Mentor

I'd like to start a discussion/debate of nuclear power for the purpose of informing people about it. I am participating in a thread in another forum HERE where we are discussing an article about Germany planning to phase out nuclear power.
 Under the 2002 law, Germany’s 19 nuclear reactors will close down after reaching 32 years of operation. Stade is the first reactor to be removed from the grid. When the last reactor goes off the grid in around 2020, nuclear and coal power, which currently provide the country with 80 percent of its electricity, will have bowed out in favor of renewable energy.
I am STRONGLY against this. It is bad for scientific, economic, political, and environmental reasons.

In the course of discussions of the nuclear power issue, it seems to me that the arguements against nuclear power are based primarily on ignorance and emotion. I'm all for open scientific debate, but on this particular subject, I tend to take the approach of educating, not strictly debating. If that comes off as arrogant, I apologize, but this is a remarkably straightforward issue when you get down to the science of it.

So, to start off, a few facts:
-The US has roughly 98 million kW of nuclear generation capacity in roughly 100 plants and runs at about 90% load.
-For comparison, the US has about 4 thousand kW of wind capacity and that doubles about every other year.
-Virtually all new generation capacity in the US is from oil.
-The US has not started construction on a single nuclear plant since Three Mile Island about 20 years ago.
-According to the WHO, air pollution kills 70,000 people in the US every year and affects virtually everyone.
-electric power generation is the leading producer of air pollution in the US.
-HALF of the electricity in the US comes from COAL.
-No civilian has ever been killed as a result of nuclear power in the US (TMI was the worst accident and a long term study produced no statistically significant increase in cancer rates).
-Chernobyl killed roughly 50 people and injured/sickened maybe 1000, including long-after cancers (I had no idea it was that low, so HERE is where I found that).

To me, the evidence is so enormously strong in favor of re-activating our nuclear power program, it should be self-evident. Clearly however, nuclear power is all but dead in the US and indeed much of the world.

I'd also like to discuss research. There has been nuclear power research done over the past 20 years (though not much because of TMI). Pebble-bed reactors for example have potential to be both easy to service and virtually melt-down proof. I'd like to hear of other technologies.
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 Recognitions: Science Advisor There is at least one major unsolved problem with nuclear power. What do you do with the spent fuel? Right now it just accumulates at the various plant sites. Yucca mountain is still iffy as a long term solution.
 Recognitions: Science Advisor Spent fuel is not as big a problem as you might think. The vast majority of nuclear waste, even today, is from the weapons industry. If we went to a very large scale production of nuclear energy, it would be a problem. It is not a matter of scale though. Spent fuel could still be removed, transported and stowed with less loss of life and health than fossil fuel effects, but the fuel production would be dirtier. Large scale use of enriched uranium is not feasible for a long period. We would need to implement plutonium use as a fuel. Plutonium is inherently dirtier. I'm not saying it is a problem that can't be solved, just saying the waste situation does not scale linearly with energy production. I think one problem is people don't want to discuss death. Death from fossil fuels is OK, because it's always been that way. Death from nuclear power is weird and unnatural. If we had always used nuclear power, and never burned anything for fuel, and somebody decided to try burning oil, the first housefire would be seen as a horrifying bizarre incident resulting in pointless destruction. I have always been frustrated by those who are too pure and good to put a pricetag on a life. They think I'm ghoulish for equating lives to things like money, or in this case power generation. When I ask "What do you give up to save a life?", they usually answer, "whatever it takes." I then ask, "Then what do you give up to save the next life?" That's when the namecalling usually starts. Njorl

First, thanks to russ_watters for starting this thread as i find this to be a very intersting subject that will be debated for many years to come for sure
Here are some of my thoughts:

Nuclear Power is certanly a very cheap resource that can be very helpfull for any country, the problem arises on what its the effective consequence on the environment.

