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Socialists debate nuclear, 2: Still no nukes!

Socialists debate nuclear, 2: Still no nukes!

Responding to A socialist defends nuclear energy, Michael Friedman says our primary task is not to offer technological solutions to capitalist ills, but to offer social solutions that incorporate the technologies most amenable to our social goals. Nuclear doesn’t fit the bill.

Climate & Capitalism  welcomes discussion on this important issue. Please read Nuclear power: For a respectful and thoughtful discussion before posting.


by Michael Friedman

Michael Friedman is an evolutionary biologist and adjunct assistant professor at QueensCollege of the City University of New York.

Retired nuclear power plant operator David Walters seeks to make a socialist case for nuclear power as the alternative to fossil fuels. Unfortunately, he parts from the unfortunate and worn-out progressive infatuation with capitalist productivism, the technology that it employs and the technological determinism that justifies it and brings forth a host of magic bullet non-solutions for every problem it engenders. This is succinctly confirmed by his assertions that “the center of this discussion can be narrowed down to one technological and scientific issue: the generation, use, and distribution of energy” and “human use of energy set us apart from all other species, including the higher ones such as dolphins and apes.”

These formulations fly in the face of a Marxist understanding of human development, reducing ‘all hitherto existing human history’ to the history of energy development. That is technological determinism, no more. For Marxists, the “center” of this discussion is the capitalist mode of production, and concretely, its method of appropriation of human labor and natural resources.

Driven to privatize and turn the natural world into marketable commodities incorporating human labor, capital rips natural processes such as biogeochemical cycles or trophic webs to pieces in order to isolate profitable components. We are presented with abominations like monocrop agriculture, fracking and Fukushima.

This mode of production and the reductionist, mechanistic worldview attendant upon it, has turned Homo sapiens’ biological connections to the rest of the natural world upside down; under capitalism, humans are not only alienated from their labor, and each other, but from the nature with which they are inextricably bound. This is the cause of the environmental crisis. Global warming is far from the only major element of this crisis. Many ecologists regard the dramatic decline in biodiversity as just as devastating to humans and all life on this planet as global warming. Deforestation, ocean acidification, the proliferation of human waste and toxic contaminants, the introduction of genetically engineered organisms and invasive species, all of these are, of course interconnected consequences of the market economy, but it is meaningless to subsume them under the rubric of “generation, use and distribution of energy.”

Even global warming cannot simply be reduced to a problem of energy production. Authors Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss observe that, “by most accounts, deforestation in tropical rainforests adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than the sum total of cars and trucks on the world’s roads. According to the World Carfree Network (WCN), cars and trucks account for about 14 percent of global carbon emissions, while most analysts attribute upwards of 15 percent to deforestation.”[1]

What does all of this imply for solutions?

First, the integral environmental crisis we face today quite simply does not admit to technological solutions in the first instance, because it is a product of the peculiar relationship that capitalist society establishes between humans and the natural world. The solution, as Walters might agree, lies through revolutionary transformation of society.

Second, a radical rethinking of capitalist scientific and technological paradigms and potentialities is in order. Technologies and their deployment are shaped by the society that engenders them. Scientific paradigms are shaped by the social order. And the very idea that nuclear power represents a safe and viable solution is rooted in those paradigms.

Unfortunately, in the process of making his case, Walters not only falls back on technological determinism, but also twists the facts. I refer particularly to his discussion of nuclear safety, to which I turn.

Contrary to his rosy view of the nuclear power option, the Union of Concerned Scientists — which supports continued carefully monitored development of nuclear power — is not so sanguine about its safety. According to the UCS, “Nuclear power is an inherently hazardous technology; there’s no way to make it perfectly safe. But we can make it safer.”[2] In a a position statement on global warming, they  elaborate further:

“It must be borne in mind that a large-scale expansion of nuclear power in the United States or worldwide under existing conditions would be accompanied by an increased risk of catastrophic events—a risk not associated with any of the non-nuclear means for reducing global warming.

