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6 Comments

  1. As a lifelong Democrat and a life long environmentalist I offer enthusiastic support for your argument. I have never voted Republican in my life, and never will, but I can tell you that for me the strongest argument for nuclear power is the environmental argument.

    There are some “environmentalists” who are not critical thinkers or who are just poor thinkers, period. The question is whether these “environmentalists” are more concerned with dogma or with actually maintaining the environment. I do not regard Greenpeace, for instance, as an environmental organization, so much as a kind of religion.

    There are some members of the Democratic Party who embrace hook, line and sinker the intellectually bereft anti-nuclear position – and I have had heated arguments with them. On the other hand the vast majority of Democrats with whom I discuss nuclear issues – once I explain the huge discrepancy between the external cost of nuclear energy and the external cost of nuclear’s competitors, in particular, coal – become as pronuclear as I am.

    At the end of the day we in the Democratic Party are concerned intensely with the environment. It has always been the case that the strongest case for nuclear energy has been environmental, although some events such as TMI and Chernobyl lacked in the media and sort of comparative analysis. The outstanding job that the nuclear community has done in providing for safe and clean operations, along with recognition of the seriousness of the issue of climate change, has made the case for nuclear energy too obvious to ignore.

    Anyone who wants a nuclear future, and I think all rational people do, should be unconcerned about the Democrats. We will do the right thing. I guarantee it.

  2. Nathan:

    Thanks for your comment. It has always seemed a shame to me that so many people who care deeply for the environment have allowed themselves to be indoctrinated into a dogmatic way of looking at the world.

    Instead of really thinking and critically evaluating choices, they let corporate corn farmers sell them the idea that ethanol is environmentally friendly, they let industrial producers of giant windmills like Siemens and GE (who also happen to produce giant turbines for coal steam plants, and giant turbines to burn natural gas) convince them that wind power is always a sound idea, and they let solar panel producers that happen to be owned by oil companies like BP persuade them that their power is so clean that it should be supported by taxpayers.

    One of the worst dogmas of all is that nuclear power is, by definition, unnatural and should be avoided at all costs.

    After all, any power source clean enough to run inside a sealed submarine should at least be worth serious consideration in a world where there is a threat that air pollution will alter the planet’s ability to support life as we know it.

    I welcome you to the discussion and hope that you continue to share information with environmentalists, Democrats and others that truly care about the world that we all share.

  3. Thanks Rod.

    Not all renewable strategies are created equal. The most succesful is of course hydroelectric. I believe that wind power will ultimately provide a significant portion of the world’s energy, at least in places where pumped storage is theoretically available, or if certain types of fuel cells – in particular reversible methanol fuel cells – are developed. (Methanol fuel cells are on the market for computers, but are not yet renewable.) However the same fuel cells would broaden access to nuclear energy by circumventing nuclear’s main limitation, which is, in my mind, that many types of reactors can be sluggish in meeting variable loads.

    Solar power would be nice, because its general availability coincides with peak demand but it remains very expensive and will be at best a highly subsidized niche. It always raises loud cheering from the public, even though it actually – after years of talk – produces only 0.01% of US electrical energy demand.

    Examinations in Europe, the http://www.externe.info showed nuclear was by far the cleanest and safest form of continuous, scalable energy. It was in fact, slightly safer than solar energy (PV). Nuclear had a slightly higher external cost than wind, but I suspect that the calculation did not allow for spinning reserves and back up that wind requires. To some extent, wind can get around this if it is geographically distributed on a grid, but believe wind can only realistically replace some natural gas and very little coal.

    As one of the major considerations of external cost was the so called “waste” issue. Most of the long term risk comes from decay daughters of the actinides, something easily ameliorated by advanced fuel cycles continuously recycling the transuranium actinides. I am a chemist by training and have made a study of the chemistry of all of the major fission products and the important actinides, Np, Pu, Am, and Cm and what stuns me most of all is that people think of this material, much of which is so valuable as waste. It happens that the annual output of reactors of the important catalytic precious metal ruthenium easily exceeds geological reserves. And then there’s palladium and ruthenium, although the palladium may need to be used in closed systems because of the long live 107 isotope. I like to challenge people to ask me for one fission product for which I cannot think of a possible industrial use. I’m seldom stumped. (You can try me sometime.)

    Still, it seems to me that so called nuclear waste could in theory be made a non-issue, but that’s just my opinion. It would seem that the external cost of nuclear energy could be even lower, falling into the range of hydroelectric power. One thing is for sure. Nuclear is very clean, very safe and is potentially available for quite some time. If we could eliminate the need to bury any elements of spent fuel, I believe we could bring the external cost almost next to zero.

  4. Nathan:

    Thanks for letting me know about the conversation. Very informative post. The following dialog was also quite impressive.

    I really liked the way that you led off the post – the importance of governing after an election sometimes gets lost in the euphoria of the victory or in the sigh of relief that the hard work of campaigning is over.

    The work has just begun, but with people like you providing some thought provoking advice, perhaps there is reason for some serious optimism.

  5. I am glad you approved of my writing on the issue, Rod. A good word coming from you means a lot to me.

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