It is difficult to do battle with imaginary boogeymen, especially when you are a rational-minded person steeped in reality. In the money-driven battle over our future energy supply choices, the people who fight nuclear energy have imagination on their side. They can, and often do, invent numerous scary tales about what might happen without the need to actually prove anything.
The bottom lines of both Chernobyl and Fukushima tell me that the very worst that can realistically happen to nuclear fission reactors results in acceptable physical consequences when compared to the risk of insufficient power or the risk of using any other reliable source of power.
One of the most powerful weapons in their arsenal is the embedded fantasy that a nuclear reactor accident can lead to catastrophic consequences that cannot be accepted. This myth is doubly hard to dislodge because a large fraction of the nuclear energy professionals have been trained to believe it. When you want to train large numbers of slightly above average people to do their job with great care and attention to detail, it can be useful to exaggerate the potential consequences of a failure to perform. It is also a difficult myth to dislodge because the explanation of why it is impossible requires careful and often lengthy explanations of occasionally complex concepts.
I am in no mood to develop those arguments today. They wouldn’t be read by enough people anyway. The bottom lines of both Chernobyl and Fukushima tell me that the very worst that can realistically happen to nuclear fission reactors results in acceptable physical consequences when compared to the risk of insufficient power or the risk of using any other reliable source of power. The most negative consequences of both accidents resulted from the way that government leaders responded, both during the crisis stage and during the subsequent recoveries.
Instead of trying to explain the basis for those statements more fully, I’ll try to encourage people to consider the motives of people on various sides of the discussion. I also want to encourage nuclear energy supporters to look beyond the financial implications to the broader implications of a less reliable and dirtier electrical power system. When the focus is just on the finances, the opposition has an advantage – the potential gains from opposing nuclear energy often are concentrated in the hands of extremely interested parties while the costs are distributed widely enough to be less visible. That imbalance often leads to great passion in the opposition and too much apathy among the supporters.
Over at Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman has written about the epic battle of political titans who are on opposing sides of the controversy regarding the relicensing and continued operation of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Station. Dan pointed out that there is a large sum of money at stake, but he put it in a way that does not sound too terrible to many people because it spreads out the pain.
In round numbers, if Indian Point is closed, wholesale electricity prices could rise by 12%.
A 12% increase in wholesale electricity prices does not sound so scary, especially in a densely populated city where electricity bills are probably not a dominant cost of living due to small spaces and shared walls, floors and ceilings. For the people who are looking to profit from the closure, however, the numbers are much more impressive. A recent study quoted in a New York Times article put the initial additional cost of electricity without Indian Point at about $1.5 billion per year, which is a substantial sum of money if concentrated into the hands of a few thousand victors who tap the monthly bills of a few million people. Here is a comment that I added to Dan’s post:
Dan – thank you for pointing out that the battle is not really a partisan one determined by political party affiliation. By my analysis, the real issue is the desire of natural gas suppliers to sell more gas at ever higher prices driven by a shift in the balance between supply and demand.
They never quite explain what is going to happen as we get closer and closer to the day when even fracking will not squeeze any more hydrocarbons out of the drying sponge that is the readily accessible part of the earth’s crust.
The often touted “100 – year” supply of natural gas in the US has a lot of optimistic assumptions built in. First of all, it is only rounded up to 100 years – 2170 trillion cubic feet at the end of 2010 divided by 23 trillion cubic feet per year leaves just 94 years.
Secondly, the 2170 number provided by the Potential Gas Committee report includes all proven, probable, possible and speculative resources, without any analysis of the cost of extraction or moving them to a market. Many of the basins counted have no current pipelines and many of the basins are not large enough for economic recovery of the investment to build the infrastructure without far higher prices.
Finally, all bets are off with regard to longevity if we increase the rate of burning up the precious raw material.
However, greedy people do not think much about tomorrow or much about the people that they hurt by forcibly shutting down low cost facilities to allow higher priced fuels to compete.
This battle over Indian Point will be interesting because there are a lot of very wealthy and media savvy people on both sides. I hope that the nuclear energy supporters recognize the value of exposing the underlying motives of the opposition. We have to take back the moral high ground from the antis to show that we are working in the interest of the majority to provide clean, abundant, affordable, reliable power.
BTW – In case your readers are interested in the motives of a group like Riverkeepers, founded and led by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., here is a link to a video clip of him explaining his support for natural gas.
Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights
The organized opposition to the intelligent use of nuclear energy has often painted support for the technology as coming from faceless, money-hungry corporations. That caricature of the support purposely ignores the fact that there are large numbers of intelligent, well educated, responsible, and caring people who know a great deal about the technology and believe that it is the best available solution for many intransigent problems. There are efforts underway today, like the Nuclear Literacy Project and Go Nuclear, that are focused on showcasing the admirable people who like nuclear energy and want it to grow rapidly to serve society’s never ended thirst for reliable power at an affordable price with acceptable environmental impact.
So, my plea to you is to get out there and fight for nuclear energy. Question the motives of the powerful people who are adamantly opposed to sensible use of nuclear technology. Question the motives of those who claim that they are only interested in improving safety by demanding an explanation for how they intend to improve over a nearly zero casualty record developed over a 50 year operating period. The consequences of not having access to nuclear energy capabilities are far more negative the reality of actual accident experience.
The exaggerated, fanciful accident scenarios painted by the opposition are challenging to disprove. I am tired of trying, but not tired of trying to find ways to help people understand the widespread benefits of increased nuclear fission power supplies.
I just read an excellent post on Yes Vermont Yankee about a coming decision that might help to illuminate the risk to society of continuing to let greedy antinuclear activists and their political friends dominate the discussion. According to Meredith’s post, Entergy must make a decision within just a week or so about whether or not to refuel Vermont Yankee in October. Since the sitting governor is dead set against the plant operating past its current license expiration in the summer of 2012, the $100 million dollar expense of refueling would only result in about 6 months of operation instead of the usual 18 months.
Meredith has a novel solution to the dilemma – conserve the fuel currently in the plant by immediately cutting the power output to 25%. That would provide enough continuing revenue to maintain the exceptional trained staff at peak performance levels and it would give state residents a taste of the consequences of not having a reliable nuclear plant providing summertime baseload power. It will be interesting to see if any Entergy decision makers are are thinking along the same lines.