The Palm Beach Post published a column by Jac Wilder VerSteeg on March 16, 2006 titled Nuclear power takes on new glow. The columnist talks about a variety of energy sources and their risks and almost reluctantly concludes
Like everyone else who remembers Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, I am not blind to the environmental risks of nuclear power. And spent fuel is a problem — and potential terror target — whether it is stored at nuclear plants or transported to a central site.
But the risk-benefit comparison of nuclear energy to fossil fuels no longer is a hands-down winner on the fossil fuel side.
That is obviously not much of an endorsement for nuclear power and, as you might imagine, it fired up my competitive juices. That newspaper is quite advanced; they even have instituted blogs with comments. Just in case you do not feel like navigating away from this site, here is a copy of the comment that I posted.
I was happy to see this editorial pop up in my news alerts – Google does a daily search for me for news about new nuclear power plants.
It seems to me that the fact that everyone can remember the words Chernobyl and Three Mile Island is a ringing endorsement of nuclear power safety – TMI happened in 1979 and we are coming up to the 20 year anniversary (April 26) of the Chernobyl disaster.
Those two events have not been overshadowed by any more recent events – even though more than 440 commercial nuclear power plants continue to operate and supply more total energy to the world than Saudi Arabia. (Shell’s annual energy outlook reports that the oil equivalent for nuclear power plants is about 12 million barrels of oil per day in 2004 versus about 9.5 million barrels per day for Saudi Arabia.)
In contrast, no one can even remember the name of the last fatal coal mine disaster – which probably happened sometime in the past 48 hours. Even well informed journalists give me the 100 yard stare when I ask them if they remember 12-23 (December 23, 2003) which was the date of a natural gas well leak in the Chongqing area in China that killed more than 240 people and caused more than 9,000 people enough injury to their lungs that they required hospital treatment.
In other words – nuclear power is safe, especially in comparison to its fossil fuel competitors.
I also like nuclear power because it is clean enough to run inside a sealed submarine. Been there, done that for about 12 three month long patrols.
Finally, I like nuclear power because the fuel is cheap, abundant and supplied by Canada, Australia, France, and the US. When I say cheap, I like to provide some numbers for comparison.
The average cost per kilowatt hour for commercial nuclear fuel is about 0.4 cents according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. (2004, but there is not much volatility since reactors only need new fuel every 18 months or so and can plan their purchases far in advance.) In contrast, natural gas fuel for electric power plants cost about 5.6 cents per kilowatt hour using yesterday’s Henry Hub trading price while it cost nearly 10 cents per kilowatt hour at the peak of natural gas prices following Gulf hurricanes last summer.
Finally, just think about this poop thing – even after the messy job of gathering the stuff is completed, you still have to wait weeks for the bacteria to do their job, pipe the methane to a furnace or a generator, and then figure out what to do with the gas emissions after burning. Also, I would expect that there is a left over mess in the tank even after all of the methane is piped off – what do you do with that waste?
Nuclear power should not be anyone’s last choice; it is a technology that is far superior to the fossil fuels that it can replace. It is not limited to electrical power – remember, the first useful nuclear power plant was on a submarine that is much smaller than most commercial ships. You can still visit that ship in Groton CT at the Nautilus Museum.
Shameless plug – if you are interested in learning more about atomic energy, please visit the Atomic Insights blog at http://www.atomicinsights.com