The Atlanta Progressive News published an article titled Georgia PSC Can’t Silence Nuclear Power Debate describing how dedicated antinuclear activists disrupted a recent meeting held by the Georgia Public Service Commission. The scheduled topic of the meeting was a discussion about risk sharing in the case of potential cost overruns for Vogtle units 3 & 4.That is a perfectly reasonable discussion to have, especially since Georgia regulators have the history of Vogtle units 1 & 2 at their fingertips. Those first two units ran into a lot of delays and extra costs. Initially budgeted at about $1 billion, they ended up costing $9 billion. Times were different then, with interest rates approaching 20% and regulatory ratcheting in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident. However, it is logical for regulators in monopoly service areas to want to protect the customers – that is their job.
However, the antinuclear activists tried to turn the meeting into a discussion about whether or not nuclear plants should be built at all. Here is a quote from the article:
“This is the first time we have met since the multiple meltdowns in Japan. Now we understand the dangers of four reactors at one site. Out of this unimaginable tragedy they are turning off two-thirds of their nuclear plants and replacing their nuclear power with solar and wind energy. In 2010, renewables like solar, wind, and geothermal contributed more to the global energy picture than nuclear,” Carroll said.
“Southern Company got sold a bill of goods by the federal government and then got a flawed reactor design from Westinghouse. How can the PSC help Georgia Power get off the hook for this lousy deal?” Carroll asked.
There was more and the comments displayed an equally illogical view of the situation, so I decided to add my thoughts to the discussion.
The primary beneficiary from action to halt the construction of safe, emission-free nuclear energy facilities is the global fossil fuel industry. Restricting alternative supplies of power reduces competition and pushes up prices and profits.
When dreamers like Glenn Carroll talk about using wind, solar and geothermal instead, it is important to check the figures. With great fanfare, Rep. Ed Markey and others claimed that the most recent monthly report by the Energy Information Agency showed that “renewables” produced more energy in the first three months of 2011 than nuclear. However, the details of that report showed that out of the 2,245 trillion BTUs claimed for renewables, just 370 (16.5%) came from wind, solar and geothermal. The remaining 1875 trillion BTUs (83.5%) came from hydro, wood, municipal solid waste, and ethanol.
No one has died from radiation released from Fukushima. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) report lists less than 50 deaths from Chernobyl so far (after 25 years) with the calculated POSSIBILITY of up to 4,000 additional cancer deaths in a population that would ordinarily expect several hundred thousand cancer deaths. No one died at Three Mile Island.
In contrast, even when burning coal (45% of US electricity) or natural gas (23% of US electricity) goes right, tens of thousands of people each year suffer an early death from the health effects of breathing the tiny particulates released. When those power sources go wrong, people die horrible deaths from burns and concussion – something that happens with depressing regularity. Those power sources are also leading to an inexorable rise in global CO2 concentrations with an unknown long term effect on the ability of the planet to support our current civilization in the places that are developed.
Finally, the claim of cheaper power from something other than nuclear is absurd for Georgia. The currently operating nuclear plants in the US produce power at an average “all-in” production cost of about 2.03 cents per kilowatt hour. The only cheaper source on the grid is hydroelectricity and there is no available hydro in Georgia.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Disclosure: I served as an engineer officer on nuclear powered submarines in the US Navy so my claim that nuclear fission is emission-free is based on personal observation. I currently work for a company designing nuclear reactors for commercial use.
I found a similar opportunity for comment on an article titled After Fukushima: Winning the Battle for Hearts and Minds in Britain and Japan published on the Asia-Pacific Journal Japan Focus page. The article provided the impression that the nuclear industry is colluding with government regulators to provide a falsely positive impression about the technology. Here is a quote from the conclusion of the article:
Such spin and manipulation of information is likely to continue in the coming months as the industry struggles to recover. As I write, news comes that the operator of the Genkai nuclear plant in Japan’s Saga Prefecture instructed its workers to bombard a public meeting on whether to restart the reactors with emails and messages of support. The meeting, shown live on cable TV and over the Internet, debated restarting two suspended reactors and invited viewers to send their opinions. The mayor of Genkai, Kishimoto Hideo, later gave Kyushu Electric Power Co. the green light, unaware that the company had manipulated the debate. It remains to be seen if that symbolic decision – the first restart of a suspended plant since March 11 – will now stand.
From my point of view, neither the industry nor the government bodies are doing enough to share accurate information about nuclear energy. If they were doing their job and telling the real story about the technology their efforts would inevitably provide a far more hopeful picture about nuclear energy and its demonstrated potential for making the world a richer and cleaner place – especially compared to continuing addiction to competitive fossil fuels. Here is the comment that I added:
The global fossil fuel industry waged an even more profitable and coordinated battle for hearts and minds in the wake of Fukushima by purchasing a seemingly unending series of advertisements aimed at telling the world how hard they were working on alternative energy sources like producing oil from algae and windmills and about their recently discovered “100 year” supply of natural gas enabled by hydraulic fracturing.
They never came out and said it, but the effect (intended?) of those commercials was to support the never ending, breathless commentary about difficulties being experienced by their energy supply competitors who operate nuclear power plants. They would love it if the event delayed construction of new nuclear plants – every reactor year of delay adds about $300-$900 million to their revenues depending on volatile fuel prices.
When Germany shut down 7 operating nuclear power plants, CO2 emissions rose dramatically and the Russian natural gas monopoly gained an additional billion cubic feet per day of sales. (That quantity of gas has a value of about 10 million dollars per day.) The additional LNG that will be shipped to Japan will raise natural gas prices for everyone – UK customers have already been informed that their gas prices have gone up by 30% so far in 2011.
Meanwhile, 4 months after the earthquake and tsunami destroyed a major segment of the infrastructure on the northeast coast of Japan and killed approximately 28,000 people, the melted reactors at Fukushima have solidified inside the pressure vessels. There is a large quantity of radioactive water ON THE SITE that was used to cool down the melted cores, but it is mainly in buildings and tanks. A small amount of radioactive water was released into the very large Pacific Ocean and some radioactive materials (mostly short lived I-131, which with its 8 day half life is now all gone) were released into the atmosphere.
There has not been a single radiation related death, and only two or three workers have received any injuries from radiation. The highest doses have all been low enough so that the only long term effect will be a slight rise in the possibility of getting cancer sometime in the coming decades and that statement only applies to a handful of workers. Most will never see any negative effect from exposure to Fukushima related radiation.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Disclosure: I served as an engineering officer on board US nuclear submarines. I now work for a company that is designing small modular nuclear reactors. Does that disqualify me from sharing what I know to be true about the profession that I am proud to have chosen? I hope not.
There are plenty of similar opportunities out there for adding commentary to illogical commentary or commentary that is clearly focused at halting the development of one of the most important tools mankind has ever discovered. One more thing I want to point out to you is that there are still fusion dreamers out there who want Americans to spend tens of billions of dollars buying them toys to play with on the promise that they will someday be able to solve energy supply challenges.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the delivery, but do hold on to your wallets and tell your representatives that you do not support such wasteful research when we have promising fission power alternatives that can deliver vast quantities of useful energy in less than a decade with reasonable support.