“These catastrophic events include a massive release of radiation due to a power plant meltdown or terrorist attack, or the death of tens of thousands due to the detonation of a nuclear weapon made with materials obtained from a civilian—most likely non-U.S.—nuclear power system.

“Expansion of nuclear power would also produce large amounts of radioactive waste that would pose a serious hazard as long as there remain no facilities for safe long-term disposal.”[3]

The UCS  statement was issued in 2007. Would Walters argue that things have greatly improved since then?

David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer who worked for 17 years in the industry before becoming Director of the UCS Nuclear Safety Project, warned, before Congress in 2008, that “those advocating a nuclear revival should recall the famous words of George Santayana: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”[4] He provided a historic scorecard on U.S. reactor safety:

U.S. Nuclear Power Reactors, 1953-2008

  • 253 nuclear power reactors ordered
  • 71 reactors canceled before construction started
  • 182 construction permits or limited work authorizations issued
  • 50 reactors canceled after construction started
  • 132 operating licenses issued
  • 28 reactors permanently shut down before the end of their 40-year operating licenses expired (including one meltdown)
  • 104 reactors operating
  • 36 reactors operating despite having experienced one or more year-plus outages
  • 68 reactors operating having never experienced a year-plus outage
  • 0 inherently safe reactors operating

Lochbaum qualified that last figure as follows: ”

“The last entry in the table – which indicates that none of the operating reactors are inherently safe – may appear to be a snide editorial comment, but is not. Because the reactors are inherently dangerous, their risk must be properly managed. The history of nuclear power in the United States is fraught with mismanagement of that risk. This has resulted in reactors that were canceled before ever operating, permanently shut down before the end of their operating licenses, and temporarily shut down for over a year to restore safety levels. This mismanagement of these inherently dangerous reactors made nuclear power less safe and more costly than necessary.”

In his testimony, Lochbaum produced a list of failures on the part of operators and regulators, before concluding that neither the U.S. nuclear industry, nor the NRC has shown signs of improvement on this record.

Three years after his 2008 testimony, Fukushima happened. But, neither Fukushima, nor Chernobyl, nor 3 MileIsland have been the only serious reactor accidents. The UCS, lists a few more:

  • Enrico Fermi Unit 1 — Coolant flow blockage in two fuel channels led to the partial meltdown of two fuel assemblies at Fermi Unit 1.
  • SL-1— The withdrawal of a single control rod caused a catastrophic power surge and steam explosion at the SL-1 boiling water reactor that killed all the workers on duty at the time.
  • Sodium Reactor Experiment — A partial meltdown occurred at the Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) due to cooling flow blockage that caused the reactor core to overheat.
  • Windscale — Windscale Unit 1’s core caught fire and melted, which led large amounts of radioactivity to be released to the surrounding area.[5]

Both the SL-1 and Windscale accidents resulted in fatalities — over 200 cancer deaths, in the case of Windscale.

In a 2012 report on nuclear safety, the UCS states, “in 2012, the NRC reported 14 “near-misses” at nuclear plants. Just to be clear about the gravity of the situation, a near-miss is an event that increases the chance of core meltdown by at least a factor of 10, thus prompting the NRC to dispatch some level of special inspection team to investigate the event. Over the past three years, 40 of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors experienced one or more near-misses.”[6]

A perusal of the nuclear plant safety record in other countries is hardly reassuring. In France there have been 12 accidents, including two in which a dozen workers were exposed and had to be hospitalized, and two in which radioactive substances escaped into the environment. Fukushima is not Japan’s first (leaving aside its earlier brushes with the “nuclear-military industrial complex”), nor even the first at Fukushima. The country has experienced a dozen accidents, including several fatalities and leaks into the environment.[7] And, this even though physicist and anti-nuke activist Michio Kaku, considers Japan’s reactors to be, “among the safest in the world.”[8]

Walters attempts to put a positive spin on the fatality record for nuclear power as compared to fossil fuels, a rather disingenuous offering, something like comparing traffic fatalities on the NYS thruway with those on a back-country road, given relative scales of development. But, more importantly, accident risks are not commensurable, given the threat of ionizing radiation inherent to nuclear power, the persistence of radioactive contaminants in the environment and their potential dissemination by wind and sea currents and the food chain, with the attendant risk of biomagnification.