The nuclear usine itself doesn´t release any CO2, but does release some very dangerous radioactive elements for the atmosphere and nearest river, lake...(depending on the case), even if it´s in a small quantities, and this is officially recognized by the responsible authorities and most of the public doesn´t know this. What the general public doesn´t no either is that the process to enrich uranium releases vaste amounts of green house gases.
So, nuclear energy isn´t as "earth-friendly" as we are made to believe.
And even if, at this time, the pollution released during the process to enrich uranium is much smaller then the fossil fuel pollution (wich represents the biggest part of the US air pollution - wich is what russ_watters statment -"-electric power generation is the leading producer of air pollution in the US"- implies because clean energy doesn´t release any green house gases and the enrichment of uranium is never taken into account in the pollution studies on energy production), let´s just take a look at the number of nuclear plants that the US has - wich is around 100 unites - and the 20% that nuclear energy represents on the total of energy suplly to the US, so how much more nuclear usines are needed to compensate a big part of the fossil usines? And how much more pollution would that bring?
(Let´s also not forget the new nuclear usines being build at this precise time in several countrys in Asia)

But what i find to be the main problem is the spent fuel. The problem isn´t obviously easy, because if there is a solution it must be very expensive wich makes it impracticable, or, on the other hand, there isn´t a solution yet. And there hadn´t been any viable solution for the last decades.

As for nuclear disasters, like Chernobyl, i believe that nuclear plants are safe. The only problem that could occur right now is human incompetence like on Chernobyl, but i find it hard to happen now, and i also think that that human incompetence was in some way because of the sovietic regime (not directly). And let´s not forget that a terrorist attack could happen, even if its very unlikely - i don´t want to sound like those extremists that say this could be the end of the world lol but taking into account the latest events it doesn´t seem very difficult.
But just because this is very unlikly to happen it is not a strong argument against the pollution generated.

And as for economical reasons the only ones to take profit from it are the eletric companies, not the consumer.
In terms of scientific research the decline of nuclear power isn´t a big problem, because the US is responsible to develop the fusion reactor (this accoring to a treaty signed some years ago), so there will be a vaste and profound research and big investments.

With this, i´m still not sure what we should do in terms of energy supply, on one hand we have the pollution, but on the other hand we have the need of energy. So, i think that waiting for a better solution to the spent fuel and for the development of the fusion reactor is probably the best choice considering all facts, even if this is the easy way, but we need to be realistic and i don´t see the governments spending big money on studies on what to do with the pollution, neither they seem intersted in that, so, in some time, when the ambiental problems are more and more discussed perhaps the governments are forced to do something.

I hope i made myself clear, as my english isn´t exactly the best.

Rui.

Mentor
 Originally posted by RuiMonteiro The nuclear usine itself doesn´t release any CO2, but does release some very dangerous radioactive elements for the atmosphere and nearest river, lake...(depending on the case), even if it´s in a small quantities, and this is officially recognized by the responsible authorities and most of the public doesn´t know this.
That just plain isn't true - in the US (and I would venture to say Western Europe) anyway.
 In terms of scientific research the decline of nuclear power isn´t a big problem, because the US is responsible to develop the fusion reactor (this accoring to a treaty signed some years ago), so there will be a vaste and profound research and big investments.
Unfortunately, fusion power is still a very long way off.
 Originally posted by Njorl I have always been frustrated by those who are too pure and good to put a pricetag on a life. They think I'm ghoulish for equating lives to things like money, or in this case power generation. When I ask "What do you give up to save a life?", they usually answer, "whatever it takes." I then ask, "Then what do you give up to save the next life?" That's when the namecalling usually starts.
I've been thinking about this one for a day now. In engineering ethics, the Ford Pinto (I think) case was discussed in detail. There, the execs weighed the cost of fixing the fuel tank flaw against cost of dealing with all the lawsuits and other backlash resulting from people burning to death. They miscalculated and lost a lot of money and got a lot of bad press.

The usual conclusion is that you can't put a price on a human life. But you can - you must. And EVERYONE, even those who won't admit it, do it all the time. Whether its actual money or just plain convenience (your overall odds of dying in a car crash are 10%), people weigh risks and make choices based on those risks. As an engineer, my designs are governed by laws and standards, so that reduces the choice for me and therefore my liability, but its always going to be there.

