Nuclear Power's Unchanging Plight

Nuclear is the fuel of the future—and always will be

Just as congressional Republicans and the Obama administration had been pushing nuclear power, the disaster in Japan arrived to complicate matters. Proponents of atomic energy fear an unfair, crippling backlash. But the crisis only confirms that in this country, nuclear is the fuel of the future—and always will be.

Over the past 40 years, plenty of things have happened that should have worked to its advantage. There was the energy crisis of the 1970s. There was the threat of climate change brought on by fossil fuels.

There were clean air laws that raised costs for coal-burning plants. There have been huge oil spills and more price spikes in the petroleum market.

But none of it has made much difference. Nuclear energy provided 19 percent of U.S. electricity in 1990, and it provides 20 percent today. Even before the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant went down, that share was not expected to grow. Last year, the federal Energy Information Administration projected that in 2035, it will be no more than 17 percent.

Nuclear has two major challenges. The first is cost, and the second is safety. Neither has been solved, and neither is about to be.

It's hard for atomic energy to compete with fossil fuels in the United States, which are plentiful and cheap. A 2008 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said nuclear is generally about one-third more expensive than the least expensive forms of power (coal, natural gas, and geothermal). Even with big federal subsidies, nuclear is pricier than gas.

The natural gas market is volatile, but no matter. The modern gas power plant, concluded CRS, "is a competitive generating technology under a wide variety of assumptions for fuel price, construction cost, government incentives and carbon controls."

For a while, it looked as though nuclear energy would get a lift from climate change. Coal and gas produce greenhouse gases. Nuclear doesn't. If carbon emissions were restricted under a cap-and-trade system, nuclear reactors soon would be in great demand.

Nice theory, but the president's cap-and-trade plan went nowhere on Capitol Hill. A candidate in coal-rich West Virginia aired an ad in which he blasted away at a copy of the bill with a rifle. And he was a Democrat.

Since then, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will regulate greenhouse gases. But how much it will do is anyone's guess. If Republicans have their way, it will lose its power to do anything.

Various likely GOP presidential candidates, from Mitt Romney to Sarah Palin, want to expand nuclear energy. But the GOP is steadfastly opposed to the policy change that would help it most. Without limits on carbon emissions, nuclear is going nowhere.

Romney says he can't "understand why some environmental activists still consider nuclear power such a bogeyman." Hmmm. Maybe the prospect of uncontrolled leaks of deadly radiation across large geographic areas? Yeah, that could be it.

Other forms of energy, to be fair, carry dangers of their own. Coal mines have fatal accidents. Eleven oil workers were killed last summer when a platform blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. By contrast, no one has ever died in a commercial nuclear power accident in this country.

But that's not quite the whole story, is it? The Japan catastrophe is a reminder that while reactors rarely suffer major accidents, the ones that occur create hazards slightly more alarming than a mine collapse.

"If there is a significant release of radiation, then conceivably several thousand people could (get) cancer in the next several years to decades," said Charles Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists, in an interview on the Council on Foreign Relations website.

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  • Suki||

    good morning reason

    that map is full of racist crosshairs

  • Blackjackson||

    How could you post 3.5 hours before the article was posted (7am according to front page)? EST vs. PST? Inside job? ESP...N?

  • Rich||

    Suki has finely-honed magical powers. Plus, she is inscrutable.

  • Suki||

    +10

  • Marty||

    "Nuclear energy provided 19 percent of U.S. electricity in 1990, and it provides 20 percent today"

    We haven't built a nuclear plant in that time, how should it have changed?

  • Suki||

    -100

  • ||

    Oh my damn. Looky looky at all those plants in the Republic of California. I seem to recall some fault line there. I'm as big of a nuke advocate as you'll find, but that scares me a bit.

  • ||

    Oh, and FIRST!

  • Suki||

    First at what?

  • ||

    It wasn't the earth quake that caused the problem in Japan. It was the accompanying Tsunami. All of the California plants are much further above sea level than the Japanese plants.

  • ||

    Kinda funny how Japan has been busy with earthquake proofing their constructions, and yet they didn't properly consider tsunamis* in their designs. (*a word they came up with because they experienced them so often throughout history.)

  • ||

    Good point. And they never thought "hey what happens if we ever lose power?".

  • robc||

    Actually, they did think that. Which is why the current generation of nuke plants are failsafe. They have shutdown procedures that occur when power fails.

    The japanese plant is older though. When they thought 4 secondary shutdown procedures would be enough. I mean, what can happen that would cause them all to fail?

  • ||

    Well, the entire main island of Japan could slide 13 feet and there could be a giant Tsunami. That might do it. But that could never happen right?

