During a recent discussion on a email list frequented by pro-nuclear activists, we were discussing possible advertising messages that we would like to see from nuclear companies or nuclear industry groups.
There is no way that any other fuel or power source can compete with uranium or thorium fission on anything close to a level playing field. The fuel is too darned compact, too darned cheap per unit of heat, and too darned clean (clean enough to power sealed submarines for goodness sake.)
A number of my friends and colleagues have tried to convince the communicators at companies who want to sell nuclear related products that they need to stop talking about how safe they are and start talking about all of the benefits that nuclear related technologies provide to human society. By our way of thinking, the fact of safety is pretty firmly established by any objective measure of the industry’s record. In addition, people have a right to assume that safety goes almost without saying – it is a fundamental starting point for any industrial endeavor.
Here are some of the truths that I think that the public should be hearing – repeatedly – about nuclear energy.
Can any other fuel drive a 9,000 ton submarine around the ocean for 14 years while using a fuel core that would fit under my office desk?
Can any other power source produce enough electricity for 24 x 7 living for more than a million people using about three truckloads of fuel delivered every 18-24 months?
Does any other power source have the potential for a 20 times improvement in fuel economy using already tested technology?
Is there any other reliable power source whose marginal cost of generation is significantly less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour?
Is there any other fuel source that can release 17 million BTUs of heat from a pellet that I can hold between my thumb and index finger?
Those messages may need some refinement, but they met with some approval among other pro-nuclear communicators. The challenge in getting them spread in venues that cost money to enter is that many “nuclear” companies are loathe to engage in comparative descriptions about energy source because they make as much (or more) money selling other products associated with natural gas, coal, oil, solar panels or wind turbines as they do selling nuclear related products and services.
On another topic, there is a new meme floating around based on a phrase used in a recent International Energy Agency report. That report includes a possible energy scenario called GAS, which is somehow shorthand for “Golden Age of Gas Scenario”. According to that scenario, natural gas continues to increase its share of the energy market from the current 21% to reach 25% in 2035. If you do a search for “golden age of natural gas” or “golden age of gas” you will see what I mean about it being a new energy industry meme.
One of the recent articles titled A golden age for natural gas?” appeared on the site of The Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s premier news sources. Here is a sample quote:
However, according to the International Energy Agency, natural gas could play a much larger role in the world’s future energy mix as some countries veer away from the perceived dangers of nuclear energy after Japan’s crisis, and see it as a cheaper alternative to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The IEA has even come up with an acronym to describe the uptrend: GAS – as in, Golden Age of Gas Scenario (apparently, the G gets dropped).
“If the policy and market drivers of the GAS Scenario develop as projected, then gas would grow to more than a quarter of global energy demand by 2035,” Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of IEA, said in a release. “Surely that would qualify as a golden age.”
Y’all (I’m practicing the lingo in my new home state) would be disappointed in me if I let that kind of statement pass without a comment. I hate to disappoint people, so here is what I added to the growing and interesting thread.
It is no accident that ever malleable public opinion has turned against nuclear energy in the wake of an incredible natural disaster that wiped out a large swath of developed infrastructure along the northeast coast of Japan, killed more than 20,000 people and resulted in massive evacuations due to flooding and home destruction. As almost an aside, there were several nuclear power stations in the footprint of the earthquake and/or the path of the tsunami. One of those stations experienced enough trauma to its supporting power infrastructure that it was damaged after shutting down.
Of course, if you paid attention to the advertiser supported media, the events at the nuclear plant were far more scary and exciting than all of the other destruction and human tragedy unfolding. The Fukushima 50, who were exposed to low enough levels of radiation that they did not even experience any noticeable health effects more serious than a sunburn, were described as being on a suicide mission. These stories kept audiences glued to their hypnotic devices called televisions and kept those eyeballs available for sale to advertisers.
Surprise, surprise, but many of those advertisers were for competitive energy related products like NATURAL GAS, wind, solar and even coal. The purveyors of fuels or unreliable renewable alternatives to nuclear were chomping at the bit, hoping that something really bad would happen. Failing that, they figured they could blow the issues so out of proportion that the nuclear genie could be shoved back into its bottle for a few more years.
There is no way that any other fuel or power source can compete with uranium or thorium fission on anything close to a level playing field. The fuel is too darned compact, too darned cheap per unit of heat, and too darned clean (clean enough to power sealed submarines for goodness sake.) The only effective strategy for the established energy industry for maintaining and perhaps expanding their sales volume is the Tonya Harding strategy of using hired guns (in this case, the advertiser supported media) to kneecap their nuclear competitors.
Unfortunately, nuclear industry leaders are either as nice as Nancy Kerrigan or they are sleeper agents for the fossil fuel industry so they have not aggressively fought back against the focused attacks. I am not as nice and I certainly do not have any interest in expanding the use of dirty, explosive, flammable fossil fuels whose financial benefits end up in obscenely wealthy and powerful pockets.
This should be a golden age of nuclear energy. I will do everything I can to make it so.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
PS – If you happen to be in an airport or other place with a handy news stand, do me a favor and pick up a copy of the June 20, 2011 issue of National Review. Look for an article titled Nuclear Power After Fukushima. Let me know what you think.