[FoRK] Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power

John Parsons bullwinklemouth at yahoo.ca
Mon Mar 28 15:44:35 PDT 2011

--- On Sun, 3/27/11, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:

> It is possible that it isn't front-loaded enough, or that
> the front-loading isn't enough.  There is a required
> estimate of dismantal / storage costs built into licensing,
> funding, and the whole model.  However, the idea that
> nuclear waste disposal necessarily means active monitoring,
> armed guards, etc. for millenia seems a little off: 
> The nuclear material came from the ground to begin
> with.  There are mines you would not want to live near
> now because of natural radioactivity.  This does not
> automatically incur astronomical costs to deal with does
> it?  Denver even has a fairly high level of radiation
> from isotopes in all of the granite everywhere there.

Denver's total dose of radiation must also include solar, due to the higher than average elevation. Obviously some organisms can tolerate more radiation than others, but do not confuse "background" levels with concentrated source or waste material. Even disturbing and mining uranium causes concentrated material to pollute local water sources near the mine. The long half lives of the waste products ensures they will have damaging properties for millenia, and the costs to future generations and other life is completely unknown. It is unlikely to be zero.

> The Earth is a big place, we
> hardly use much of it really, and there is plenty of remote,
> protected space underground that is more or less easily used
> for permanent storage.  If you also concentrate the
> waste, the problem is pretty much non-existent.

And yet, even after 50 plus years of operation, there still is not a single gram of material reconciled to permanent storage. Even if "irrational fear" is a factor, pragmatically, what do you expect is magically going to change? In all likelihood, the current stockpiles will continue to proliferate, until the situation reaches a crisis, at which point the costs will be greatly multiplied, and the next least-cost alternative will be defaulted. Still think one can keep this up for millenia? This presents a case of responsibility, rather than necessarily outright danger. If the existing nuclear interests were serious about long term responsibility (never mind public perception), they would have solved this basic problem by now.

As for the Earth being a big place, there are many examples that it is not so big we can continue the wanton, ignorant disregard for future interests. Surely you're not so temporally anthropocentric, you are stating that it's only about us. ;-) 

> If you build a plant where any configuration
> of the elements is safe, how can anyone cling to the notion
> that "nuclear *" is inherently totally unsafe under any
> circumstances?  (Rationally, you can't.)

Call it semantics. It *is* inherently unsafe, in that we can't be exposed to it without great personal risk (like fire, boilers, electricity, etc.). I don't maintain that it can't be made safer, or that we are incapable of using it. We must continue to do our best, while understanding that we don't know everything, nor can we reduce risk to zero.

> For a big plant, you can harden in ways that would stop
> most attacks.  Already, more-modern pressure vessels
> and containment buildings have been designed to take hits
> with typical bombs or jetliners without failure.

Never mind that history is rife with better bombs to overwhelm better defenses, the fact is that such hardening is not taking place, nor will it, until such an attack happens, thus demonstrating the necessity to justify it.

> > Continuing to feed this outsize appetite isn't
> rational, in any sense. If the methods of production don't
> kill everything, the consumption of the energy and the
> backend costs surely will.
> At a certain point, that may be true.  However, the
> point at which it is true varies and is debateable.  We
> should be as efficient as possible, but should not blindly
> regress.  We can do so much with so little power now
> that it doesn't seem a terminal issue.

Being as efficient as possible, as admirable as it is, isn't working, in that per capita energy consumption (as well as our populations) continues to rise. It is an appetite that can never be satisfied.

But I do understand the need to not kill the organism by starving it (even though that may ultimately happen). I would be interested to see thorium achieve it's promises, but I suspect it's likely not the "free lunch" that its touted to be.


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