Dieter Helm – Nuclear saga cannot go on (Leaders must push to a happy ending)
Dieter Helm has generously shared an April 2013 article written for Prospect Magazine titled Stumbling towards crisis. In that article Helm points to US energy decision making as a good example that serves as a contrast to UK energy policy making. He sees chosen path in the UK as almost guaranteeing a crisis. In his view, the lack of an official government policy that attempts to pick winners and bureaucratically determine special price points for each competitive technology has enabled the US to move forward smartly with a program that is both reducing energy costs and reducing CO2 emissions.
Helm is onto something, but his preferred solution of using natural gas as a bridge fuel is bound to lead to a half built bridge to nowhere. Nuclear energy offers a solid path to a sustainable future, but nuclear energy advocates and business leaders need to take action to solve the biggest hurdle inhibiting atomic abundance. Helm points the way in the following passage, but his directions are not as useful as they could be with a little refinement.
The nuclear saga cannot go on. For 12 years governments have decided that they don’t want nuclear, and then that they do, that nuclear needs no public subsidy and then that it does, and that a waste solution should be found first, and then that it is not urgent. The current approach to nuclear is a close replica of that of the late 1970s. The plan is to try out a number of different technologies and providers and see if they work. so Hitachi is pitched against EDF, with Westinghouse in the background. It is time to recognise that nuclear is a political technology that requires a long-term political consensus and a national industrial policy for its supply chain. Either do it properly or don’t do it—but the middle way
looks at best very expensive.
I find it almost amusing that Helm seems to be suggesting that the correct path for nuclear energy is by government fiat – which is the approach that has not worked very well. The proper way to develop nuclear energy’s full potential is to follow the path that has led to the successful development of all other fundamentally disruptive technologies. We need entrepreneurial leaders that have made a focused decision to take full advantage of the unique capabilities that the technology offers so that they can crush the incumbent players.
Those leaders need to be “all in”; they cannot engage in a half-hearted attempt to make nuclear somewhat competitive by following all of the existing rules and making only marginal changes in heat source and heat engine designs that work well when the fuel is coal, oil, or natural gas. They also need to make friends with others who have made the same basic technical choice and not engage in destructive competition against other nuclear energy entrepreneurs who do not have much market share to take anyway.
Some nuclear energy business leaders may come out of the fossil fuel industry or out of the established “nuclear” industry, just as some leaders in personal computers started their careers in the mainframe business. However, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that a large portion of the leaders must be people who are frustrated by the old ways and unsatisfied with the lack of progress that is often a result of being reluctant to overturn the generous gravy train that keeps the energy establishment in power. Helm is aware of this challenge as shown in this passage from earlier in the article:
Unfortunately, the incumbent companies have little incentive to come to the rescue. Higher prices mean higher profits. In most markets, high profits attract entrants. Investment by the private sector is, however, a voluntary activity, as the government is discovering. In energy, that investment takes time. Security of supply is a system problem, and not necessarily a problem for the incumbents. For them, it is better if nobody invests, giving them much higher returns on their existing power stations. After a decade of unprecedented mergers and acquisitions—coupled with a good dose of financial engineering—most of the big players are in poor shape to do much investing anyway.
Aside: Helm is not talking specifically about nuclear here, but I think that the thought process applies. He also does not help people understand that about 60-90% of the revenue associated with fossil fuel power generation goes to the fuel supplier, not the power station owner. They are really the companies (and individuals) that benefit when no one builds new power plants. New plants are either more fuel efficient or do not use any fossil fuel at all. That is one of the many reasons I am generally suspicious of people who claim that restricting demand growth is the cheapest way to a better energy future. Market stagnation solidifies the position of the established players. End Aside.
Many of the technical people in the new nuclear industry must have solid foundations in current power generation and heat utilization technology, both nuclear and fossil fuel, but they need to be willing to dig deeper. They must learn more about the unique economic and design opportunities associated with an incredibly energy dense fuel that produces zero atmospheric pollution and costs less than 1/3 as much per unit of heat than the cheapest of its competitors. They must be willing to use new paradigms and techniques and to adopt good ideas that may have been invented somewhere else.
