1. Recently I’ve become interested in learning about energy. After I became more interested in the topic I first started learning more about renewable energy sources. Reading more about renewable energy brought me to the conclusion that supporting billions of people with just wind and solar alone isn’t likely. Also, as I learned more about nuclear energy I started to believe that it is not as dangerous as I had originally thought it was. It certainly seems good compared to the alternatives. Latter while learning more about energy I found a web site called the oil drum where a variety of people talk about various things related to energy. There is a group of people on the site that is strongly and vocally opposed to nuclear power. They all seemed so convinced that nuclear power is horrible that I started to question my own conclusions that nuclear power is desirable. Yet despite my questioning I’m still not convince that nuclear power is bad. They seem to jump on any anti nuclear information without questioning the source yet they question every source that says anything positive or even not negative about nuclear. They make up imagined future scenarios without putting forward any proof that the scenarios are likely or even possible. They act like any radiation from a nuclear plant is a disaster without ever considering the amount of radiations. We are exposed to radiation every day. It seems that what is important is the amount. Yet they seem so confident. Am I missing something? I know I haven’t been interested in energy related topics for that long, and I’m not a nuclear physics or anything so I can’t help wondering if there is something I’m missing. In a recent discussion on the site someone linked to an article claiming that spent fuel stored in the United States is all extremely vulnerable to terrorist threats. Here is the address.


    So is this something I should be worried about?

    I went to the article that they linked for me. The article cites experts many times without giving names. This made makes me a little suspicious. Also, among the experts they did name is Arnie Gundersen who you’ve already written an article about poking holes in some of the things he said which makes me wonder about some of the other experts as well.
    Here is a list of people actually named:
    Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president who coordinated projects at 70 U.S.
    Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste expert at the watchdog group Beyond Nuclear.
    Robert Alvarez, a nuclear waste expert
    Ed Lyman, senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists
    Another claim the article made is that an additional earth quake could result in the damaged unit 4’s pool draining which could result in “An even more catastrophic worst-case scenario follows that a fire in the pool at unit 4 could then spread, igniting the irradiated fuel throughout the nuclear site and releasing an amount of cesium-137 equaling a doomsday-like load, roughly 85 times more than the release at Chernobyl.” I find myself skeptical of this claim, but I’m not an expert. So I’ll ask you. Is this kind of thing really likely, or are the anti nuclear people just fear mongering?

    1. As a matter of fact, I wrote about the unit four used fuel pool fable a few days ago.


      You might also be interested in knowing a little more about Robert Alvarez. He has an interesting educational background and professional work history for someone so widely quoted as a nuclear waste expert.


      This one provides some additional background information on other widely quoted antinuclear activists posing as experts, including a certain former US President who claims to have been a nuclear engineer.


      1. Thanks for the links. They answered my questions very well. The anti nuclear article that I was linked to isn’t supported by facts, and the claims it makes are only backed by very questionable experts, so I think I am justified in dismissing it.

        There are a few other claims that have been made which I would like to get your opinion on. One claim that I’ve heard is that society is going to fall apart at some point (perhaps due to peak oil, or economic problems) and this going to lead to reactors being abandoned. The abandoned reactors are then all going to melt down and spew radioactive materials everywhere. Ignoring for the moment weather the collapse of modern civilization is likely. Is the rest of the claim at all feasible?

        Another claim I’ve heard is that Plutonium-239 and uranium-233 are not practical fuels for powering civilization, and that uranium-235 will run out eventually making nuclear power not practical as a long term solution. Are breeder reactors that breed a much fuel as they use a proven commercially viable technology?

        Another common anti nuclear claim is that nuclear power leads to nuclear proliferation. Do you agree with this claim?

        Last isn’t really a question. Some people I’ve read the comments of have expressed dissatisfaction with what they call BAU (business as usual). What exactly they are dissatisfied about varies from person to person, but common themes include environmental destruction, increasing concentration of power and the current economic system which they feel leads to wastefulness, destruction of communities and a misplaced sense of what is truly valuable. Put more simply they don’t like consumerism. A lot of people who express dissatisfaction with BAU seem to feel that nuclear power is part of BAU.

        Here is an example of the kind of thing I’m talking about that you might find interesting.