Whenever someone asks me about the value of a human life - (ie, we should spend $XXX to make YYY safer), I ask them how many immunizations that money would buy for children in Africa. Or pre-natal care for pregnant inner city women in the US. You get to a point where spending a whole lot of money will only gain you a very small improvement in health/safety when it comes to engineering issues.  Ahhh clean energy too cheap to meter. What a whopper that was. From mining the uranium to disposing the spent fuel nuclear power is expensive and carries a small but significant risk of monumental disaster. Find a uranium mine that hasn't caused a groundwater problem. Find a plant that's never sprung a leak in it's primary cooling system and had to let off a little steam. Find fuel pool that hasn't been racked and re-racked so many times that the plant it serves isn't a few re-fuels from shutting down simply because there is no other place to put the spent rods. Pointing to the (debatable) fact that nuclear power hasn't killed anyone in the U.S. doesn't reduce the risk. If a big ugly earthquake knocks Diablo canyon into the ocean (it does sit on a fault)the death toll would be huge and the San Joaquine vally will be useless for agriculture for two hundred thousand years. Small risk? Perhaps, but risk indeed. If the worst happens at any reactor all the advocates of the industry will be able to do is stand by and weep with the rest of us. Nuclear energy looked good on paper but failed miserably in a practical sense. When it all said an done splitting atoms to boil water is overkill on a scale like slicing tomatos with a chainsaw. If the effort to resurect the nuclear industry was put into photovoltaic technology we'd take a big step toward ending our dependence on coal and oil. Nuclear power is dying out in the U.S. Let it go.  Guest Article: Making Nuclear Waste Less Harmful Friday, 29 August 2003, 12:36 pm Opinion: Guest Opinion A Process To Render Nuclear Weapons & Waste Less Harmful By Dennis F. Nester, special for NuclearNo.com, Originally published 20 June 2003 - Recycling plutonium from warheads into MOX nuclear reactor fuel only perpetuates the security and environmental problems of bomb grade elements - There is a better way which will completely transmute plutonium and other high level nuclear waste known as the Roy Process It was the TMI partial meltdown that moved Dr. Roy to spend the summer school break proving calculations to see if it was possible to transmute high level nuclear waste cost effectively. He found it could be done with existing infrastructure, commercially available machinery and current supporting technology. Estimated cost to build a pilot facility was$80 million dollars. A newspaper editor persuaded Dr. Roy to release his Roy Process to the press which was published in November of 1979. (see article on web site below). The Roy Process Brief Description from the web site: http://members.cox.net/theroyprocess Is there a safe process to get rid of nuclear waste? Maybe! One possible solution is a process invented by Dr. Radha R. Roy, former professor of Physics at Arizona State University, and designer and former director of the nuclear physics research facilities at the University of Brussels in Belgium and at Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Roy is an internationally known nuclear physicist, consultant, and the author of over 60 articles and several books. He is also a contributing author of many invited articles in a prestigious encyclopedia. He is cited in American Men and Women of Science, Whos Who in America, Whos Who in the World and the International Biographical Centre, England. He has spent 52 years in European and American universities researching and writing recognized books on nuclear physics. He has supervised many doctoral students. Roy invented a process for transmuting radioactive nuclear isotopes to harmless, stable isotopes. This process is viable not only for nuclear waste from reactors but also for low-level radioactive waste products. In 1979, Roy announced his transmutation process and received international attention. The Roy process does not require storage of radioactive materials. No new equipment is required. In fact, all of the equipment and the chemical separation processes needed are well known. Whats the basis for the Roy Process? If you examine radioactive elements such as strontium 90, cesium 137 and plutonium 239, you will see that they all have too many neutrons. To put it very simply, the Roy process transmutes these unstable isotopes to stable ones by knocking out the extra neutrons. When a neutron is removed, the resulting isotope has a considerably shorter half-life which then decays to a stable form in a reasonable amount of time. How do we knock out neutrons? By bombarding them with photons (produced as x-rays) in a high- powered electron linear accelerator. Before this process, the isotopes must be separated by a well-known chemical process. It is feasible that portable units could be built and transported to hazardous sites for on-site transmutation of nuclear wastes and radioactive wastes. To give an example, cesium 137 with a half-life of 30.17 years is transformed into cesium 136 with a half-life of 13 days. Plutonium 239 with a half-life of 24,300 years is transformed into plutonium 237 with a half-life of 45.6 days. Subsequent radioactive elements which will be produced from the decay of plutonium 237 can be treated in the same way as above until the stable element is formed. The Roy Process could be developed in three distinct phases, according to Roy. Phase I consists of a theoretical feasibility study of the process to obtain needed parameters for the construction of a prototype machine. Phase II will involve the construction of a prototype machine and supporting facilities for demonstrating the process. Phase Ill will consist of the construction of large scale commercial plants based on the data obtained from Phase II. Cost estimates for Phase I and II are in the neighborhood of $10 million. For Phase Ill, Roy estimates a cost of$70 million. Says Roy, It will be interesting to do a cost analysis of eliminating nuclear waste by using my process and by burying it for 240,000 years - ten half-lives of plutonium - under strict scientific control. There is also an ethical question: can we really burden the thousands of generations yet to come with problems which we have created? There is no God among human beings who can guarantee how the geological structure of waste burial regions will change even after ten thousand years, not to mention 240,000 years." If you are interested in finding out more about this process, please contact Dennis Nester, Roys agent, whose address is listed below. A final note To those who say that a process for transforming nuclear wastes is an invitation to keep making them, I ask, when we find a cure for cancer, shall we say its okay to continue to eat, drink and breathe carcinogens? "There is no way one can change nuclear structure other than by nuclear reaction. Burial of nuclear waste is not a solution." Radha Roy, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus "Do not be surprised if you learn that the nuclear industry makes billions of dollars by being a part of government`s policy of burial of nuclear wastes. It is not in their financial interest to try any other process. They are not idealists. Radha R. Roy, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus The below includes the Patent application claim.....describing other uses for the Roy Process transmutation method http://members.cox.net/theroyprocess...oyprocess.html ************* AUTHOR CONTACT DETAILS Dennis F. Nester 4510 E. Willow Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85032 USA (602) 494-9361 theroyprocess@cox.net