The leaders must also recognize the political aspects of the technology and be unafraid to take advantage of skillful marketing that takes direct aim at the long line of dark grey suits that represent the established energy industry. (Just in case the allusion is not clear to all readers, here is a clip of the famous Apple Computer Super Bowl commercial from nearly 30 years ago.)
Today there is a long line of natural gas cheerleaders and an equally long line of people who seem to accept the notion that directly burning cheap lignite is an acceptable long term energy solution. Focused leaders who have a deep understanding of nuclear technology, politics and human nature need to be willing to throw hammers that may result in some blowback. They must keep pressing forward to develop the energy supply products that their customers want – even if they don’t yet know it.
The world’s energy consumers deserve reliable, emission free, power sources that simply work. They want those amazing systems to be delivered at a surprisingly affordable cost. We need to develop the supply chain, market the technology, and build amazing products that are fully integrated systems that customers really want to buy.
PS – As a bonus, Helm’s posting of his Prospect article includes a revealing commentary on solar energy as a scam that is making a certain type of investor rich. Here is a quote from a column titled “Is Solar Still Worth It” that is on the same page as the last page of Helm’s PDF copy of his article.
Being the sort of investor who likes someone else to take the risk and leave me with the reward, I didn’t take much persuading to call in the solar panel installers in spring 2010.
In this case, the “someone else” happens to be all other taxpayers and electricity rate payers. I personally find the author’s attitude to be incredibly self-centered and bordering on immoral.
“In this case, the “someone else” happens to be all other taxpayers and electricity rate payers. I personally find the author’s attitude to be incredibly self-centered and bordering on immoral.”
German energy policy seems to be a breeding ground for self-centered behaviour bordering on the immoral. The following quote from RWE’s new chairman Peter Terium taken from a (still) very interesting Spiegel interview basically captures the whole German energy policy thrust in a nutshell:
“SPIEGEL: Now RWE wants to invest in solar. Your predecessor Grossmann still rails that generating solar electricity in Germany makes about as much sense as “growing pineapples in Alaska.” Why are you entering the pineapple farming business?
Terium: Because the government subsidizes growing pineapples in Germany.”
This renewable subsidy is paid for by other electricity users (that are less smart).
But the huge (liability) subsidies that nuclear get are paid for by tax-payers, citizens living in the surrounding of the nuclear reactors, and our grand- grand- children.
That is real self centered behavior.
I am a grandfather who is hugely concerned that we are going to leave our descendants a world that is dangerously depleted of all useful hydrocarbons if we continue on our present path. I also worry that a large portion of the infrastructure of buildings and farmland that has been developed during the past 200 years will be useless for them due to changes in sea levels and weather patterns caused by excessive concentrations of hydrocarbon combustion waste in the atmosphere.
We live on a planet that has been abundantly endowed with useful materials like uranium and thorium that contain 2 million times as much energy per unit mass as the most energy dense hydrocarbon. When that material fissions, it does not release any heat trapping waste gas.
Battling against nuclear energy is battling for hydrocarbon energy. There is no other reliable way to produce heat and power that is not solely dependent on the vagaries of the weather.
@Rod:”…useless for them due to changes in sea levels and weather patterns…”
If you also feel deep concern about that, then you should hug the German transition towards renewable.
A 2 GW th. nuclear plant is a 2 GW stove that heats the earth (~55% at the plant and ~45% at the consumer site). Renewable do not add any heat to the earth!
In 2012 >25% of German electricity came from renewable. That will be ~40% in 2020, and >80% by 2050.
Germany changed from net importer into net exporter of electricity.
Germany is the only country that reached the Kyoto targets and will further surpass them before the Kyoto date of 2020 (no nuclear country will reach Kyoto targets).
German economy is flourishing better than any economy in the EU (~zero budget deficit, low unemployment figures, etc).
Just read some key facts:
And some backgrounds:
Btw. I am dutch, and feel not affiliated to Germany.
@Rod: “…useless for them due to changes in sea levels and weather patterns..”
I share that concern.
A 2GW th. power plant is a 2GW stove heating our planet.
