In Defence of the Nuclear Dream

This is in reply to a show we did on Nuclear Energy earlier in the year and some really insightful feed back we got from Derek over at EarthEvolution.

 

First I’ll summaries for show for those who havent got around to it yet, the segment on nuclear is about 30 minutes and is the first portion of the show. You can listen here directly through the web on our site, or find it on iTunes here.

 

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As a general rule, we three, were in favor of nuclear power, seeing it as the only long term, realistic answer to our energy demands. That is not to say its perfect, or that there arent other ways, but that to meet the ever rising, sweeping demands we face on our energy supply, Nuclear seems to be the way to go.

 

The first point Derek brought up was the type and nature of the nuclear plants in use. As we mentioned in the show, our support is mainly for the new type of reactors either fully developed or on the drawing board and just in need of additional funding to finalize, apparently designing nuclear reactors are hard or something….

 

These new breed of reactors, from just fairly stock standard reactors similar to what we use today but safer and a bit cleaner, to the whole new breed of Thorium reactors, can meet energy demands over decades, with minimal contribution to greenhouse gases, marginal nuclear waste that can be dealt with in a safe and environmentally friendly matter, and most importantly when you compare it to the other hot power items today like wind and solar, nuclear can provide stable, safe and continual power to nations that need it. 

 

While I am not against solar or wind power, they do not provide constant power, their upkeep costs can be very high (a lot of people seem to be under the assumption that you just let a wind turbine go and it will last decades, in reality they have long “down time” where they are maintained) and  they can be shut down by either good, or bad weather, or by our damned round earth. These are great interesting sources of power, but as we have almost no ability to save power from when it is produced to when it is used, we have to make the energy as it is needed.

 

This conflicts with the goal people who are heading the movement to solar and wind power also have, of having us convert to electric cars. Now it goes with out saying, these cars would, for the most part, be charged over night when we are not using them (Also they tend to take several hours of charging) so at night time, when the production of power would be at a low (totally for solar and diminished for wind) we would be adding a whole new drain to the grid. 

 

As to what to do with the old plants, improve ones that can be, and do rolling shutdowns of those that can’t and replace them with the new breed, if we just slam shut all of them now, the people who work in them will be out of jobs, are their expertise will be lost as it will take time to bring the new plants online. And once that expertise is lost, it is hard to get back, the US Space program has less technical expertise now than it did in the 60’s, solely due to the fact they didnt keep their engineers employed over time. So while the technology is better, they are actually worse off in terms of personal.

 

Making a snap decision to close down plants after disasters is natural, but not very smart, you can take a few months or years to find a solution, as worrying as it is, a disaster of the same level is unlikely to strike several times in a such a short period. And other safety measures can be taken. 

 

IT is a bit of risk/reward, but the reward of shutting them down due to fear with out a suitable replacement is not backed up by reward. That power is now most likely coming from fossil fuel plants, that pollute a lot more, cause a lot more health risks, are adding to global warming and are not a long term solution .

 

Derek also brought up the point that even if we did swap to nuclear, we face the issue that that we still have massive need for fossil fuels and will suffer the damage they cause. And that rapidly swapping to electric cars now would be very bad, as they are in the big picture, just as bad, if not worse than SUV’s die to the massive damage the mining to get their raw materials is causing. 

 

This again is rather like nuclear, the first few plants will cost a lot, will likely cost more than they ever make, but it is the start up cost of a new industry. Like electic cars, we just need to support them through the growing phase to the point that they do become viable/green. But you must always keep an eye out for the alternative that no one saw coming, having blinders on does no one any good. 

 

Dereks last and most pointed question was, how do we lower our demand on energy.

 

Quite simply I dont think we can. I think energy saving devices are just plain smart, why wouldnt you want appliances or cars that use less power? So long as the cost of building or making them is not exorbitant, their is no point in spending $2000 for for a fridge that uses 4% less power, you’ll never see that money back and that money would have been better spent saving power elsewhere. 

 

There is also game theory to consider. When there is a global agreement to stop green house gases, everyone must agree to it. If only half do, the problem is still there and those countries that did lower GG have probably cost themselves billions and hurt industry in the short term, so they likely wont.

 

If everyone agrees, all the better, because then your country can sneak back home and not really try, reaping the rewards of everyone else doing it, while you carry on your old ways, getting all the rewards with none of the costs, unfortunately, it seems most countries have this idea, they all want lower GG, but they want others to do it, no them. 

 

Game theory says, plainly, if only half do it there is no point, if everyone does it, your better off not doing it yourself and reaping the rewards, If no one does it, well your no worse off in the short term.

 

Considering the growing power and apathy of China and India and other countries, there is not going to be a global agreement on this issue. 

 

I personally think our best hope is in the technologies that can reverse the damage we do to our world, while sadly still doing it.

 

We did touch on several such ideas in this show, listen direct or on iTunes, And some of them show great promise, but we barely scratched the surface of that topic. 

 

This is a complex, deep issue and we only touched on a few points that were brought up directly, we are more than happy to hear your feed back and we may even do a new show on this soon and even include some interviews/emails if people have good points. 

 

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