  • ||

    Not in a hundred years

  • Paul||

    I'm trying to imagine a BP oil spill mixed with a tsunami. I'm sure people can just go and settle right back in their oil soaked land. Our most viable clean energy scares people shitless.

  • West Coaster||


    All of the California plants are much further above sea level than the Japanese plants.

    San Onofre is 30 ft. above sea level. Japanese tsunami was 23 ft. (I believe). Not sure if "much further above sea level" properly characterizes this.

  • prolefeed||

    San Onofre has a wall that is 30 feet above sea level, IIRC, and the tsunami in Japan had waves up to 33 feet high.

    Not sure if those extra 3 feet would burst the wall, or cause massive damages.

    Clearly, in hindsight, putting a nuke plant at sea level on a highly active earthquake fault line wasn't the best siting possible.

  • DK||

    Also, there's just about zero worry about 30 foot tsunamis happening off the California coast, as the faults in the region are not of the type which are known to cause such large waves.

  • KPres||

    It wasn't the earthquake that did in Fukushima, it was the tidal wave. Solution? Build a wall around the generators. Problem solved.

    Seriously, the plant survived a 9.0 quake unharmed. California's got nothing to worry about.

  • Secret Travel Agent||

    They did have a wall around the Fukushima plant, it just wasn't high enough for this particular massive tsunami. Live and learn, but the blame game by forum clowns is always entertaining.

    I think considering the scale of the disaster, the Japanese have demonstrated an incredible amount of competence in dealing with this nuclear disaster. It's the "Katie Couric" level of analysis, and those whose nuclear expertise ends with sci-fi movies, that are a more immediate danger to the planet.

  • ||

    You do realize that per kwh nuclear is cheaper than fossil fuel? The reason its not more popular here is completely regulatory.

  • waffles||

    yes but the regulation environment is one of the reasons it is "safe". without that onerous burden, no nukes at all.

  • Realist||

    And over regulation is why it costs as much as it does.

  • Neu Mejican||

    waffles|3.21.11 @ 7:57AM|#

    yes but the regulation environment is one of the reasons it is "safe". without that onerous burden, no nukes at all.

    I've been thinking about this while watching the news lately. Clearly the Japanese plant had already been identified by regulators as an unsafe design and was slated for closure as a result. Too slow, it turned out, but the regulatory system had identified the problems. The company would not, based on its record, have considered closing down without the regulatory oversight.

    The question is that comes to my mind is how do you compare the safety concerns of nuclear versus fossil fuels:

    Which is worse:
    Death from radiation or dying in a coal mine?
    Which, in the end, will be the worse disaster, gulf spill or this nuclear crisis? What about Chernobyl versus the oil spill?

    Getting the regulatory regime right without crushing the industry is tricky. The problem with Nuclear in this respect is that the huge capital costs make it far from nimble. A regulatory decision that your plant design is not safe may end up creating a VERY expensive change in your operation. Lots of the alternatives beat nuclear on this front.

    Just rambling.

  • Bill||

    A less safe design than the latest generation reactors, not an unsafe design, is the way I would put it.

  • waffles||

    The large-scale nuclear power plant is going to go extinct as a result of this. True, the loss of life consequences of Fuskishima will be very small compared to disasters in fossil, but the rule of the atom is no mistakes ever.

    In the future we will have nuclear, but we will have fewer and fewer (even moreso than now) of these behemoth reactors and instead have smaller modular reactors that work in scalable sets of 1-12 with about 100mW each. Google nuScale or mPower to see some.

    The NRC is really good at regulating the few, gigantic facilities we have. It will be interesting to see how they deal with these smaller, self-contained reactors. I still think nuclear power is far more blessing than curse, just a hard sell.

  • ||

    Death from radiation or dying in a coal mine?

    More accurately: Increased risk of death sometime over the next 40 years from some kind of cancer, or death right now from a mining accident?

  • Neu Mejican||

    Increased risk of death sometime over the next 40 years from some kind of cancer, or death right now from a mining accident?

    Coal mining certainly has its share of long term health risks, so I am not sure we need to restrict only to accidents.

  • Sam Grove||

    Burning coal also generates radiation hazards.

  • Bucky||

    makes them more NIMBY than just nimble...

  • KPres||

    Clearly the Japanese plant had already been identified by regulators as an unsafe design and was slated for closure as a result.

    I thought it was slated for closure because it was 45 years old and plants have a 50-year lifespan?


    The question is that comes to my mind is how do you compare the safety concerns of nuclear versus fossil fuels

    Easy. Like this:

    Deaths per TWh
    Coal: 161
    Oil: 36
    Peat: 12
    Biofuel: 12
    Natural Gas: 4
    Hydro: 1.4
    Nuclear: 0.04

  • KPres||

    Link: http://goo.gl/PxC7p

  • Realist||

    I predict thst somedsy everyone who ever worked on nuclear energy will die!