So we should make the transition towards renewable as Germany does so successful.
Germany reached the Kyoto targets and will surpass them widely at 2020 (no nuclear country will reach those in 2020).
In 2012 >25% of their produced electricity came from renewable, which will be ~40% in 2020 and >80% in 2050.
Some key facts: http://energytransition.de/2012/10/key-findings/
This most flourishing economy in the EU already
I’ve always looked at this sly notion of killing off nuclear energy/plants by killing its gov’t “subsides” as a straw dog that overlooks the obvious; unlike coal, gas and oil, atomic energy’s creation and development is directly traceable to the WWII-era U.S. government, which would and should have some paternal say in its regulation, development, applications and oversight. There’s really no government dropping its baby on the steps and whistling off like a deadbeat dad here. Had the same creator responsibility for other energy sources been in force the world might likely be in better shape.
Rod Adam wrote:
The proper way to develop nuclear energy’s full potential is to follow the path that has led to the successful development of all other fundamentally disruptive technologies. We need entrepreneurial leaders that have made a focused decision to take full advantage of the unique capabilities that the technology offers so that they can crush the incumbent players.
There is a fundamental difference between the development of nuclear energy and the development of other fundamentally disruptive technologies — with those other technologies, there was not the overburdening weight of detailed regulation. In many cases, those technologies came to a stage of young maturity before any regulation appeared. And most, what regulation did appear later was rather light and aimed narrowly towards the technology in question. This allowed further developments to continue, either because the regulation was light or the regulations did not apply.
The regulatory process with nuclear is neither light nor narrowly focused. One cannot hope to escape heavy regulation because a new design is something other than the presently common pressurized water reactor. If anything, the regulation will be more burdensome, as the inventor of the new technology is forced to fund the education of the nuclear regulators before they can even begin to produce regulations relevant to the new technology reactor.
In such a regulatory environment, how can one expect there to be nuclear entrepreneurs at all?
I am ready to join those who say that regulation is necessary. But then we also must admit that regulation is burdensome. We must admit that the present level of regulation decreases the safety of our electric power system, since it is much easier to build more dangerous power plants (i.e., natural gas and coal) than nuclear. We need to admit that “enhancing safety” of something that is already quite safe is of little value if it requires more than minimal time and cost. If we really want to encourage nuclear entrepreneurship, then we need the regulators to help shoulder the burden of regulations.
You’re right about the exceptionally burdensome regulations that uniquely apply to nuclear, as well as the point about how regulating nuclear out of existence actually increases public health risks and environmental harm. Nuclear regulations are also orders of magnitude less effective, in terms of lives saved per dollar.
In two recent ANS nuclear cafe posts, one general, and one focused on SMRs, I’ve basically said my piece, about how things need to change if the industry is to have much of a future. And by change, I’m not referring to advanced reactors, fuel cycles or other technologies. I mean the scaling back of excessive regulations and (even more importantly) excessive and unique fabrication QA requirements. I mean a playing field (between energy sources) that is remotely, objective, level and fair.
A work associate just told me that nuclear-grade carbon steel costs ~6 times commercial grade, solely due to the “paperwork requirements”. Pretty much says it all. It’s not like failure of a bridge or tall building would kill anyone……
I heard about a recent polling of experts on whether they thought that nuclear R&D (i.e., advanced reactor and fuel concepts, etc…) had any significant potential to reduce nuclear power costs (cost being its main problem). Most experts said no. Most disagreed with advanced (Gen IV) reactor advocates that those reactors would be any cheaper. I’m inclined to agree (with the experts).
As I discussed in my posts, my idea of the “nuclear R&D” that’s needed is an objective, bottoms up review of all nuclear regulations and QA requirements, to determine their effectiveness (in terms of dollars per life saved). Those results should be compared to spending levels (dollars per life saved) in other areas, including other energy sources. Detailed PRA analyses should be performed to analyze the impacts of using ordinary industrial QA requirements/programs on various components of a nuclear plant. Relaxation of various regulatory requirements would also be analyzed. Any impacts could be compared to or traded against fundamental safety advantages that SMRs or other advanced reactor concepts have. The goal of the “research” would be to come up with a set of requirements that deliver an acceptable level of risk at minimum overall cost.
