After reading Nick Loris’s comment about nuclear waste, I decided to read some more of his observations. I don’t know about you, but I find it very useful when a site has an author link that leads to a page with an archive of other work by that same author.
One of the recent blogs that Nick wrote was titled Don’t Be Fooled Again by the Anti-Nuclear Crowd. With a title like that, how could I resist reading and then digging through the comments. Like many on the political right, Nick pointed to the visible activists and overreaching regulators as a source of the nuclear industry’s near demise during the 1970s and 1980s. There are several interesting and impassioned comments in the thread, including some lengthy ones from Jeff Eerkens, PhD, Adjunct Research Professor, Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute University of Missouri, Columbia.
Jeff raised the ire of some of the dissenting voices by calling them ladies, which is apparently a condescending term. Oops. Since I did not see any mention of the influence of business decision makers in the comment thread, I decided to add mine. Here it is, just in case it never passes through the comment moderation process at the Heritage Foundation.
Like Jeff Eerkens, I want to engage in rational conversations with people who have concerns about energy supply issues. They are some of the most important issues facing us today.
For me, the most important feature about nuclear energy that needs to be understood is that it is clean enough to run inside a sealed submarine.
The second important fact is that a volume of fuel small enough to fit under my office desk can power a 9000 ton submarine for 15 years. (I was on an old sub. Modern boats achieve a full 33 year core life with just a bit more fuel.)
The third important fact about nuclear is that the fuel cost is less than 1/40th as much as petroleum and less than 1/8th as much as coal on a per unit heat basis for fully commercial fuel. The margins in the nuclear fuel fabrication business are pretty generous as well.
One facet of the nuclear debate that I rarely see discussed is the fact that our path of nuclear development in the 1970s would have resulted in almost a complete replacement of the need to burn coal and natural gas in power plants.
I firmly believe that the coal, oil and gas industries saw that trend and took a diverse set of actions to stop it.
Those actions included supporting people like Amory Lovins – who freely admits that he has worked for major oil companies for 35 years – in their efforts to convince people that we can get all the energy we need from wind, solar, waves, and geothermal. He has been writing about the “Soft Energy Path” since the early 1970s in widely read publications, but our coal consumption has increased from about 600 million tons per year to more than 1.2 billion tons per year.
We have also rather dramatically increased our consumption of natural gas for power generation, a development that has pushed a number of major employers out of the country while also increasing the cost of home heating fuel.
(Don’t worry though, the increased price of natural gas is responsible for about half of ExxonMobil’s profit and we all know that ExxonMobil stockholders are just people like you and me. At least that is what all of the commercials tell me.)
Dolph is proud of the efforts of “ladies, gentlemen, students, veterans, hippies and YMCA law students took on the massive Tennessee Valley Authority army of lawyers which tried to build the Hartsville Nuclear Plant 37 miles from the source of our tap water.”
How does he feel about the 14,000 MW of coal fired electricity in the TVA system that currently spews about 650,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every single day? Oh yeah, there is a minor matter of also releasing SOx, NOx, mercury and fly ash into the air and water over a much wider territory.
If we had simply continued building the plants that were planned by about 1973, we would have reduced coal burning to nearly zero. If we had continued building at the rate that we achieved in 1974 and 1975, we would have pushed all fossil fuels out of the electrical power market by 2000.
If we had not run into excessive political opposition led by the petroleum industry and its friends, we could also have kept building nuclear powered ships of all kinds, both naval and commercial and reduced our country’s oil consumption in another important market.
Again, don’t worry – the US Navy is instead spending about $2 billion a year to buy fuel for its remaining conventional surface ships and helping to prop up the profits of companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Aramaco.