  • Secret Travel Agent||

    Trusting regulators (aka political appointees) over the people who design and work on nuclear reactors is the height of foolishness. They have much more to lose than an idiot with a clipboard that visits twice a year.

    Also how exactly do regulators help when a problem or mistake arises? They are already in the bunker, or on TV pointing fingers... like Gregory Jaczko who was about as useful in a nuclear crisis as tits on a bull. If one of our reactors has trouble, I'll take anyone with a C- in nuclear reactors over this braying ass.

    But whatever makes you 'feel' better I guess.

  • Luap Leiht||

    Yeah, you saw what happened to Bruce Banner.

  • robc||

    Also less radiation emitting than fossil fuels.

  • mofo||

    Does that number include the mining and processing of Uranium? Or are they taking advantage of our military nuclear program to transfer costs?

  • Suki||

    I thought you had to have reprocessing in the equation for nuclear to be cheaper than coal. Something else the regulators in the USA will not allow.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    I thought you had to have reprocessing in the equation for nuclear to be cheaper than coal. Something else the regulators in the USA will not allow.


    Why is reprocessing not allowed?

  • Alpheus||

    Fear that terrorists will get their hands on plutonium. Which turns out to be a false fear--but just try getting rid of the regulations!

  • db||

    As I mentioned below, nukes are typically the lowest cost generators out there. Even fossil units that get free fuel (byproducts from refineries etc.) clear the market after nukes.

  • Bucky||

    the best comparison i have seen
    www.enerytribune.com/articles.cfm?aid=2469
    "understanding E = mc2"

  • Bucky||

  • prolefeed||

    You do realize that per kwh nuclear is cheaper than fossil fuel?

    Does that include the amortized cost per kwh of construction costs and of storing radioactive wastes for thousands of years, or is that just a comparison of operating costs?

  • db||

    Every owner of a nuke plant in the U.S. is required to fund a trust for the decommissioning of the facility and long term storage of the resultant waste from operation. So, yes. The operating costs include payments into the decommissioning trust over the life span of the project.

  • ||

    Oh, don't confuse Mr. Chapman with actual reason. He's here as an example to us all of how NOT to Reason... right?

    I mean, use of nonfactual "facts", quoting totally "unbiased" people like members of the anti-nuke Federation of American Scientists, and the rest of the folderol behind this idiotic, ignorant piece is exactly the opposite of what "Reason" is about.

    So clearly, Chapman's here to show us all what a fool looks like. How an ignorant twit like him would argue the anti-nuke position: handwaving, lies, indirect lies (letting someone else tell a lie in your quote, and not calling them on it), and so forth.

    Think of this piece as a lesson to all in rhetorical incompetence and factual dilettantry...

  • tarran||

    It is impossible to judge the economics of nuclear power, because government intervention has destroyed the price signals of liability insurance vis a vis the industry.

    If the liability caps and government provisioning of insurance were repealed, then we - and more importantly power companies - might be able to judge the true cost of nuclear power plants.

    I suspect, though, that the modern light-water steam-generating large power plant would not be economically viable in such a regime.

  • robc||

    In arguments along this line, Ive always wondered why liability insurance was assumed mandatory?

    Plenty of businesses operate without liability insurance, but they are in danger of getting sued out of existence if the need arises. And in certain cases, veil pierced and management responsible too.

  • MNG||

    I'm guessing it's because if you do have a Chernobyl and you sue the company out of existence and even pierce the corporate veil that could still leave quite a bit of uncompensated damage that will likely fall on the taxpayer...

  • KPres||

    Yep. And it would amount to a fraction of the bank bailouts, which themselves amount to a fraction of the welfare state.

  • MNG||

    Radiation has had some positive effects, without it we'd be stuck with only DC and mutant superheroes and villains. No Spider-man, no Hulk, no FF.

  • ||

    That's right. Radiation is good for you:

    http://www.museumofquackery.com/devices/radium.htm

  • The Ghost of Madame Curie||

    Radioactive water is said to have a tonic effect.

    I swear by it.

  • The Ghost of Pierre Curie||

    Indeed. It de-arms and de-feets almost all ailments; a most miraculous solution.

  • The Fringe Economist||

    serve me up one with gin!

  • Bucky||

    reminds me of "smoking is good for the body's humours"...

  • ||

    peaking of which,

    http://www.anncoulter.com/

  • pancakes||

    true, but the creation of superheroes rarely involves power generation. Always with the superscience, never your garden-variety boiling water reactor.

  • ||

    At least there's still a chance. I'd like to see you come up with a superhero who's origin involves a field of solar panels, or a windmill. Not gonna happen. Still, like you said, the superscience is where it's at.