What’s really needed is wholesale reform of US nuclear regulations and NRC. Basically starting over from scratch. Of course, I don’t see that happening here. So, what would I do? I would approach China with one of our LWR SMR technologies (mPower or NuScale) and tell them that they can have it, if they agree to build a high throughput assembly line for those reactors. They would use it for both their own nuclear needs as well as export to the entire rest of the world (at say, ~$2,000/kW?). $2,500 perhaps? Because it ain’t getting done here. Not at a reasonable price, or timeframe. Bill Gates has the right idea (about going to China), although I’m not sure he has the right (best) technology. A simple, small LWR is what’s right/best for the moment.
But hey, it’s not all black. There are some signs of sanity (see link below). The (Democratic) Obama administration is raising the allowable dose rate for contaminated areas (post severe accident or terrorist attack) from ridiculously low EPA levels (was it 10 mrem/yr????) to the 2,000 mrem/yr level that the Japanese used. Great news (despite the article’s insistance on spending most of its time talking to Daniel Hirsch).
There’s a Frontline web page,
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/interviews/till.html that describes a project, the IFR, canceled in 1994 so thoroughly by the Sierra Club and the Clinton administration, that after I learned of it from the Argonne National Labs website, and subsequently found it at UC Berkeley, it vanished from the Argonne site, and is difficult now to find in Berkeley’s achives. I had the wit to download Berkeley’s stuff, and put it on the web under http://energy.skepticva.org
Then there’s the movie, recently shown at Sundance, called “Pandora’s Promise”.
But the aficionados of both the IFR and an earlier, even more different scheme, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, reckon that the manufacturing costs would be significantly lower than for PWR technology.
Also, the SMR idea is that you can factory build the things. http://arcnuclear.com has a design based on the IFR (which proved itself, as designed, immune to meltdown, by actual test in April 1986, just before the notorious and actually exaggerated meltdown of Chernobyl.
Ceramic fuel is a poor idea, and liquid may be the best of all. But for a technology like this, proprietary secrets are ill adapted. As a retired employee of the Federal Regulatory Regulatory Agency, I would testify that regulation of wealthy companies is far too easily hamstrung. That’s why France should have opted out of the EU rather than privatise their nukes.
Based on the advice of the UN related Codex commission, the Japanese lowered the allowable radiation doses in 2012 by ~a factor 10:
That advice was based on recent results of the LSS studies (read report no.14) as well as medical survey’s and review studies regarding the harm of enhanced background radiation levels:
Long term low level radiation creates the same delayed harm as low levels of asbestos, nicotine, micro particles (fine dust), etc.
After ~20 years it start to kill part of the population, raising the death rate during the next 40 years. Everybody can observe the similarity with smokers (they do not get cancer before 40 years old).
Low level radiation harm especially babies in the womb as shown by studies regarding Hiroshima, the peaks in still birth in Germany after Chernobyl (>1000 miles away), the intelligence dip in children born after Chernobyl in the north of Sweden (>2000miles away), etc.
You misread your own link. The Japanese government has reduced the already extremely conservative limit recommended by CODEX by a factor of 10. I call the CODEX limit extremely conservative because it is based on maintaining doses to a level that is 1/100th of the level at which there is any proof of any negative health effect at all.
In other words, the new limits established by the Japanese government are 1000 times stricter than they need to be to protect human health from the mere onset of negative effects of low level radiation.
Do you have any idea how much good food is now considered to be waste or how much good land is now going fallow because of that absurdly strict limit?
Don’t waste your time Rod, this Bas character is a lost cause we have been dealing with over at Depleted Cranium. He doesn’t know what is in the references he posts to the point that some of them refute what he is asserting outright.
Just another troll.
Japan’s (Germany preparing) more strict radiation standards are based on scientific study results and in line with the UN Codex advice.
I cannot find that foolish.
Especially considering that Japan has more experience with radiation towards parts of its population than we.
Having worked with the Japanese, I’m sure that they have balanced all consequences. Also that these new radiation standards will make the clean up operation after Fukushima far more costly (converting more food into waste, etc.).