 That just plain isn't true - in the US (and I would venture to say Western Europe) anyway.
It is true. The responsible authorities say this quantities are safe for the human body. But how safe are they? Considering all the pressure that nuclear industry does, it doesn´t seems very safe to me.

 Unfortunately, fusion power is still a very long way off.

Yes, the treaty agreeded that the US should present the fusion reactor around 2050, but a vaste and profound research will exist. And the research related to nuclear power will have to continue, the spent fuel isn´t solved yet. But this (in terms of scientific research) is not a strong argument in my opinion, there are inumerous areas to do research, whether it´s physics related or medical care related.

theroyprocess, thanks for all the articles. I still haven´t read them all, and the ones i did weren´t on their entirity, but they seem very intersting.

Rui.

Mentor
 Originally posted by HAVOC451 From mining the uranium to disposing the spent fuel nuclear power is expensive and carries a small but significant risk of monumental disaster. Find a uranium mine that hasn't caused a groundwater problem. Find a plant that's never sprung a leak in it's primary cooling system and had to let off a little steam. Find fuel pool that hasn't been racked and re-racked so many times that the plant it serves isn't a few re-fuels from shutting down simply because there is no other place to put the spent rods. Pointing to the (debatable) fact that nuclear power hasn't killed anyone in the U.S. doesn't reduce the risk. If a big ugly earthquake knocks Diablo canyon into the ocean (it does sit on a fault)the death toll would be huge and the San Joaquine vally will be useless for agriculture for two hundred thousand years. Small risk? Perhaps, but risk indeed. If the worst happens at any reactor all the advocates of the industry will be able to do is stand by and weep with the rest of us.
Yes, there is no such thing as a perfect plant. Its true. But unless you want to allege (and PROVE) a vast conspiracy to hide evidence, at the end of the day all of what you just posted is evidence of how safe nuclear power is. The fact that nuclear power hasn't killed anyone in the US (or I'll allow - hasn't been SHOWN to have killed anyone) doesn't DECREASE the risk, it ILLUSTRATES what the risk is: extrordinarily low. And while those risks you speak of are measurable and quantifiable, the scenarios you describe are simply not in the realm of possibility. Chernobyl (for example) was orders of magnitude worse than anything that has ever happend in the US and what you describe is orders of magnitude worse than Chernobyl. And the the actual risk of something like that is extrordinarily low.