In this vein, Walters makes a surprising claim about Fukushima, that “the population was exposed to so very little radiation after the accident.”

Physicist Michio Kaku would disagree with that assessment. Writing after the meltdown, Kaku explained, “Now we know it was 100 percent core melt in all three reactors…now we know it was comparable to the radiation at Chernobyl.”[9] He further explained some of the exposure risk in another piece, “the tragedy is, this accident has released enormous quantities of iodine, radioactive iodine-131, into the atmosphere, like what happened at Chernobyl, about 10 percent the level of Chernobyl. Iodine is water soluble. When it rains, it gets into the soil. Cows then eat the vegetation, create milk, and then it winds up in the milk. Farmers are now dumping milk right on their farms, because it’s too radioactive. Foods have to be impounded in the area.”[10]

Kaku’s point is important. Pro-nuclear ideologues often make the claim that nuclear power plants lead to less exposure than a medical x-ray. The problem is that different types of radioactive elements and exposures pose distinct dangers. External exposures like a medical x-ray represent one-shot deals. Internal exposures persist as long as the element remains within our system and can intimately expose cell nuclei to ionizing radiation.

Different elements remain in our systems for varying periods and are sequestered in different tissues. And different elements undergo different types of radioactive decay, which can cause greatly varying degrees of damage. Iodine 131, for example, is a significant uranium and plutonium fission product, and figured prominently in releases at Chernobyl and Fukushima. It does not have a long half-life — 8 days — but it is sequestered in thyroid tissue, where even small exposures for short periods represent high risk for carcinogenesis in a vital regulatory organ, particularly given its principal mode of decay — beta decay.[11]

Walters also seeks to brush off concerns about nuclear waste disposal. However, his preferred solution, “dry cask” waste storage, is not meant to be any more than a short-term (50 year) stop-gap measure. In his 2008 testimony before Congress, David Lochbaum stated, “over the next 50 years, interim storage of spent fuel in dry casks is economically viable and secure, if hardened against attack. In the longer term, a geologic repository would provide the stability needed to isolate the spent fuel from the environment.” No such permanent repository has yet been designated.

The UCS notes, “The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 dictated that the federal government would identify a permanent geological repository—a long-term storage site—and begin transferring waste from nuclear power plants to that repository by 1998. A decade and a half after that deadline, the search for a repository site has stalled, with no resolution likely in the near future.”[12]

The only planned facility, at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, was shut down by pressure from local residents before it was even finished, due, among other things, to issues of  transparency and democracy[13]. Concerns were also expressed that the site, although deemed “safe,” was located in a seismically active zone[14], with possible additional problems with runoff and potential contamination of the water table[15].

With respect to Walters’ other option for coping with radioactive waste, reprocessing, Lochbaum testified that, “reprocessing offers no advantages for nuclear waste disposal. Reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium and uranium would not allow a geologic repository to accommodate more nuclear waste, as the repository would also have to accept high-level waste from reprocessing. Reprocessing would also increase the amount of material needing disposal in other engineered waste facilities.”

The UCS  also expressed concern with the risks of nuclear weapon proliferation, noting that “no technical fix—such as those incorporated in new reprocessing technologies—can remove the proliferation risks associated with nuclear fuel cycles that include reprocessing and the use of plutonium- based fuel.”

Nor do nuclear power plants, processing and waste disposal represent the only risks attendant on nuclear power. Uranium mining and milling operations pose particular risks for the workers and those living near mines. Studies by NIOSH in 1973, 1983 and 2004 all showed higher than expected mortalities for uranium mill workers, from cancer and other diseases[16].