        “if man were to find a way to produce unlimited energy at negligible cost, then this is a GUARANTEED death knell for all life on earth. Unlimited energy would unleash an unprecedented new wave of economic growth and a final obliteration of all life-forms from the surface of the earth. All trees would be cleared away and their function as oxygen producers will be replaced by machines which are more efficient than nature. The same will happen for other aspects of the environment. The oceans will be turned into a mono-cultural breeding ground for commercially profitable fish species. The Amazon forest will be one giant swathe of palm and soybean plantations.

        Mountains will be leveled. Giant furrows will be carved into the earth to create artificial rivers which direct water around the industrial grid. The entire surface of the earth will be carpeted with a maze of concrete and steel. There will literally be no place where John the Savage can run and hide from this hideous cancer called civilization, for it will spread and colonize every inch of land, and blacken and deaden the souls of all whom it swallows.

        It’s too awful to think about. The only thing worse than living in a world of depleting finite energy sources is living in a world of infinite energy. Man is not yet ready for that kind of freedom. He must serve more time in hell and cleanse his spirit of all his terrible instincts.”

        I would like to hear you thoughts on this type of thing.

        1. @EZ

          I am glad that I was able to answer your first set of questions satisfactorily. Thank you for an additional opportunity to directly address some of the fundament issues that keep me awake at night.

          Society should prosper and flourish, but that will not happen if we devolve into a mad scramble for the remaining scraps of fossil fuel that are available after 150 years of ever increasing consumption. That consumption has brought humans tremendous benefits; a substantial portion of the population in developed countries have far more comforts and freedom of movement than the princes and kings of the 18th century.

          If we wake up soon and recognize that nature (God if you prefer) has give us an amazing new tool called “fission” we have a chance of averting the collapse of human industrial society. If we allow that tool to develop without artificially constraining it, there is no chance at all that reactors would be abandoned – they would be way to busy and valuable. They will not spew anything; they never have and never will. I believe there will be a time in the not too distant future when we will stop planning for greenfield decommissioning and instead start planning for the reactor renewal that is the logical best use of the sites that already house reactors. Last time I checked, electricity is not a fad and demand is not falling.

          There is sufficient uranium and thorium to fuel human society for as long as human society will last on earth.

          There has never been a bomb produced from commercial nuclear fuel and that is not due to lack of trying. It is absurd to believe that commercial nuclear energy development has any link at all to weapons proliferation. That absurdity does not stop people who are opposed to nuclear energy development – and either actively or passively supportive of continued use of fossil fuel to supply 90% of society’s energy demand – from trying to assert a link.

          I happen to love business as usual – as long as your usual includes periods of economic growth, not the stagnation that has been in effect since the banksters collected and started hoarding more than their share of our capital resources. I’ve been an American suburban dweller all of my life. The “monoculture” and environmental destruction described by the gloom and doom misanthropic idiots does not match the reality I see every day. There is a whole lot of care and planting going on in the prosperous and modest suburbs in North America, Europe and the Far East. We are taking better and better care of our common resources – with the exception of continuing to dump 20-30 billion tons of CO2 into our atmosphere every year. At least half of the energy currently produced by hydrocarbon combustion should have been replaced by nuclear fission – and it would have been if we had simply continued building at the pace we established in the period from 1963-1973.

          I did not include any links in the above, but you can find more detailed articles on most of the topics discussed here by searching with key words like “abundance” “proliferation” or “uranium and thorium resources”

          By the way, I have participated in discussion on The Oil Drum run into the people who love to talk about Peak Oil but refuse to accept that there is a tool available that avoids the need to accept an end to human technological society.

          You might be interested in reading the guest post I contributed a couple of years ago:


          The engagement was eye-opening; the comment total was approaching 500 when Gail the Actuary decided it was time to turn them off.

        2. Don’t most people like natural things though? More energy will mean less need to destroy natural ecosystems — why destroy rain forests to create palm and soybean plantations (for biofuels) if you can make synthetic fuels from water and atmospheric CO2? And won’t deforestation in Africa be first stopped then reversed, if charcoal (for cooking) is replaced by electricity generated by nuclear power plants?

        3. Precisely, George. More DENSE nuclear plants would allow more land to remain free of being covered by wind turbines, solar collectors, gas wells, coal mines, etc.

          Nuclear energy being THE MOST DENSE primary energy source assures that it requires less land than the less dense sources.

          Improved enrichment (centrifuges and eventually laser separation) might even greatly reduce uranium mining needs. Some of the DU leftover from prior years of enrichment will be economic to “re-enrich” with less energy needs per SWU being required with centrifuges and laser enrichment. This further reduces the environmental impact of nuclear energy.