  • MNG||

    Green power would result in some seriously lame super-heroes. Part of the neatness of Marvel heroes is they were born from anxiety about the power humans could tap into. The feel-good optimism of green power would probably create heroes and villains so saccharine it would make Captian Planet spew chunks.

  • ||

  • DNS||

    What about Broccoli Man?

    I have long hypothesized that flatulence truly is America's untapped energy resource.

  • Secret Travel Agent||

    Let's not forget Captain Planet in the 90's. I forget what his powers were, but certainly a forewarning of the eco-dumbassery to come. Probably more of a super-villain than hero.

  • Mike||

    That is NOT Broccoli Man! That is some dork in a green suit. This is Broccoli Man:

    http://www.youtube.com/broccoliman#p/u

    Ok also a dork in a green suit, but at least he's part broccoli!

  • Fatty Bolger||

    There's always sand mutation:

    Spider-Man 3 How It Should Have Ended

  • ||

    So let me get this straight: We can't have coal or oil-fired plants because of global warming. We can't have nuclear becaus of radiation. Solar only works when the sun as out. Wind only works when it is, you know, windy.
    What is the alternative? Huge, city-size underground batteries? Unicorns on treadmills? I'm gussing the preferred alternative for most of the political and chattering classes is, freeze in the dark, peasants.

  • MNG||

    "Unicorns on treadmills?"

    Too much credit, we'd more likely get Pegasus' (Pegasi?) on treadmills...

  • ||

    Pegasus is the Latin form of Greek pegasos. Since it is not a Greek form, its plural would be Pegasus not Pegasi.

  • MNG||

    Ok, thanks, that stuff's all greek to me.

  • Ice Nine||

    I don't know about all that fancy Latin plural stuff you're talking about. Anyway, that sentence says he was talking about an "on treadmills" (whatever that is) owned by Pegasus.

  • MNG||

    Is pedantic Latin?

  • Ice Nine||

    Just funnin' pal, just funnin'. Seems to be a lot of that goes on here.

  • adam||

    You can't have unicorns on treadmills. That would be cruel to unicorns.

  • ||

    Unicorns emit methane.

  • Bucky||

    on the other thread someone said it was gold nuggets...

  • robc||

    coal plants emit more radiation than nuke plants, so that cant be the reason for no nukes.

  • MNG||

    The people I know that oppose nuke power seem more concerned about the possibility of a catastrophe from a nuke plant compared to other types of plants.

  • Realist||

    Ahhhh the Chicken Littles.

  • KPres||

    You should tell them to worry more about hydro, since the worst plant disaster BY FAR was Banqiao Dam failure, which killed more people than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

    http://goo.gl/O1dLi

  • Realist||

    Yes, liberals are idiots, but so are conservatives....in a different way.

  • ||

    Yes, but when a unicorn cuts one, it smells like "springshine".

    Whatever that is.

  • KPres||

    Yeah, but the liberals are the idiots in power at the moment.

  • Realist||

    Very true.

  • Secret Travel Agent||

    And because they are all dorky looking, weak impotent nerds they've been more successful in infiltrating the scientific community with their lefty magic.

    Take Al Gore's buddy James Hansen at NASA for example. He looks like a scientist but really he's just a dork who instead of getting dates, hung out with Al Gore. Eeeewwww.

  • James Hansen||

    Hey! I'll have you know that you can go on dates AND hang out with Al Gore!

    (Just don't tell my wife about me hanging out with Al...)

  • Ted S.||

    I was just listening to an interview on the BBC this morning with some guy from a pressure group called the Post-Carbon Foundation or something like that.

    The guy was making precisely the case that we've reached Peak Energy. He didn't go in to the amount of oppression that would go into forcing people into less energy, but apparently figured he'd be in control.

  • ||

    ^^^ THIS ^^^

    The millennial Greens are some of the most homicidal scum you ever saw in your life.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    The guy was making precisely the case that we've reached Peak Energy. He didn't go in to the amount of oppression that would go into forcing people into less energy, but apparently figured he'd be in control.


    You mean he was actually proposing coercive policies to make people use less energy, instead of letting prices do the job?

  • ||

    [quote]
    What is the alternative?
    [/quote]

    Well here's one possibility.

    http://www.scientificamerican......grand-plan

    Although, I think it will end up being a mix of solar wind and geothermal.

  • ||

    hmm, that didn't work.

  • ||

    The SciAm people are full of shit, IMO.

    I recently calculated that to generate the same amount of energy as a 2 GW thermal power plant (one of which sits near my home and occupies about 50 acres, delivering, presumably, 48 GWh of energy daily) would require ten square miles, and even then I'm being pretty generous, because I'm not calculating in spacing requirements so that afternoon sun can be efficiently harvested.