A 2010 study published in Radiation Research[17] followed a cohort in a mill town in New Mexico from 1950 to 2004, finding increased rates of lung cancer in men. They noted, “excesses of lung cancer among men seem likely to be due to previously reported risks among underground miners from exposure to radon gas and its decay products.”

An earlier study conducted by the same authors with a cohort of miners found, “lung cancer mortality to be significantly increased among underground miners.[18]” There are a plethora of studies documenting these risks (see, for example the World Information Service on Energy website).[19]

A commentary by anthropologist Hugh Gusterson in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, “The Lessons of Fukushima,” sums up the risks we face and the choice we currently have:

“And presumably there are other complicated technological scenarios that we have not foreseen, earthquake faults that are undetected or underestimated, and terrorists hatching plans for mayhem as yet unknown. Not to mention regulators who place too much trust in those they regulate.

“Thus it is hard to resist the conclusion reached by sociologist Charles Perrow in his book Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies: Nuclear reactors are such inherently complex, tightly coupled systems that, in rare, emergency situations, cascading interactions will unfold very rapidly in such a way that human operators will be unable to predict and master them. To this anthropologist, then, the lesson of Fukushima is not that we now know what we need to know to design the perfectly safe reactor, but that the perfectly safe reactor is always just around the corner. It is technoscientific hubris to think otherwise.

“This leaves us with a choice between walking back from a technology that we decide is too dangerous or normalizing the risks of nuclear energy and accepting “that an occasional Fukushima is the price we have to pay for a world with less carbon dioxide. It is wishful thinking to believe there is a third choice of nuclear energy without nuclear accidents.”[20]

Curiously, for a Marxist, Walters claims that nukes can “even” be run safely under capitalism. The UCS (not a socialist group) argues, essentially, that this could be done, but has yet to be done. As Marxists though, we should understand that these exceptions are the rule under capitalism. It is precisely due to the laws of the market that all of UCS’s failings in management and regulation occur. It is precisely because of those market laws that the laws of physics become such a problem. It is precisely because of the laws of the market that intrinsically harmful technologies are developed or potentially harmful technologies are deployed half-baked, without consideration for health or environmental consequences.

As to whether or not nuclear power will become feasible in a socialist society, that is not for our generation to say. As a science fiction fan, I would not categorically rule out nuclear power. Perhaps when we devise adamantium containers, force fields and cheap intra and interstellar transportation, within the framework of a society that places human life above profits, it will become feasible.

In the meantime, our primary task is not to offer technological solutions to capitalist ills, but to offer social solutions that incorporate the current technologies most amenable to our social goals — which put a premium on intertwined human and environmental health and well-being, and grass-roots democracy. Nuclear power does not currently fit that bill. Renewables do.

And contrary to Walters, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reason to assert that, “close to 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies ….  The findings, from over 120 researchers working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), also indicate that the rising penetration of renewable energies could lead to cumulative greenhouse gas savings equivalent to 220 to 560 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtC02eq) between 2010 and 2050.”[21]


Footnotes

[1] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=deforestation-and-global-warming

[2] http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/

[3] http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear-power-and-our-energy-choices/nuclear-power-and-global-warming/

[4] http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/nuclear_power/20080312-ucs-house-nuclear-climate-testimony.pdf

[5] http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/making-nuclear-power-safer/preventing-nuclear-accidents/nuclear-accidents-a-brief-history.html

[6] http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/nuclear_power/NRC-nuclear-safety-2012-summary.pdf

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_power_accidents_by_country#France

[8] http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/03/13/japans-nuclear-crisis-lessons-for-the-us/the-price-of-fission-power

[9]  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/22/fukushima-nuclear-plant-ticking-time-bomb-japan-disaster-michio-kaku-_n_882166.html

[10] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/democracy-now/fukushima-daiichi_b_848770.html

[11] http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/04/fake-science-alert-fukushima-radiation-cant-be-compared-to-bananas-or-x-rays.html

[12]  http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/making-nuclear-power-safer/handling-nuclear-waste/

[13] http://www.ukshedstores.com/documents/documents_in_english/waste-Science-US-Ewing-09.pdf

[14] http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/states/top_states.php
and http://articles.latimes.com/2007/sep/25/nation/na-yucca25

[15] http://www.cyberwest.com/cw14/14scwst2.html

[16] http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pgms/worknotify/UraniumMillers.html

[17] Boice, et al., 2010, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20954862

[18] Ibid.