        4. Robert zubrin has just published a book, Merchants of despair that refutes the anti-human mindset/ ideology expressed in the comment you refer to and also speaks to the larger concerns you raised. You might find it interesting.

    2. EZ,

      As far as terrorists are concerned, they have lower hanging fruits to attack. Like your local Wall Mart outlet for example.

      Nuclear plants that generate electricity are civil applications, a variation on ATOMS FOR PEACE, and are of little military value.

      Proof? Well, the smart terrorist money could have raided any of the 400 or more nuclear plants in the world and have not done so up til today.

      Do not worry about a nuclear plant being a target anytime soon.

      1. On the topic of Terrorists and Nuke Plants…..

        With Greenpeace declaring that their guy parachuting into a French plant proof that they are super vunerable…. I have to wonder what their response would have been had security put a sniper round through him?

        The perfect rebuttle would have been Video of him coming down as viewed by a sniper, with a statement that he could have been taken out at any time.

        We know the plant had to have eyes on him pretty much the whole time as he was taken into custody as soon as he hit the ground.

        1. Sûreté is getting squeamish. There was a time they would have put a round through someone pulling a stunt like that as a matter of principle and as a warning to others that might be thinking about it.

  2. Robert Alvarez has been largely debuinked as an “expert” based on his lack of credentials. He was a music major in college and ended up dropping out. He is married to a lawyer who was involved in the infamous Karen Silkwood case. Alvarez had a job for awhile in the Clinton energy department but was fired from that position because he was illegally growing marijuna plants in his cellar. His own son turned him in.

    The SFP at Fukushima unit 4 lacks the stored energy necessary to heat the fuel to the point of vaporizing, which would be necessary to expel significant amounts of radioactivity into the biosphere. The fact that it has a certain inventory of radioactive material is irrelevant to that scenario, since it can’t happen. Its being used as the latest Fukushima boogyman. It would be like arguing that the amount of gasoline in the tank of your car right now has the potential to burn down your entire neighborhood (it does), or that a single pail of water could kill every peron on the planet (it could). It isn’t going to happen, because there is no realistic way that material could be distributed to cause those effects.

    1. I dunno. If a pail of water is 2 gallons then there is a gram per million people, or one microgram per person.

  3. Another thing about the “vulnerability” of spent fuel storage at power plants is that you will often find that those who bring this issue up are quite duplicitous in their arguments. They will hammer the nuclear industry for the so-called “unsafe” storage of used fuel at the plants, yet also oppose any proposal for centralized storage/disposal of the material. This country just threw away tens of billions of dollars by abandoning, for purely political reasons, the centralized repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Using that would have removed essentially all fuel stored at plant sities and located it 2000 feet underground in a secure, geologically stable environment that was engineerred to last for a thousand millenia. I think you’ll find the same people who whine about on-site storage also opposed Yucca Mountain. But they are duplicitous because when you ask them, okay, you don’t like Yucca Mountain, where should we keep the material, their answer is “at the plants”. Then they turn around and say nuclear is “unsafe” because there is used fuel stored at the plants. See how their “arguments” are dishonest?

    1. I think you’ll find the same people who whine about on-site storage also opposed Yucca Mountain. But they are duplicitous because when you ask them, okay, you don’t like Yucca Mountain, where should we keep the material, their answer is “at the plants”. Then they turn around and say nuclear is “unsafe” because there is used fuel stored at the plants. See how their “arguments” are dishonest?

      Duplicitous yes. To demand “solutions” and then work to make them politically untenable is also a tactic. A hugely successful one it turns out.

  4. Rod,

    Your statement:

    There is sufficient uranium and thorium to fuel human society for as long as human society will last on earth.

    My note:

    I was once accused of hyperboling with a similar assertion by 2 of your best bloggers a while back. I won’t say who.

  5. I think you’ll find the same people who whine about on-site storage also opposed Yucca Mountain. But they are duplicitous because when you ask them, okay, you don’t like Yucca Mountain,where should we keep the material, their answer is “at the plants”. Then they turn around and say nuclear is “unsafe” because there is used fuel stored at the plants. See how their “arguments” are dishonest?

    Duplicitous yes. But to demand “solutions” which they then work to make politically untenable is also a tactic. A hugely successful one it turns out.

      1. @George Carty

        You bet. I need to add this one to The Atomic Insights video library, which currently has just a few entries. I have added a new category to the site and am in the process of adding that category selection to the appropriate posts. It will take a while, but might be useful to others.

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