    I don't know where these people think they're going to get this kind of land, even if you factor in rooftops. Eminent domain? Even in the middle of the Sonoran desert, that much land is still way expensive.

    There is a reason all these pushes for renewables end with the punchline, "... but we have to find the political will to make this happen!" This is really code for the thermodynamic arrow pointing backwards. The laws of physics cannot be reversed by a majority vote, no matter how noble the intention.

  • ||

    Did you also note the one-half $trillion in capital costs per year, for forty years, to buy that many superrefined silicon (expensive stuff!) solar cells, too?

    This is something I don't quite get about the fantasies people have about solar power. Solar cells are expensive. You are, more or less, talking about covering an area with microchip-quality silicon. It costs beaucoup. This, more than any other reason, is why very few people even attempt to, say, run their households on solar electric. It's not that they don't have enough roof area -- it's that the cost of that much silicon is more than the cost of the house.

  • ||

    I noticed above that the word "solar" somehow eluded my keyboard. But you figured it out based on context.

    I was recently having a conversation with someone who was saying, "sure, we need nuclear, but solar and wind will be part of the mix." Sure, if you mean "this guy on a bicycle is in the mix to pull this semi trailer." Not now, not ever.

    I notice the SciAm guys seem to carry the same delusion shared by a lot of Democrats: namely, that if only we can get the government involved in energy production, all the technical problems of solar and wind will magically melt away. This absolutely misses the point on how, historically, energy sources have been chosen:

    • Coal won out over wood because of availability.
    • Oil won out over coal because of energy density and ease of handling (pouring rather than shoveling).

    Yet, you never hear renewables advocates discuss this. They really, truly seem to believe in the idea that somehow "subsidies" for oil (which matter not at all to the end user, see fuel taxes) are the reason it's so popular. People who think this way — seeing only the advantages of their schemes while utterly missing the huge, catastrophic, practical disadvantages — have no business spending other people's money.

  • Secret Travel Agent||

    It seems like the capacity of solar energy peaked with plants. Animals needed better sources of energy (plants or other animals) to prosper. If solar energy really provided any substantial power output here on terra firma, we'd have seen massive Lord of the RIngs style walking trees millions of years ago. Photosynthesis is probably the peak efficiency for solar power. Unless we're going to put solar panels outside the atmosphere and beam it down with some kind of super progressive powered space magic... which I believe they've used up on health care and anti-Cheney signs at protests.

  • Ben Wolf||

    Concentrating Solar-Thermal.

  • ||

    Should have previewed that comment, sorry for the spelling errors.

  • robc||

    There is a reason that I have a NukE degree but havent worked in that field since 1995.

  • DNS||

    There is a reason that I have a NukE degree but havent worked in that field since 1995.

    Refusal to cut that oh so 90's mullet?

  • robc||

    I think there are only 3 acceptable haircuts in the industry:

    1. Flat top
    2. Mullet
    3. Pony tail (must be seriously balding as a pre-req)

    I never had any of those, so didnt really fit in.

  • Realist||

    He received his degree from the University of Haiti.

  • ||

    Dear Zog. Please tell me there's a limit to how much stupid Steve Chapman is permitted before Reason stops carrying him. Pleeeeeeease.

  • Bucky||

    i can do with less global warming and greenhouse gas in articles about the future and energy production...
    especially when there is no mention of switching to kangaroo meat...

  • DDavis||

    "If there were a significant release of radiation..."

    That's just classic FUD. Tell us how much radiation, what would have to happen for that much to be released, and what is the probability of that happening.

    Otherwise, it's just fear mongering. And if the earth is hit by a meteor of "significant size", things will be bad too. If I spontaneously combust, it will be unpleasant. If I'm personally hit by a meteor of "significant size", I'm in big trouble.

    It's not news, or even information, to tell us that bad things could happen.

  • MNG||

    I don't think it is necessarily irrational to work to avoid risks that have low probability but truly catastrophic results. I think they have a principle for this in decision theory (minimax or maximin or something).

  • Realist||

    You're thinking of Minwax for your wood finishes.

  • ||

    "I don't think it is necessarily irrational to work to avoid risks that have low probability but truly catastrophic results."

    Agreed.

    And after what happened in Japan, more people are going to think this way.

    It's been shown that people have a bad habbit of underestimating bad occurences. See for example the everything was fine meme before 2008.

  • Realist||

    Just more lib babble to support anti-nuclear agenda.

  • Edwin||

    but half of America is not susceptible to earthquakes or tsunamis

  • ||

    Yes, but are the results really that catestropic?

    Except for thyroid cancer, which is curable, there is no statistically detectable effect on the cancer or birth defect rates as a result of Chernobyl. And that's as bad as it gets.