One man’s “cost” is another man’s “revenue”. You are working on the side of the rich and powerful contractors that stand to make a huge amount of money moving dirt from one place to another and the hugely rich and powerful fossil fuel industry that is already obtaining about $55 billion more per year in sales to make up for the output of the 48 operable reactors in Japan that are NOT producing any electricity.
I hope you don’t sleep very well at night, knowing how much damage your FUD is doing.
Rod: “misread your own link. The Japanese government has reduced the already extremely conservative limit recommended by CODEX by a factor of 10. ”
Agree that the author thinks that the Japanese backward calculation from the CODEX limit is not correct.
Whether the author is right or the Japanese calculators are right, I cannot judge.
Especially since I do not know the (expected) share of different radio-active components in Japanese food.
Knowing the Japanese, their calculations are checked by a number of experts.
Sorry, only the first link is shown (at the bottom of my comment).
The background radiation link:
Hope it shows the link now:
Jim:”… scaling back of excessive regulations and (even more importantly) excessive and unique fabrication QA requirements….”
“….nuclear-grade carbon steel costs ~6 times commercial grade..”
Certified parts for a commercial airliner are also x times more expensive.
I think the ‘excessive’ regulations are nothing special compared to the commercial airplane/-line industry.
The organizations & work flow in that industry adhere to the ISO9000 standards, etc..
I didn’t read anything about that on NPP’s WEB-sites.
If you compare the reliability of reactors with that of airplanes (hours/accident, etc) and consider that airplanes move all the time into totally different environments, etc.
then you can only conclude the the nuclear industry has a long way to go before it reaches the reliability of the airline industry.
Just look at the list of nuclear accidents at Wikipedia with the few reactors (~450), and compare that with the list of accidents and the number of airline planes.
And that while an airplane crash costs less then a billion,
while a reactor crash may cost a trillion!
Wikipedia does not list accidents; it lists incidents. If that standard applied to aviation the page would list every mechanical issue that resulted in a delayed flight.
There have only been three accidents in 50 years worth of 24×7 commercial nuclear energy Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.
@Rod:”..There have only been three accidents in 50 years..”
So just take those 3 (one accident in ~4000 reactor years), and
compare with the airliners.
Where did you come up with a cumulative experience total of just 4,000 reactor years? The real number is more than 14,500 and that only includes the commercial reactor fleet.
Are you kidding me?! That is an incredibly small accident rate.
Commercial aviation in the US has a rate that is over 100 times that. General aviation has an accident rate that is even an order of magnitude higher (over 1000 times as high).
Please go away, troll. You’re only embarrassing yourself.
I wrote ~4000. So let’s take the more accurate 5000.
As you propose to restrict to disasters, I propose to restrict to airline disasters too. Let’s say airline accidents with at least ~10 death.
Smaller planes are not maintained & operated by ISO 9000 certified organizations.
That makes it also easier to count as those are more widely published.
According to airfleets.net, we had 46 of such accidents in the last 10 years.
The number of airline planes is more difficult (google delivers widely different answers). A good estimation seems to be ~30.000.
We then have one accident in 600 years.
So my estimation was totally wrong!
The most successful implementation of nuclear power is in France … done by government fiat. The government built the same (two) reactors over and over … and got the job done.
They seem to have forgotten how at present, although looking at the progress on the Taishan plant in China it doesn’t seem that the problem is the EPR design (it’s a little early I know).
I think that there’s barely any exception to the rule that the first, or first two reactors of a given model you build are way above cost and delays. Fessenheim the first PWR in France was about as much behind delay as Flamanville, and the first units of the more advanced 1300 design took more than 10 years, so were even more behind delay and above cost than Flamanville.
The Chinese are building 27 reactors concurrently at the moment, it brings them a lot of experience. Between now and 2015, they’re planned to spring up like mushrooms (preferably not blow up like them), given the 24 units that are currently planned to go online until then.
