Climate Progress published a post on December 3, 2010 titled Sen. Lamar Alexander plans to nuke his own agenda that is sharply critical of Senator Alexander’s idea to build 100 new nuclear power plants. The post minimizes the potential benefits of high tech job creation, low cost clean energy, and productive new infrastructure that will last for 60-80 years. It attempts to reinforce fears of nuclear technology by implying that it is uniquely vulnerable to attack from terrorists.
As one of the commenters on the thread already pointed out, the highly negative response to the idea of investing in zero emission nuclear power plants means that Climate Progress has failed a key litmus test. If it is truly as concerned about the climate changing effects of dumping fossil fuel waste into the atmosphere, it would have to be more supportive of nuclear energy. Fighting the only scalable, proven source of reliable energy that is also emission free shows that the real priorities of the organization are something other than making progress on protecting the atmosphere and the climate.
My own analysis over the years has been that Climate Progress is much more interested in selling natural gas than in actually protecting the climate, improving our national prosperity, or increasing our energy independence. Considering the backgrounds of its funders and editor, that is not terribly surprising.
Just in case the moderator fails to approve my comment – which is not uncommon at Climate Progress, here is my contribution to the discussion following the post.
Early disclosure: I am one of the more than 15,000 new hires into the nuclear industry over the past three years – and we have not even begun building yet.
Nuclear energy, unlike fossil energy, requires a lot of human input per unit of energy output in the form of engineers, regulators, lawyers, machinists, operators, security guards, chemists, administrators and countless other jobs. Fortunately, because our consumable raw material is extremely concentrated and sufficiently abundant, the cost of fuel is a relatively small portion of the total cost of power from a nuclear power plant. For currently operating plants in the United States, the average production cost is about 2.03 cents per kilowatt hour – 0.5 cents of that is fuel and the rest is labor. Even inside the fuel cost, there are a lot of human salaries involved.
The total number of direct jobs from spending a billion on nuclear might be half as many as spending a billion on “energy efficiency”, but that is because the people in the nuclear industry are generally in careers that support families and communities, not in entry level helper type jobs where much of the effort is crawling around in basements with low tech insulation. In communities like my current community of Lynchburg, VA, there are a lot of indirect jobs associated with nuclear energy. Nukes buy homes, cars, go out to eat, furnish their homes, send their children to schools (and work to make sure it is a good school) and pay taxes.
The other real benefit of investing in nuclear vice spending on energy efficiency is that the nuclear investment will pay dividends in the form of clean energy for 60-80 years. Who believes that their investment in thicker windows, more insulation or CFLs will still be producing dividends more than 10 years from now?
I want to make a correction. Each of the 104 nuclear plants in the US operating today produce about 20 tons of high level waste per YEAR, not per MONTH as is stated above. At well monitored nuclear plant sites in the US we have about 60,000 tons of stored used fuel, 90% or more which can be recycled. We add about 2,000 tons per year to that total.
That sounds like a great big, scary number until you compare it to the fact that a 1,000 MWe coal fired power plant can dump 45,000 tons of CO2 into our shared atmosphere every single day. At least with the used nuclear fuel, we know exactly where it is and how to keep it isolated from the environment. If we put it all in one place without the containers it would cover a football field to a depth of about 15 feet. Inside licensed containers, you would probably need an area about the size of a Wall-Mart superstore and its associated parking lot to store all of the used fuel that the US has produced by supplying 20% of our electricity needs for the past several decades.
The “waste issue” is one of the biggest advantages that nuclear energy has compared to its fossil fuel competitors.
By the way, I think that Senator Alexander is making a tactical blunder by introducing a plan to build 100 new nuclear plants at an Institute where some of the funders would much rather continue burning natural gas, oil and coal. Something tells me that the reception might be a bit chilly from the competition.