    Really, if the worst we have to fear is a maginal, barely detectable, increase in the cancer rate, what the fuck is everyone freaking out about?

  • prolefeed||

    Well, Chernobyl rendered hundreds of square miles of land uninhabitable, so that is a cost to be taken into account.

    Though that seems mainly to be an object lesson about why socialist countries shouldn't be trusted with nuke power.

  • ||

    It's not completely uninhabitable. The exclusion zone forbids people from living there, but the animals don't seem to mind the radiation, and some individuals do live in it, legally or not.

    My guess is that people could live there without any serious problems, except for an elevated cancer rate. Which is no worse overall than many other places in the world.

    Some third world countries have horribly polluted areas that are heavily populated. The Chernobyl exclusion zone can't be worse than the Indian ghettos where peole burn plastic coated wiring to salvage the copper.

  • Chris||

    [quote] The Chernobyl exclusion zone can't be worse than the Indian ghettos where peole burn plastic coated wiring to salvage the copper. [/quote]

    What's this Indian ghettos stuff, hell they burn plastic coated wire in downtown Birmingham to salvage the copper.

  • ||

    Well, in india they do it in an open fire while they stand around and breathe the fumes.

  • Chris||

    ahhh I see the difference...in Birmingham they burn down the city Christmas tree to salvage the copper for $20 at the scrapyard.

  • KPres||

    My guess is that people could live there without any serious problems, except for an elevated cancer rate.

    So having people live around Chernobyl is basically like them smoking cigarettes?

    Meh.

  • Secret Travel Agent||

    Or equal to the elevated cancer risks of using the internet for 20 minutes.

  • KPres||

    Well, Chernobyl rendered hundreds of square miles of land uninhabitable, so that is a cost to be taken into account.

    A few hundred square miles? The US has over 1 million square miles of uninhabited land anyway.

    Detroit is a more catastrophic disaster than Chernobyl.

  • KPres||

    I don't think it is necessarily irrational to work to avoid risks that have low probability but truly catastrophic results. I think they have a principle for this in decision theory (minimax or maximin or something).

    OMG!!! YELLOWSTONEZZZ!!!!!11!!!

  • adam||

    "Eleven oil workers were killed last summer when a platform blew up in the Gulf of Mexico."

    Really? That was the full extent of the damage? I seem to recall something else....

  • Realist||

    Hmmmm what would that be. The damage was overplayed a thousand times.

  • Zeb||

    But there was still plenty of damage.

  • ||

    Nuclear has two major challenges. The first is cost, and the second is safety. Neither has been solved, and neither is about to be.

    It's comforting to hear that modern reactors are better designed and that the Japanese experience will help prevent future accidents.

    Not sure what to make of the above, but concerning safety let me post this link....

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/walker/walker42.1.html

    It seems to me that safety is solved.

  • prolefeed||

    Nuclear has two major challenges. The first is cost, and the second is safety. Neither has been solved, and neither is about to be.

    The third is reeeeeeally long-term storage of wastes with a very long half-life.

  • ||

    You clearly didn't read my linked article.

  • db||

    A 2008 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said nuclear is generally about one-third more expensive than the least expensive forms of power (coal, natural gas, and geothermal). Even with big federal subsidies, nuclear is pricier than gas.

    What's not specified here is whether this refers to capital construction costs or operating costs. In the power industry it is well known that nukes are the cheapest by far to operate--they are the first generators to clear the market on price, and are almost always loaded up. My former employer had 4 nuclear units, and the only fossil unit we had that came even close to clearing (but always after the nukes) was one for which the fuel was literally free (byproduct of a nearby refinery).

    The relative prices stated here make sense for capital costs, but are terribly far off for operating costs.

  • db||

    "came close to clearing" s/b "came close to clearing at nuke prices"

  • ||

    Capital costs should of course be figured in. When making a go/no go decision you want to look at total costs.

  • db||

    Yes, of course. My point is that by opening the paragraph with this sentence:

    It's hard for atomic energy to compete with fossil fuels in the United States, which are plentiful and cheap

    ,

    Chapman appears to indicate a cost comparison based on fuel (operating) costs alone. If he wished to discuss total evaluated costs for the plant design life span, he should have said so, rather than opening the paragraph with a misdirection.

  • Geoff Nathan||

    Whatever one thinks of the regulatory and subsidy issues, everyone needs to see this chart (courtesy of xkcd, a comic everyone needs to read regularly in any case...)
    xkcd radiation chart

  • Geoff Nathan||

    *&*#*$&* html code. Got something wrong again. Here's the url. Just discovered the squirrels have fixed something and we now have automatic link generation.

    http://blog.xkcd.com/2011/03/19/radiation-chart/

  • ||

    Not the best analysis I've seen here. One suspects that as natural gas increasingly ends up in (now aptly-named) gas tanks for vehicle propulsion, the big price differential between it and gasoline/diesel will evaporate. This will put enormous pressure on utilities to do something about gas-fired baseload, and more especially, peaking generation capacity. Yes, we'll get a lot more gas out of shale formations and that sort of thing; we'll need it and burn through it much faster than people presently believe. All it does is delay the inevitable decline of oil.

