Nearly a month ago, I mentioned in a blog post that Amy Goodman of Democracy Now had posted an article following her interview of Amory Lovins about nuclear power. During the interview, Lovins casually stated “You know, I’ve worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years, and they understand how expensive it is to drill for oil.”
I wish that Goodman would have realized at that point that her guest had a mission to sell fossil fuels and protect oil company profits, but apparently she missed that comment. Ordinarily, she does not miss much; that is why I like listening to her show.
Amy’s article on TruthDig.com was titled Don’t Drink the Nuclear Kool-Aid and contained the message that the only reason that there is now interest in nuclear fission power plant construction is a carefully managed marketing campaign that includes some measure of partisan politics. The article also provided a truth-straining assertion that using nuclear power somehow would increase the emission of climate changing gases.
For some very odd reason, I have continued to participate in a rather frustrating discussion in the comment section of that article. I have not talked much about it here because I am slightly embarrassed to admit just how much time I have spent reading, thinking and responding there. Oh well – we all have our secret ways of wasting time now and then. (Some Atomic Insights readers share my silly hobby; I knew some of you are as nutty as I am.)
The reason that I bring it up now is that I just posted a response in that thread that I think is worth sharing preserving here for later use. I am sure that it expresses a point of view that some might find annoying, but I hope you find it thought provoking as well.
The context of the quote is that a person with a login name of cann4ing, a personal injury lawyer, published a series of quotes about used nuclear fuel from NIRS, a professional anti-nuclear organization. I call this person Can for short.
(Note – The comment that actually made it into the thread on TruthDig is an edited version. I let my passion carry me beyond their 4000 character limit.)
Here is where our individual experience and personal knowledge leads us to vastly different conclusions.
You quoted the following from a NIRS publication –
“Thus, decades worth of waste, representing multiple full reactor core inventories, aree stored in pools. In fact, the pools at some reactors are crammed so full of waste that the density of metal sleeves placed between adjacent nuclear fuel assemblies are all that prevents inadvertent nuclear chain reactions….For reactors lacking dry cask storage, the pool often contains all the irradiated fuel ever generated there.”
For you, as a personal liability lawyer who sees evil in every corporation and, by extension, in many of the products that enable our current standard of living, think of that statement as frightening.
From my point of view – as a guy who has actually seen spent fuel pools, operated reactors, done criticality analysis, and studied fuel design – I see that statement as a huge ENDORSEMENT of fission technology.
That is especially true since I have also operated large fossil fuel systems, and visited a number of large fossil plants. I have seen their waste handling processes, walked on top of enormous ash hills covering many acres of land and read about the tens of thousands of people who die every year as a result of the deadly byproducts of combustion.
Let’s take a close look at a key part of the NIRS statements – “Storage pools located indoors at operating and permanently shutdown commercial nuclear reactors in the US hold most of the irradiated fuel ever generated at those reactors. Thus decades worth of waste, representing multiple reactor core inventories are stored in pools.”
Those pools are smaller in area than Olympic swimming pools. However they are also about 40-50 feet deep with about 30 feet of water above the top of the fuel assemblies.
Those packed assemblies were removed from a very carefully designed configuration that enabled power production because they were no longer contributing much to the production – they were not reactive enough to maintain criticality. In a pool that has a different design goal, the idea that they could somehow achieve an inadvertent criticality is something with about as much potential as a 747 “inadvertently” taking off.
The fact that the byproducts from decades worth of reliable electricity production can be stored in such a tiny space is IMPRESSIVE, not scary, and the idea that such a deep pool of water can suddenly drain or catch on fire is ridiculous.
Since the material in those pools still contains about 95% of the potential fuel energy as it did when first loaded into the reactor, those carefully monitored pools of cooling byproducts represent huge reservoirs of useful energy waiting for the time when it will be beneficially used. Of course, most people do not know that yet, but they are learning.
You view corporate communications as often deceptive because they want to sell a product. I view NIRS communications as deceptive because they often use scary language to sell their point of view. Without their campaign against nuclear power, the organization would cease to exist. Sure, Michael Mariotte may not be a rich guy in a corner office, but he is very definitely a professional anti-nuclear activist who receives his income because of that activity and has for many years. Here is a blurb from the “About NIRS” page from nirs.org:
2008 will mark the 30th anniversary of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). We were founded to be the national information and networking center for citizens and environmental activists concerned about nuclear power, radioactive waste, radiation and sustainable energy issues.
We still fulfill that core function, but have expanded both programatically and geographically. We initiate large-scale organizing and public education campaigns on specific issues, such as preventing construction of new reactors, radioactive waste transportation, deregulation of radioactive materials, and more.
Translation – the well-established organization’s raison d’etre is to fight the beneficial use of radioactive materials – especially large scale energy production. Does that pass the unbiased or disinterested observer test?
One more thing – the ability to control and distribute fossil fuels is a huge part of the base supporting the current “establishment”. The money and power that comes from an industry that can provide two rather minor players (both Shell and ExxonMobil have fossil fuel market shares of less than 5%) with a quarterly profit in excess of $11 BILLION is something that people will spend a lot of effort to protect. They will engage in deception campaigns, fight wars, and kill people who get in their way.
Fission power represents a grave threat to the economic elites in the world unless they work very diligently to control information about it and scare people into thinking that it must be either avoided entirely or only used by selected – by the elites – people.
The thing that inspires me to keep fighting to share what I know is that I – an individual with hard won knowledge, a computer, and a bit of time – could fit the fuel required to provide power to a rather large town for a decade into my garage. I could, if allowed, hold enough fuel in my ha
nd to supply as much energy as 30 tanker trucks full of oil. I could carry enough fuel in my backpack to move as much energy to a remote location as a fully loaded supertanker. (As long as I had a buddy to carry the food and water.)
Those kinds of thoughts are incredibly empowering. They are also show how disruptive fission fuel sources can be to the establishment that you and others on TruthDig claim to want to disrupt.
(Originally posted on Truthdig.com on August 16, 2008)