The trouble that France’s nationally owned EDF has been hit with, is the EU’s insistence, doubtless at the behest of fossil and “unreliables” promoters, that EDF be privatized. I note that the anti-nuclear propaganda in France has even led to a poll in which a majority of those polled thought nuclear is worse for global warming than coal!
Re: “France has even led to a poll in which a majority of those polled thought nuclear is worse for global warming than coal!”
This is such a gross case of the sheer lack of basic science education, never mind inadequate nuclear energy education, that I just can’t puke it into words. How the hell do the antis get away with this totally debunked even by schools, forget a “fair and informed” media??
Thanks, it’s nice to see I have company at this level of outrage.
Albert the Virginia Skeptic,
“They seem to have forgotten how at present…”
They didn’t! But they concluded that new reactors should be more safe, as their present fleet has shown to be too vulnerable.
So the new reactor they build now, takes >10 years to build, and cost so much that it cannot compete with future renewable; e.g. solar prices. Those go down with >7%/year for at least the next 10 years, as they did the last 30 years.
Hence we can expect that that one will be the last.
Bas, it seems that you did not read my comment above.
There’s actually nothing new in the overcost and overtime of the construction of Flamanville. The Chooz B-1 NPP started construction in jan 1984, and was put into commercial operation in 2000, after a first grid connection in aug 1996.
Fessenheim also was seen as much more costly or lengthly than planned back at the time.
Did this make the first wave of NPP in France a failure ? No. Why ? Because those overcost/overtime happened every time a new generation of NPP (Chooz B-1 was the first N4 model) was built, but then the lessons were learned and the following units were built much faster and at a cheaper cost.
The other factor is that after 20 years of use, the initial cost is a completely minor thing compared to the gains made every year for an energy source, that you just plug and use, as Chinese have realized last year favoring Hydro & Nuclear over expanding Wind and Solar production capacity : http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/03/13/1074145/-China-s-Energy-Future-Less-Solar-and-Wind-More-Nuclear-and-Hydro
Nuclear Power is a high capital cost industry. The first few reactors of a design need specially deep pockets. Thereafter, there need to be reasonable but not debilitating controls like the American version.
Now that a score of countries have problem stocks of used LWR/HWR reactor fuel, it is time for fast reactors/fast MSR’s. As the US, the biggest user of LWR’s, has abdicated the responsibility, the Chinese, the current biggest builder of reactors, or the Russians will probably take it up. All the Americans are going to do is grumble about having thought of the ideas first and giving up by default. The US has been effectively hindering the allies South Korea in reprocessing but the Chinese are a harder nut.
The possibility that China will, in 20 years, be the world leader in nuclear breeder fission is good news and bad news. The good news is that civilization will not be destroyed. The bad news is that democracy will have failed.
Sure doesn’t help the case when reporters constantly hype the ominous nuclear hazard track without any means for comments or remarks to cite exactly why the situation is the way it is and, more so — WHO is perpetuating ithe dark image of an unnecessary state. i.e. http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/03/28/eerie-google-images-japanese-ghost-town/
Well, I don’t expect much truth from Fox News. What irks me is when I see PBS reporting as if the entire death toll of Japan’s worst earthquake and its tsunami were outweighed by the radioactive spill.
Does everybody realise that if Vesuvius had cracked a plutonium cask in Pompeii or Herculaneum , most of its radioactivity would still be around?? Or, indeed, that the energy that has kept the Earth’s core molten for (4500 – 40) million years is radioactivity!!
40 million years was Kelvin’s best estimate. By radioactive dating, we know that the Carboniferous Era was 64 million years and hundreds of million years ago.
Albert: ” …. if the entire death toll of Japan’s worst earthquake and its tsunami were outweighed by the radioactive spill….”
Albert it is outweighed by the radio-active spill, as that
spill is the main part of the ~$500billion loss of Fukushima.
The loss of lives due to the Tsunami, is a minor issue compared to that economic loss!
There is little or no justification for any of the government regulation enforced economic losses associated with the abandonment of any area outside of the gates of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station. The radiation doses have been below variations in background exposure around the world ever since the short lived (8 day half life) I-131 has decayed away.
Even that isotope never posed any danger to people unless they drank contaminated milk without already having ensured that their thyroid would not absorb more iodine.