Your statement "Small risk? Perhaps, but risk indeed" implies that that any risk no matter how small needs to be guarded against. That simply isn't true. For example, there is a very real, measurable, and quantifiable risk that you will be struck and killed by a meteor. Do you worry about that risk? I sure hope not.

I kinda hinted at this in my last post, but the whole idea of probability and risk management just isn't understood (or maybe just not accepted) by the general public: Not every risk is worth doing something about. And this is one of the reasons for the lack of public support of nuclear power. The risks you speak of are too low to be considered worth ditching nuclear power - especially in the face of the alternative risks: a virtually guaranteed 70,000 deaths a year.
 Here is a web site that dispels nuclear power 'safety'. [dead crackpot link deleted]
 Recognitions: Gold Member Science Advisor Staff Emeritus Theroyprocess, quite frankly, I don't trust your sources. In the thread I started in the hosted forums, you posted "evidence" that more people than have been alive since the Manhattan project have died as a result of nuclear power. That's not only a silly assertion, it's physically impossible. Every site you post is not an unbiased account, they are all hyper-reactionary sites with no clear grasp on reality. There have been NO, count 'em, NO deaths specifically attributed to nuclear accidents in the US. Is a coverup possible? Sure. Anything's possible, but why bother? Each and every year there are tens of thousands of deaths due to coal plants in the US alone. That's not including the detremental effects to health caused by belching tons of smoke into the air. There is Uranium in trace amounts in sea water, and there has been from soil runoff long before we started mining the stuff out of the ground. We get blasted by rads from the Sun 24/7/365 and have been since the solar system formed. Coal burning is making more of those rads actually getting through the ozone hole to hit us. Quite frankly, you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't use nuclear power. The only way around it is to return to the a middle ages aggrarian society, and I doubt you'll attempt to make the case that the mean quality of life or lifespan were higher back then. The unbiased facts are that unless you're detonating nuclear bombs in the atmosphere, the effect on quality of life on this planet is statistically insignificant. It's the reactionaries with their heads in the clouds who obfusciate the issue, causing thousands of extra people each year to die from breathing related afflictions from the coal plants. Give me the nuclear plant in my backyard over a coal plant any day.
 There is one determinant aspect that is crucial for this thread, the fossil fuel power plants won´t be closed just because the number of nuclear plants is increased (if increased, in the US at least), there´s still large reservs of fossil fuels, where petroleum is estimated to end around 2050 (wich, ironically is around the same time the US should present the fusion reactor) and coal in about 200 years. And this is just because the energetic demands are still growing, this is the reality. So, an increase on the number of nuclear powrs will just increase the air pollution. Rui.
 The only thing unbiased in this world...is a corpse. Nuclear power will kill us all in time by slow burn or nuclear war. NPPs were devised to make electric rate payers pay for the high cost of weapons grade elements. The 'big lie' was Nukes would provide FREE electric power..."too cheap to meter" ! Now there are 441 NPPs worldwide, 103 in the USA. There is so much plutonium and 'dirty bomb'elements out there it's an international security risk. Nukes was the biggest mistake of the industrial age. Half-Life: Living With Nuclear Waste http://archive.greenpeace.org/mayak/index.html Dr. Rosalie Bertell...new book, http://www.iicph.org/planet_earth.htm NIRS URL http://www.nirs.org/

Mentor
 Originally posted by enigma Theroyprocess, quite frankly, I don't trust your sources.
Sorry, Theoryprocess, I agreee. That site can best be described as an enviro-conspiracy theory site. It doesn't provide evidence but rather claims the evidence is covered up. Convenient. Also, Theoryprocess, you lump together nuclear power and nuclear weapons. They are similar but not the same thing and the politics and risks of nuclear weapons doesn't change the benefits of nuclear power. Your opinion on this subject quite simply isn't based on the facts.