  • Steve S.||

    Allow me to see if I understand Chapman correctly: the everyday risks we assume from coal (pollution, radiation, mine collapses), natural gas (pipeline explosions, groundwater contamination), and "renewables" (intermittency, cost, rarity of constituent materials) are perfectly okay, but the very risk of a once-in-a-lifetime release of radiation (one that is far from fatal) is to be feared above all else?

    Yeah, okay, that makes sense.

    If you're so afraid of radiation (and the dread cancer), stop smoking. That will immediately cut your annual dose by about a factor of 20.

  • Some Guy||

    but the very risk of a once-in-a-lifetime release of radiation (one that is far from fatal) is to be feared above all else?

    So your argument is that you do not have the ability of reading comprehension?

    It can certainly be argued that the benefits are worth the risks. But the fact that you are not only pretending such risks don't exist, but that LA-LA-LA YOU CAN'T HEAR PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THOSE RISKS is not a compelling case.

  • Steve S.||

    So your argument is that you do not have the ability of reading comprehension?

    It is typically useful for the one making this charge to possess the ability to read themselves. Otherwise, it doesn't quite work, now does it?

    I pointed out that it is a matter of comparing a risk against a constant and persistent source term. Americans, and in particular Chapman, accept the former without much complaint, but the very existence of a potential of the former is supposed to scare us, somehow. (Note that I never once said "non-existent.")

    This is about real and present everyday versus hypothetical. Yes, I know, very difficult to grasp.

  • Steve S.||

    *existence of the latter is supposed to scare us, rather (i.e., the potential for radioactive release, despite numerous multiple barriers to contain such.)

  • Bucky||

    its the multiple barriers that most miss for some reason...

  • Some Guy||

    I pointed out that it is a matter of comparing a risk against a constant and persistent source term.

    You also changed what the risk was to something else which you felt helped your argument.

    but the very existence of a potential of the former is supposed to scare us, somehow. (Note that I never once said "non-existent.")

    Your argument only makes sense if you believe such a risk to be non-existent.

    This is about real and present everyday versus hypothetical. Yes, I know, very difficult to grasp.

    I don't know how hard it is for the strawman in your head to grasp that, but making such a statement really doesn't help your argument that you can comprehend what others are saying.

  • ||

    Nuclear has two major challenges. The first is cost, and the second is safety. Neither has been solved, and neither is about to be.

    I was under the impression that current and next-gen reactors were pretty damn safe, with liquid thorium reactors being literally impossible to melt down.

  • ||

    They're already melted.

    The nice thing about the LFTR design is that even if the thing gets slightly out of hand, the thermal expansion of the salt acts as a self-moderating agent.

    The intermediate product, protactinium-233, eventually decays into U-233, the fissionable isotope, though this occurs over a two-week period (actually, this is the half-life). Several of the byproduct isotopes are strong gamma emitters, which makes them extremely dangerous for would-be nuclear bomb makers — but would also make it fairly easy to make a dirty bomb, provided you don't mind a suicide mission to fetch it.

  • Jonathan Geach||

    Sorry, but this is the worst article I have ever seen in reason. The byline says nuclear is the fuel of the future, but then goes on to say that is true only if we implement economy crushing regulation.
    Finally, with all of the sensationalism about the crisis in Japan, I doubt there will be 5 deaths attributable to the reactor after a disaster that may have killed 20,000.

    Also, the newest reactors will not need power to circulate water, they use natural convection, so a Gen 3 reactor would be immune to the problems seen in Japan.

  • ||

    based on the levels of radion the workers have been exposed too, I wouldn't be suprised if most or all of them don't develop cancer and die much sooner than they would have.

  • ||

    Thnink you're overestimating.
    Keep in mind that the workers were all wearing radiation suits and the high radiation levels were spikes that lasted only an hour or so at a time.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    I think you missed the sarcasm in the byline.

  • ||

    sorry, sometimes I do that.

  • ||

    I predict there will be ZERO deaths attributable to Fukushima.

    There are a number of injuries due to the hydrogen explosions, but thus far, no workers seem to have been explosed to enough radiation to induce radiation sickness.

    Possibly we might see detectable increases in the cancer rates amount emergency workers at the plant.

    Other than that, no statistically detectable differences in anything.