I find it incredible that you think that the tsunami’s death toll is a minor issue or that you can watch the dramatic video’s of the black wave washing over hundreds of miles of coastal infrastructure and dismiss the economic damage done by the wave, not the minor leak of about 11 kilograms of radioactive material.
Right on, Rod, it’s called straining at a gnat, while swallowing a camel!
In the fifties nuclear bomb testing in the atmosphere was stopped because of the slightly enhanced radio-activity they caused (~0,1mSv/year). It was calculated that that would cost worldwide the lives of millions of people in the decades thereafter.
Accidents such as Fukushima spread a multiple amounts of radio-activity compared to an atomic bomb. They harm our children and grand-children worldwide.
Low level radiation (and each increase) harms after >20 years, just as low levels of nicotine, asbestos, micro particles (fine dust) in the air, etc.
Similar with nicotine that harms concerns not only cancer but a multitude of other illnesses often causing premature death.
This is shown by the LSS studies (read report no. 14), and even a recent review study regarding background radiation:
The recent scientific results regarding the harm of low level radiation caused the Codex international commission linked to the U.N. to advice ~10 times lower annual radiation limit (now <1mSv/year).
So it seems to me that the Japanese, having more experience with radiation than anybody else, are not foolish at all.
Strange enough, some think 100mSv/year would be harmless, while it is widely accepted that ~1% of the population develop cancer during their lifetime because of the ~3mSv/year average background radiation.
Check e.g. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation-induced_cancer
Note that low level radio-active radiation also causes many other harmful effects, such as less stable/quality DNA in our children, lower intelligence in just born children (shown for children in the north of Sweden born shorly after Chernobyl), as well as other death causes.
I dearly love nearly everything Rod Adams has to say, but I think he’s wrong about nuclear energy and the government. It seems to have done much more poorly in Britain after Thatcher sold it off to private “enterprise”. I am trembling to see what’s going to happen to France’s EDF.
I strongly expect that the government of China will wipe all its energy competitors into bankruptcy, if the USA and Europe do not mend their ways.
I do not understand.
Why trembling regarding the privatization of EDF,
even if it then stops building nuclear totally?
Is your job at stake? Or what?
There is indeed evidence that, unlike asbestos, etc. the vertebrate body, and indeed any evolved organism that requires potassium for its metabolism, (that includes even algae) does have a threshold level of radioactivity for which it has repair mechanisms.
A small proportion of natural potassium is a radioactive isotope, such that a moderate sized healthy adult human body receives continual internal bombardment at a level of over 4000 becquerels (Bq).
The DNA repair mechanisms, for both chemical and radiation damage, have evidently evolved to counter this quite successfully. How much higher a level they can resist is not well known. One Bq is one radioactive event per second, but Avogadro’s number comes into the calculations.
But although the apparent threshold thus proven is quite low, it definitely is not zero.
“… have a threshold level of radioactivity for which it has repair mechanisms ..”
I agree with that.
But the problem is that the quality of that repair mechanisms degrades over time.
After >20 years the faults it makes, gradually become worse (probably also stacking faults).
So then the harmful effects of low level (radio-active) radiation start to show.
Note that the same applies even for sun burned skin.
The cancer comes only after such long periods of time (unless the sun burn is extremely severe).
This delayed harm is also in line with the experience of medical radiological workers (the first reports about it were already published in the forties, ~60 years ago).
So now your dentist leaves the room even while it concerns ~0,001mSv
“Is my job at stake?” No indeed, my friend, I’m retired. What is at stake is the survival of civilization, which urgently requires the shutting down and replacement of all coal burning and as much as possible of hydrocarbon burning. France has had the cleanest energy record in Europe, with the possible exception of Norway if the damage their hydro dams do to anadromous fish is small enough.
Nuclear is the only alternative that can compete with the energy stored from the Sun in the 64 million years of the Carboniferous Era. If stuff like wind turbines were capable, we’d go back to the very highly developed sail technology that the British Empire used to rule the seas in the 18th century. A small sailboat can make excellent use of breezes too slight for a to deliver a wind turbine to deliver a tenth of its rated capacity. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, where I spent my youth, the native say they get six months of bad weather, and the rest of the time it still rains.