[19] http://www.wise-uranium.org/uhm.html

[20] http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/03/is-nuclear-power-worth-the-risk.html

[21] http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/docs/ipcc33/PRESS%20RELEASE%20Updated%20version%20-%20Potential%20of%20Renewable%20Energy%20Outline.pdf

Posted in Energy, Nuclear

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Renfrey Clarke
2 years 10 months ago

I’ve had this debate before with David and Geoff, on the Green Left Weekly list. Not one of my key arguments, it seems to me, has been seriously addressed.

David regards the deadline of 2020 as “fluff”, but Anderson and Bows would certainly disagree, as would the scientific reviewers for one of the world’s most prestigious journals. The first, more general A&B paper is at rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/366/1882/3863.full.

Granted, 2020 isn’t an absolute deadline. It’s just that if the emissions peak is delayed significantly beyond that, the annual cuts in emissions required thereafter become outlandish, resembling the reductions that occurred in the early months of major global economic crises (1929, 2008). That’s a civilisational catastrophe in itself. And these reductions have to be kept up each year for decades.

Consequently, the need is for large-scale abatement to begin within the next few years, so that the reductions further down the track become manageable. A strategy based on a massive global buildout of nuclear power can’t accomplish this. The dates at which the reactors would be commissioned and the cuts would kick in are too late.

Note that I cite best-case (or near) times for consultation, preparation and construction. David’s objection that the problem is one of political obstruction doesn’t hold.

As for the idea that the nuclear build-out could be radically accelerated, so as to yield much earlier start-up times – now he’s got me really terrified.

I agree that doing the job with renewables will be prodigiously challenging. In fact, nothing short of a WWII-scale mobilisation will suffice. But I can imagine this working. In the case of nuclear – no.

2 years 10 months ago

Michael, first, be aware that I’m not a retired nuclear power plant operator. I’ve never worked in nuclear, though I’ve visited the plants on several enjoyable occasions. I worked a conventional steam plant powered by natural gas and several varieties of gas turbines. Please correct this in your essay, Michael, if you would.

Secondly, all, what Friedman does is to quote ideologically driven anti-nuke ‘experts’ on questions that I don’t directly address in my very short essay making the case of Socialist to support and, in fact campaign for, nuclear energy. In the way he presents these accidents and events, it make it appear that there is all this ‘unsafe nuclear’ incidents occurring. This is where Friedman loses the forest for a tree in risk assessment. He’s looking at very few incidents including one where two, count that two workers are irradiated at an experimental Japanese research reactor. As horrible as this is, it pales in compirson to what we face right now with, in the U.S. along, the 13,000 to 30,000 deaths every year from coal. Where is the outrage? Where is the demand to shut down every coal plant right this instant?

The entire anti-nuclear community is disproportionately afraid of radiation without understanding it or it’s actual effects on people. Nuclear as climate activists Geoff Russell explains here, is the safest form of energy ever developed with others far exceeding nuclear in terms of death and destruction. It’s totally disproportionate the heaping of the examples Friedman uses above to make people afraid of what *might* happen vs what is happening with our planet generally and to the millions who die every year because of fossil fuel.

On some his sources. Friend quotes Michio Kaku whose record on the effects of nuclear accidents, Fukushima explicitly, is about zero. He was wildly quoted about the “raging inferno of Spent Fuel Pool” for reactor No 4. He was completely wrong and shows the difference between the theoretical physics of someone like Kaku and an actual nuclear engineer all of whom knew better.

