It seems to me…
“Nuclear power is not a miracle key for the future.” ~ Tarja Halonen.
Nuclear power advocates refuse to acknowledge that substantial problems remain with the technology. Some confusion also results in that considerable nuclear industry support comes from environmentalists who remain divided on the issue.
Public opposition to nuclear power is substantially biased by association of any mention of “nuclear” with the bomb making rational debate about possible benefits of nuclear generated power somewhat difficult. Publicity from several incidents also has contributed to a general misconception that nuclear power is unsafe when, in general, fatalities attributable to nuclear power generation is comparable to that from coal or any other method of electrical power production; fossil fuel combustion related health effects and environmental impact are significantly worse than from any comparative method of “clean” energy production though much less publicized.
Radiation outside a nuclear containment shell is normally comparable to naturally occurring background radiation levels and frequently less than from coal combustion emissions.
Considerable research and development has resulted in possible large reactor construction significantly safer than in reactors now in general use[i]. Incidents similar to what occurred in Russia or Japan are very unlikely with reactors incorporating newer technology. Fast breeder reactors are theoretically not only safer and more efficient than other types of reactors but also produce considerably less radioactive waste. It is not surprising that many environmentalists advocate increased construction of nuclear power facilities.
Though the U.S. produces more nuclear generated power than any other nation, about 19 percent of its total generating capacity, the last nuclear power facility approved for construction was in the 1970s. Most people fail to realize just how much U.S. electrical power generation is nuclear based.
The primary problem with nuclear power is that it is not cost effective. The nuclear industry never acknowledges the entire cost associated with power generation.
Much of the existing nuclear waste material must be safely stored for about 1000 years. Some reactor sites might require containment for as long as 5000 years. Generation facilities have an initial design life of 30 to 40 years – most current facilities have been in operation on average about 25 years and must soon be replaced necessitating long-term storage of additional waste material.
When we consider the extent of global change over the past 1000 years and acknowledge that the rate of change is expected to accelerate in the future, how and at what cost can an ever-increasing amount of waste ever be stored for even a fraction of the time necessitated? Regardless of precautions taken, containment will age, fracture, and leak releasing radiation and contaminating ground water. Murphy is alive and well and regardless of safety measures, it must be accepted that any storage eventually will fail.
Though still years from commercial production, power generation using nuclear fusion rather than fission remains the long-sought goal desired by clean power advocates. If achieved, fusion power for a given weight of fuel would provide more energy than any other technology. Though fusion technically is a non-renewable form of energy production, it has many of the benefits of renewable energy sources, such as being a long-term energy supply and emitting no greenhouse gases, as well as some of the benefits of the resource-limited energy sources, such as hydrocarbons and nuclear fission (without reprocessing). Like these currently dominant energy sources, fusion could provide very high power-generation density and uninterrupted power delivery since it is not dependent on weather as are wind and solar power.
But the potential of unlimited clean energy from fusion belongs in the future. For now, we have to accept that the cost of fission-based power generation is unacceptably higher than we can afford.
I am not unequivocally opposed to nuclear power generation but my personal support comes with a number of qualifications. It would have to be shown that the generating facility would be cost effective over the entire lifecycle including not only that of the generating facility but also for all associated waste products. It would have to be shown that the facility would be safe even during any natural or deliberate catastrophic failure. It would have to be shown that all waste materials could be safely stored until they no longer are considered hazardous. It would have to be shown that all waste materials could be safely stored on-site at the facility where they were generated. It would have to be shown that sufficient funds would be available to fully cover all future storage, compensation claims, and facility removal. It would have to be shown that all construction and operational funding was provided by the facility owners rather than from public funding, loans, or subsidies. It would have to be shown that the facility owners accepted full responsibility for indemnification resulting from legal judgments or claims.
These qualifications are consistent with expectations for other forms of energy production and should likewise apply to the nuclear industry. Nuclear research has been heavily subsidized by the federal government for over a half-century; public funding for research and initial development in any nascent technology is both necessary and beneficial to our country and should not only be continued but increased. Still there is a point where continued development of fission power generation must be the responsibility of private investors. That time has come…
That’s what I think, what about you?