I agree with Albert. I’ve reached the conclusion that nuclear energy is the only available tool that can reduce hydrocarbon consumption to a sustainable level. I define that as a rate of extraction where fuel not become so expensive that only the rich will be able to have reliable energy and where the rate of waste product dumping is within the ability of natural systems to mitigate – perhaps with some focused assistance by human agriculture and forestry.
Nuclear energy can accomplish this task because the energy density of uranium and thorium is so high and the materials are so abundant that the fuel cost per unit heat is already about 1/3 that of the least expensive hydrocarbon, even with a huge overhead for enrichment, fabrication, transportation, and waste storage associated with using only about 0.5% of the potential energy. We have many generations of improvement available before we hit the asymptote for improving nuclear fuel use and cost, but we have pretty much hit the technical limits of how efficient we can make combustion engines. We are also exploiting some of the most difficult to reach hydrocarbon resources already – we have burned up an incredible endowment of valuable material in the past 150 years.
@Albert: ‘…Nuclear is the only alternative that can compete…’
Agree that fusion may bring a nice solution, so I want more research money into its development (look forward to ITER).
But for the present fission reactors that applies only, thanks to the huge subsidies NPP’s get. Those concern the limited liability in case of disaster (chance ~once in 8000 years) and the short period of waste disposal liability (=>parasite on our grand-children).
Those have a value of ~10cent/KWh. That deliver a real cost price of ~16cent/KWh.
That is higher than that of wind & solar.
While the cost price of nuclear goes up, that of wind and solar goes down for at least the next decade. Solar will continue to fall in price with ~7%/year, probably to below 4 cent/KWh produced on the roof of the consumer: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/03/16/smaller-cheaper-faster-does-moores-law-apply-to-solar-cells/
Germany chose a better way. Between 1990-2002 they developed a transition scenario towards 100% renewable that they are executing: http://energytransition.de/2012/10/key-findings/
With that scenario they became net exporter of electricity and by far the most flourishing economy with low unemployment and zero budget deficit.
Last year renewable produced >25% of German electricity. That will be far more coming years (during 2012 solar capacity was raised by ~47%). At this site you can see the solar production for different days/times: http://www.sma.de/en/company/pv-electricity-produced-in-germany.html
As they need flexible power plants to fill in the gaps (if wind & solar fail), they are replacing the inflexible dirty coal plants with new flexible low temperature gas burning (=relative clean) coal plants. Those will serve in the intermediate period until they are fully on renewable.
They now discuss to raise their initial target of 80% renewable in 2050 towards 100% in 2050 (was 2070). It is the only country that reached the Kyoto GHG targets. It will surpass those greatly in 2020 (no ‘atomic’ country will reach those targets in 2020).
I suggest that you check their developments, as those:
– Do not add new heat to the earth as NPP’s do; and
– Deliver no risk to cripple a country with a disaster (e.g. desolated NYC); and
– do not parasite on our grand-children for managing the radio-active waste.
As a bonus they deliver also more employment.
Wikipedia has an overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Germany
The anti nuclear power folk worry about quantities of radioctivity that are minuscule compared with the simple chemical poisons that road vehicles, diesel trains, aircraft, and carbo burning power stations emit right into the air, and leave as dust everywhere. My wife had an uncle who died of dam failure at a very small hydro plant. Dozens of people in any town are warned several times a year to avoid exposing themselves to the vehicle pollution. I know of nobody, except in the news that lives for disaster reporting, who has died from nuclear power.
When I was riding a bicycle to work seven miles away, the local bicycling association had an article on whether to wear a helmet. Their conclusion was that if you smoked tobacco, or failed to wear a seat belt when driving, or used a power mower while in your bare feet, you needn’t bother with a helmet, you’re running far higher risks.
By the same token, a society that is still allowing companies to blast hillsides to get millions of tons of coal, or still retains (like the USA) the “nuclear deterrent”, would be much better off using nuclear power for civilian purposes. The cost per unit of energy is trifling.
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