Quoting the UCS doesn’t really prove anything. It’s explaining how and why accidents have occurred and again, comparing this to what exists in other forms of energy production, including wind and solar. But Friedman’ proves this is not what anti-nuclear defenders are interested in, nor is climate change mitigation. They should be campaigning against what is killing humans now: fossil fuels, gas and coal together. But they *not*, the focus is on getting rid our one mass energy source that is essentially carbon-free.

As a socialist we have to deal with facts. The facts are that nuclear energy, whether designed, built and run under public ownership or private capitalism, has as an energy source, been superior. The safety numbers prove this. That a socialist system could do it better, one that is transparent and democratically organized is without a doubt true, but this is not the issue. The issue is what kind of technology we should be demanding be deployed now, not after a victorious World Socialist Revolution.

Lastly, Marx and Engels were very concerned about the relationship of humans to nature as Friedman points out. And they were concerned about also expanding and “Freeing” the productive forces. A contradiction? Seemingly so given the history of industrial development under all modes of production. But it is not. There is a difference between “concern” and “advocating” for an increase in productivity, standard of living and increasing the productive forces. They are mutually inclusive, not exclusive concepts for Marx and Engels. This is why I quoted as I did their belief about what the evolution of human development is. That we need to use resources wisely, and not wastefully, should go without saying. But “taking nature and with tools changing it our benefit” is the basis of the labor theory of value and how humans have increased productivity and along with it, our culture. There are no alternatives.

David Walters
San Francisco, CA

2 years 10 months ago

Yes, the French build took 15 years in a non-planet threatening emergency context. The Germans expect to get to the same point (80% clean electricity) by 2050 … which will have taken 50 years from their first feed in tariff legislation. That’s assuming the Germans can speed up what is currently a glacially slow roll out. On current German achievements the French nuclear build was about 5 times faster than the current German wind+solar build (http://bit.ly/1c1jqaW)

The Desert Sunlight Solar farm is a 550 MW 1600 hectare project and you need to build about 9 of these to get the same energy as a single 1.1 GW AP1000. The Desert Sunlight people lodged their first application to build at the end of 2009 and the project has a 2015 completion date. But in addition to that 5 year project time (ignoring planning) you also have to build something to deal with that part of the day when the sun isn’t shining … and the wind isn’t blowing.
There are all kinds of impediments to a rapid solar/wind build, particularly trucks and space (http://bit.ly/12w7Hh4).

Nobody really knows how fast you could roll out nuclear if you were in a hurry. But once the Chinese start mass producing small modular reactors, we will probably find out. One thing is absolutely certain, nuclear accidents have no potential to cause anything like the number of deaths and cancers that are caused annually by things like woodsmoke, sausages and booze (http://bit.ly/1dX6CId http://bit.ly/1erUVJR and http://bit.ly/1bz9Jn2 )

Renfrey Clarke
2 years 10 months ago

Mature, tested designs for small modular reactors (SMRs) do not at present exist, and are unlikely to do so before about 2020.

In the US, the Office of Nuclear Energy reported earlier this year, none of the existing SMR concepts has yet been licensed or constructed.

According to the World Nuclear Association, China New Energy Corporation plans to have a 100 MWe SMR operating as a demonstration plant by mid-2017. Testing and the redesign needed to iron out inevitable ‘bugs’ will then take further years.

Once you have a dependable design that can be mass-produced, you then build numerous factories to produce it in countries around the world, taking several more years at best. After that, the actual times for construction, installation and commissioning are not negligible, with periods of 18 months mentioned.

That takes you well into the 2020s before SMRs start to make a serious dent in GHG emissions. Meanwhile, fossil-fuelled power plants have been belting out CO2, and you’ve blown right past the budget for avoiding warming of 3C.

If the funds had instead been spent on building out renewables, particularly wind, emissions abatement could by that time have been proceeding for 5-6 years.

Does Geoff have any more good ideas?

