makes precautions more necessary and expensive. We pay a lot for the safety of our nuclear reactors and fuels, and that reality is unlikely to change.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 18, 2008 10:14 AM
Comment #270555

Stephen,

I appreciate a healthy dose of skepticism. We haven’t improved our nuclear technology to the point it is now by ignoring past problems.

Nuclear energy is expensively safe. But returns on that investment are great. There isn’t another viable energy source with near the power density while being as clean as nuclear. We’re progressing in fuel life cycles to deal with the waste issue once and for all.

Things will go wrong, but what I see in newer technology is that worst case scenarios keep getting smaller and smaller.

Posted by: Mark at November 18, 2008 8:35 PM
Comment #270588

Rodney Brown,

France gets nearly 80% of it’s electricity from it’s 58 nuclear reactors. we have 107-109 Reactors and they produce about 18% of our electric and our reactors are OLD.

Regarding this, please consider these points too:

1) Average consumption: french is 6 kW, while american is around 11 kW
-> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Energy_consumption_versus_GDP.png

2) Consumers: 67 millions of french, 300 millions of americans. Ratio above 4 times!

3) French nuclear power plants are only between 10 to 15 years yourger than US ones, except for the 4 last ones started up in the late 90’.

4) In 2008, it’s even 87.8% of electricity produced comes from nuclear power. And 18% is exported. Clearly, we have too much plants. In the next years, windfarms will take their share. It grow quicker above expectation already.

My point here is follwing the France model and without reducing needs, US will needs to build far more power plants than french did. During the last 50 years, plants design didn’t enhanced their output capacity in the same order. They goes from aroung 800/900MW to now 1600MW at best. A 2 factor only, while today american consume twice more and are 4 times more than french…

Far more plants. Far more waste. Far more uraniun needs. These should be kept in mind.
At world level, nuclear energy clearly isn’t a long-term fit-everything solution.

with the waste problem and complexity and uranium depletion and all the factors associated with Nuclear power I don’t see a long term solution.

Agreed. Except if we made big achievement on nuclear fusion energy (Z pitch machines, ITER…), the fission waste issue is the first long-term stopper with nuclear energy. Uranium is not a renewable resource too, and it’s price skyrockets currently BTW.

Alternatively, there is several ways we could reduce our energy crisis:

1) stop wasting it like fools!!!
We could cut our energy needs by a good margin on several areas without changing our lifestyle, just the technology. While the transport is not the easiest area here clearly, keeping citylights day-on (!!!), banning incandescence bulbs to replace all them *now* with green ones, add smart shunters to the too many appliances wasting energy while in standby mode, build better energy-saving appliances ever (4kW/h refrigerators: hello ?!?)

2) multiply renewable energy sources (wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, HDR geothermal power, etc) to generate more electricity all year long with more and more the most efficient and renewable way as possible

3) Reduce a bit our way of life from being energy-driven. There is several things that we could do in daily life that could be done without energy. Committing to work locations by bicycle, taking public transports or sharing a car. Switch from large refrigerators that consume like hell to two side-by-side energy-saving units ? Moving to a lower electricity frequency standard to reduce power loss in the transport infrastructure?

There is a wide space for solutions, really. But none works without the will to try them.
Your little frenchy here (sorry for my english skills BTW) really hope Obama has more will than Bush had…

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at November 19, 2008 1:31 PM
Comment #270593

Philippe Houdoin , Your French Translation was better than my English Post, Yes we are Wasteful Energy Hogs here in America everything must be bigger and better and faster keeping up with the Joneses Mentality , Thank You for your Insight and Knowledge on this Very important Subject and My French Wife Says Hello . BTW.I see a bright Future in LED Light emitting diode Lighting.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at November 19, 2008 3:20 PM
Comment #270622

Philippe,

Very good insights. I agree that Americans, in general, are too wasteful, and that has to change no matter what kind of energy infrastructure we have in the future.

It’s true that the French model is not a perfect fit for the U.S. IMO we should never depend on one source of energy for 80% of our power. We need a broad portfolio of energy sources for the future including wind, solar, geothermal, etc. ITER is another important research initiative, but not without its own huge challenges.

The French model is valuable in that it shows a large nation can work progressively to reduce green house emissions without undue fear of catastrophe. This is primarily because, by and large, the French have kept a pretty incident free record in nuclear energy. Vive la France!

Posted by: Mark at November 19, 2008 6:41 PM
Comment #270678

Mark, My Point I used was how much lifespan is left in our 105 or so 35-45 year old Reactors at best 12 to 20 years ? Factor in the increased energy demands in the next 12-20 years and decommissioning the old units and Stephen talking about the spin cast method and replacing them with gen 3+ units, can we even get back to our 18-19% electrical output in that time frame? we would require a Manhattan style project, A ramped up T Boone plan with more solar Might be worth Looking into.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at November 20, 2008 12:51 PM
Comment #270697

Rodney,

There does seem to be a gap there, although I expect several new nuclear plants to be built before that squeeze hits. I would support a plan like T Boone’s bringing a large amount of solar online, as well as many of the other solutions mentioned in this string. Even with all those, the more nuclear plants we can get online the better.

I don’t think we could possibly oversaturate our economy with too many energy solutions in the short-run. 50% of our current economy is running on coal, which we need to whittle away as expeditiously as we can.

Posted by: Mark at November 20, 2008 4:19 PM
Comment #270737
Factor in the increased energy demands in the next 12-20 years

What about facing increased energy demands like a fatality but instead taking reverse approach: how we could avoid the increase?

If oil price show anything recently, it’s that energy demand CAN drop, it’s not a fatality. And it’s not the total nightmare that people used to scare everyone with. It’s not the end of the world to consume less or, at least, no more.

Today, energies prices start to reflect more their actual cost. Energy past price were completly underestimated mostly because world demand PER CAPITA was low, “thanks” to poverty in 3rd world being the most shared thing. This’s coming to an end, and every human energy needs are more “caped” than before every human needs compete with more humans than before.

Slowly, we should learn to do the same with less.
Building an huger energy infrastructure won’t help in that area. It’s a recipe to become even more energy fat!

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at November 21, 2008 10:30 AM
Comment #270739

Let’s see we are at 306 million conservatively and increased population projection’ s in 2028 are 100 million so that’s around 406 million i’ll have to get with d.a.n and see what kind of reduced consumption and increased efficiency’s numbers we can come up with. I agree my French friend , That’s the future Economic and societal. I also might have overestimated a Tiny Little because I’m green.;^).

Posted by: Rodney Brown at November 21, 2008 11:37 AM
Comment #270778

Ie. Think Green,I’m not anti Nuke and they will build some new plants. Read my Post’s. Wind Solar ,Bio ,Hydro,T Boone,,,,

Posted by: Rodney Brown at November 22, 2008 11:50 AM
Comment #270786

There are so many small creeks and rivers in the North east. one mans dream will come true and notice the small footprint. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/earth/4281705.html?series=15

Posted by: Rodney Brown at November 22, 2008 1:42 PM
Comment #270790

in the comment section this person claims 0 fish kill and no dams. Website: www.fieldstoneenergy.com
Anders, I would like to invite you to take a look at our approach to power generation. Zero fish kill, no dams and power an order of magnitude greater than turbine technology. www.fieldstoneenergy.com

Posted by: Rodney Brown at November 22, 2008 1:59 PM
Comment #270846

Philippe Houdoin,Space-Based Solar Power Beams Become Next Energy Frontier. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/4230315.html?series=35

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