  • Realist||

    The News Media are playing this to the hilt. They are setting up their cameras on mud flats, that have buried 5,000 Japanese, to take pictures of the power plants. And another 5,000 Japanese are drifting out at sea being eaten by sharks. Talk about missing the story!

  • Realist||

    should be "is playing...". It is collective.

  • Bucky||

    it used to be fuzz and was on the MSM, now it's the glowing and going...

  • Secret Travel Agent||

    Silly rabbit, don't forget that some reporter's shoes slightly blipped a geiger counter, which makes it a much more important hysteria. There is no worse tragedy than a TV reporter's shoe. Not to mention a direct threat to the bad suit industry, without it how would un-important people look important, and on TV no less?

  • Tank||

    This should be titled "Nuclear Power's Unchanging Plight in the United States." China's building reactors as if they are hot dog stands.

  • Some Guy||

    Maybe we should start building a bunch of wind farms off the West Coast. So we can blow the radiation towards Canada and Mexico when that top quality Chinese craftsmanship suffers a hiccup.

  • KPres||

    ooooh! Positive externalities!

  • Almanian||

    Any article of this nature with no mention of dilithium crystals is not to be taken seriously.

  • James Aach||

    The current Japanese event is a very sad thing. I've worked in the US nuclear industry for 25 years. My novel "Rad Decision" culminates in an event very similar to the Japanese tragedy. (Same reactor type, same initial problem - a station blackout with scram.) The book is an excellent source of perspective for the lay person -- as I've been hearing from readers. It is available free online at the moment at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com . (No adverts, nobody makes money off this site.) Reader reviews are in the homepage comments.

    I believe there isn't a perfect energy solution - just options - each with their good and bad points. And we'll make better choices about our future if we first understand our energy present.

  • ||

    What the Japan catastrophe should remind us is that 40 year-old reactors withstood a 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami and came out intact. It was the backup power diesel generators that failed due to the tsunami, not the quake, and new plant designs address that flaw by using gravity to feed the cooling water, the same way that transport category aircraft use gravity to feed fuel to the engines after a total loss of electrical power. The Japan nuclear "catastrophe" has not and will not produce anything as remotely hazardous as a mine collapse, unless you think that radiation equivalent to half a CAT scan is the end of the world. There is furthermore no "prospect of uncontrolled leaks of deadly radiation across large geographic areas" from the Japanese reactors. As for the cost of nuclear power in the US, it's expensive for the same reason that drugs are expensive: government regulation, red tape, and the subsequently artificially high cost of bringing a product to market in that environment.

  • ||

    ^^ This.

  • KPres||

    Sanity: +1
    Chicken little bullshit: -10000000

  • ||

    Unlike miners and rig workers, who can quit anytime they choose, most of the people in jeopardy from a nuclear meltdown have no choice.

    And the people who fished in Prince William Sound before 1989 had a choice? Or the folks who live downwind from a massive coal plant spewing tons of fly ash -- very carcinogenic! -- into the air have a choice?

    A remarkably dumb statement, that.

  • Bucky||

    i'll have eggs, bacon, fly ash, ash, and ash...

  • ||

    I DON'T LIKE ASH!

  • Hacha Cha||

    Cost of generating electricity from nuclear is very cheap, very low operating cost and electrical production cost per kilowatt hour is one of the lowest, beating oil, gas, and coal. The real problem with nuclear energy is that the "waste" is not reprocessed/transmutated back for use in a reactor and/or using the waste in Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators, Radioisotope piezoelectric generators, Advanced Stirling radioisotope generators, Optoelectric nuclear batteries, Thermionic converters, betavoltaic generators, thermophotovoltaic cells, Alkali-metal thermal to electric converters, Direct charging generators, etc.

  • Mark||

    Renewable energy is the only way to go, the sun and wind are going to be here forever, with NO downside.
    Come on people get on the bandwagon!

  • bold bracketeer||

    [IN A WORLD WITHOUT NUCLEAR POWER THE JAPANESE WOULD HAVE WON PEARL HARBOR AND WE'D ALL BE SPEAKING NAZI]

    THE FUTURE DEPENDS ON YOUR RADIOACTIVE CHILDREN BECOMING ATOMIC SUPERMEN!

  • ||

    "the sun and wind are going to be here forever" - except at night or when it's calm.

  • High Point||

    Fusion anyone?

  • عرب سيريس||

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  • jordan shoes||

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  • nike shox||

    is good

  • xiingguan||

    This movie has some nike sb skunk dunks for sale of the same flaws I saw in another attempt at a faithful adaptation of a work of fantastic literature long thought unfilmable, Zach Snyder’s 2009 version of Watchmen...That is, it kobe 7 for sale struck me as a series of filmed recreations of scenes from the famous novel

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