2 years 10 months ago

Renfrey, not one thing you advocate is being done, not at the scale needed. In fact it’s quite a ‘zero’ situation with regards to GHG though the rate of increase has fallen a wee bit but not enough. What we ARE heading for is disaster. The idea of the “2020” date is…fluff. It’ ain’t happen’n so all we can do is campaign as best we can for the deployment of technology that can *permently* shutdown/phase out fossil fuel plants, and provide process heat for industry and provide enough energy to find the technological fixes we will need to reverse climate change, if that is at all possible.

Fossil fuel plants are not being shutdown because of renewables. you would likely argue that is because they are not being deployed fast enough. The same is true with nuclear. There are enough financial resources in the US to start a French-like program and do so even faster than they did, with Gen III and Gen IV plants. You state a fact, more or less accurately about SMRs. What’s holding it up? Regulatory blocks written in during the 1960s through 1980s for large Gen II one-of-a-kind plants. We need to rewrite them that allows for the *encouragement* of SMR deployment, massively fund their development and start rolling them out.Just as you advocate for renewables. This is 100% a political, not engineering or technical problem.

David Walters

Renfrey Clarke
2 years 10 months ago

David Walters would presumably reply that the scale of the global warming menace is such that the dangers of a massive world-wide nuclear build-out simply have to be tolerated. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, however, show in much-cited papers from 2009 and 2011 that for catastrophic climate outcomes (+3C) to be avoided global emissions need to peak within the next few years (at the latest, by 2020), then to fall at extraordinarily rapid rates (for power emissions, 6-9%/yr).

Renewables offer an attainable if difficult way of achieving this, and my calculations satisfy me that the need for steel and concrete could be met from the existing unused capacity of the industries concerned.

Notional build times for modern Gen 3+ nukes, however, are approximately 5 years, plus additional years for consultation and preparation.

Problems also exist with the numbers of experienced nuclear engineers, and the need to build hundreds of nukes on tight schedules in developing countries with no experience of this extremely demanding technology.

There is no way the nuclear option could meet the deadlines required. The French build-out took 15 years. Choose the nuclear road within these parameters, and you opt for climate disaster.

2 years 10 months ago

How would anybody write an article about air travel to try to convince people to ban aeroplanes? The focus would be on deaths. Annually, or in total. Injuries might get a mention, but deaths would be your most powerful weapon in such an argument. A quick glance at Wikipedia would give you a rough number of 1000 deaths per year. What’s the annual death rate from nuclear power? Most years the deaths are simply zero. But what about cancers from accidents like Chernobyl? In 2008 the age standardised cancer rate in Ukraine was 191 cases per 100,000 per annum. It’s similar in Russia and Belarus. So over the past 25 years the population has been relatively stable so there have been very roughly 14 million cancers in the three countries most contaminated by the accident. Had these countries had the Australian cancer rate of 314 per 100,000 per annum, they’d have had about 20 million cancers. Put simply, lifestyle cancers due to red and processed meat, obesity, inactivity, alcohol and tobacco trump anything from even the worst of nuclear accidents.

Evaluating safety is a matter of comparisons, not absolutes. However you compare nuclear power with alternatives it comes out easily on top. For example suppose you wanted to replace the Fukushima II complex by solar panels. How big an area would you need to level and cover in concrete steel and panels? It’s not hard to work out and it comes to very roughly the size of the 20 km current exclusion zone. So while (almost all of) that zone is quite safe to live in now and always has been, solar power on a utility scale would alienate vast areas from human or wildlife use.

Rory hort
2 years 10 months ago

‘In the meantime, our primary task is not to offer technological solutions to capitalist ills, but to offer social solutions that incorporate the current technologies most amenable to our social goals — which put a premium on intertwined human and environmental health and well-being, and grass-roots democracy. Nuclear power does not currently fit that bill. Renewables do’.

The above quote captures, in a nutshell, what the response should be of any person who accepts that he or she is sharing this planet, on an equal basis, with all other life forms.

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