Also, I will wholeheartedly agree that nuclear power isn't a perfect solution. Such a thing does not exist. But if you want to argue against it, you need to first substantiate your claims of its problems and second, suggest a VIABLE ALTERNATIVE. You have done neither.
 Give me the nuclear plant in my backyard over a coal plant any day.
Ditto. Incidentally, I live about 20 miles from the Limerick nuclear power plant in Pottstown, PA. And I spent a year in a prep school in Pottstown less than 5 miles from the plant. Except for an extra hand growing out of the middle of my chest, I'm just fine.[:D] And chalk up a few hundred more deaths today to the type of ignorance I'm trying to change. Though maybe there is more to it than just ignorance. Fear is a powerful force at work here. But either way, the solution is KNOWLEDGE.
 There is one determinant aspect that is crucial for this thread, the fossil fuel power plants won´t be closed just because the number of nuclear plants is increased...So, an increase on the number of nuclear powrs will just increase the air pollution.
What I would support is adding nuclear plants to REPLACE existing coal plants. Obviously if we only add new plants to handle new capacity, we don't reduce pollution. But yes, coal is cheap and abundant so thats why we use it. So that makes it tough economically to justify. But call me a sappy environmentalist - I think its worth the money to save a hundred thousand lives a year and increase the quality of life for everyone.[:))]

 Originally posted by russ_watters I will wholeheartedly agree that nuclear power isn't a perfect solution. Such a thing does not exist. But if you want to argue against it, you need to first substantiate your claims of its problems and second, suggest a VIABLE ALTERNATIVE. You have done neither. Ditto. Incidentally, I live about 20 miles from the Limerick nuclear power plant in Pottstown, PA. And I spent a year in a prep school in Pottstown less than 5 miles from the plant. Except for an extra hand growing out of the middle of my chest, I'm just fine.[:D] And chalk up a few hundred more deaths today to the type of ignorance I'm trying to change. Though maybe there is more to it than just ignorance. Fear is a powerful force at work here. But either way, the solution is KNOWLEDGE. What I would support is adding nuclear plants to REPLACE existing coal plants. Obviously if we only add new plants to handle new capacity, we don't reduce pollution. But yes, coal is cheap and abundant so thats why we use it. So that makes it tough economically to justify. But call me a sappy environmentalist - I think its worth the money to save a hundred thousand lives a year and increase the quality of life for everyone.[:))]
I don't think that's sappy at all. But, in the time it would take to design, license, and build a few nukers, (Add extra time to deal with the courts while every anti-nuke protester in the country trys to stop construction.) the photovoltaic industry could provide a better solution. As demand grows the technology improves and the cost comes down. Lots of good paying jobs are created. There's really no reason why there couldn't be 2 or 3 kilowatts of PV cells on 2 million roofs through the sun belt in just 2 years.
Just a thought.
 I knew the late Dr. Roy for the last ten years of his astounding career as a world leading pioneer in nuclear physics. Click on BIO and career highlights on the web site: http://members.cox.net/theroyprocess During that time I typed up the first manuscript of his yet unpublished autobiography. It was such a privilege to hear his memories and quite instructive about the political and racial realities of science. Obviously most people's political favor goes to whomever signs their paychecks. The next Chernobyl magnitude meltdown will put an end to the nuclear experiment. The Union of Concerned Scientists predicts a 1 in 3 chance of a meltdown in the USA in the next 5 years due to sumps plugging up. The FDA has approved anti-radiation drugs. You can't fool mother nature forever with rhetoric. The bill comes due at some point. http://www.nukepills.com/contentbuil...ctory6.content