From his retirement from ORNL in1977 onward my father continued to speak out on nuclear power, fossil fuels, CO2, and global warming. He and George Parker continued to collaborate on statements in support of nuclear power. They had first called attention to the problem of global warming in 1977, and 18 years later their concerns had grown. I believe that the 1995 statement, published in the Oak Ridger, was the last public statement they made together. Below I have also included my fathers last published statement on energy issues to date. In that statement he called for a National Energy Policy. He speaks as a scientist, and calls attention to the wastefulness of using oil and natural gas - nonrenewable natural resources - for energy rather than as feed stock for the petrochemical industry. My father was 91, when his wrote the last statement, and although almost every voice of his generation had been silenced by time by death or old age, he still spoke out firmly. The same year he also published a statement of opposition to the invasion of Iraq.
By Charles J. Barton, Sr. and George Parker (The Oak Ridger, 1995)
The protest demonstration at the Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant and efforts to prevent its starting show that opposition to nuclear power production in this country is alive and flourishing. Even more convincing evidence of anti-nuclear sentiment is that no new U.S. nuclear power plants have been ordered since 1978.
Two aspects of the Watts Bar demonstration need particular attention: the statement of the demonstrators that their aim is to protect the environment and their signs attempting to associate the Watts Bar plant with the Chernobyl disaster.
There are presently 419 operating nuclear power plants worldwide (108 in the United States). Of these, 330 are light-water moderated, as is the Watts Bar plant, Many of them have been safely operated for 10 to 20 years. To date, there has been only one major accident in an operating reactor of the light-water type.
The accident at Three Mile Island attracted a tremendous amount of TV and newspaper attention. However, the fact that no one exposed to radiation from that, accident received a radiation dose greater than that which the average U.S. citizen receives from natural sources in a year has largely been ignored.
The Chernobyl-type reactor is far from reaching the safety requirements for nuclear power plants in this country. In fact, this country and several European nations have offered Ukraine substantial inducements to close power plants of this type because of doubts concerning their safety.
Coal-burning power plants produce about 52 percent of the electricity used in this country. Coal contains a small amount of radioactive materials: 1.3 parts, per mil'lion,ofuranium and 3.2 ppm of thorium on the average.
Because of the tremendous amount of coal required to produce electricity, 4 million tons per year for a 1000-megawatt plant, a significant quantity of these naturally occurring radioactive materials is distributed to the environment around coal burning plants in fly ash.
Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have calculated that people in the vicinity of such plants receive a radiation dose from this source about 100 times greater than that which they would receive from a nuclear power plant.
The above-mentioned radiation dose from uranium and thorium in fly ash is of small consequence when compared to the adverse effects of other impurities in coal. Sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxides in coal combustion gases is an important contributor to acid rain. The increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (greenhouse effect) is also believed to contribute to global warming.
Unfortunately, health effects of coal combustion products are not nearly as well known as the effect of radioactive materials, but studies at the Electric Power Research Institute and elsewhere have shown the total health effects of generating electricity with coal are greater than for nuclear power plants.
Accidents in coal mines, health effects in mining (black lung) and accidents at railroad crossings are principal contributors to the total health effects of the coalplant fuel cycle. The health effect of mining uranium, principally lung cancer from exposure to radon, is an important contributor to the health effects of the nuclear reactor fuel cycle.
The information cited above provides evidence that nuclear power plants are less harmful to the environment than coalburning plants.
This raises the question: Why are people in groups like Earth First willing to risk being jailed in efforts to, as they view it, protect the environment?
Richard Roberts, an official in the Energy Research and Development Administration, a Department of Energy predecessor agency, stated in 1976 that our country seemed to be swept by a virulent form of "nuclearphobia" exhibited by a disbelief in any encouraging thing that experts in the nuclear energy area might say. There does not seem to have been much improvement in this situation in the last 18 years.
One cause of nuclearphobia is an apparent lack of interest on the part of newspapers and TV news people in positive news. It seems that anyone can produce an article saying that something will hurt you, especially radiation, and can get the attention of news people.
Efforts to rebut misinformation seldom get published in newspapers or aired on TV, the only sources of most of the public's information. Better educated news people should be able to weigh the evidence and, at least, present both sides of such arguments.
A large effort has been put forth in this country in recent years to develop new standard nuclear power plant designs.
These plants will be even safer to operate than those presently in use and can probably be built more economically. As aging nuclear power plants are retired and electricity requirements continue to increase, electric utilities will have to choose the technology for future power plants.
In spite of wishful thinking about new power sources such as wind and sun, the choices for large power plants presently are coal and nuclear.
Some countries, notably France, Japan and Great Britain, have already made their choice in favor of nuclear power. France is already producing 75 percent of its electricity in such plants.
Our choice for meeting future electricity needs should be based on facts, not fear.
Concerns about use of fossil fuels and global warming
By Charles J. Barton, Sr., (The Oak Ridger, 2003)
Hans Blix, outgoing director general of The IAEA published an article entitled Atomic Energy in the 21st Century in the September Issue of Nuclear News, a publication of the American Nuclear Society.
This excellent article considers factors affecting energy policy from the global viewpoint that his position provides..
I will discuss here the pressing need for adopting a national energy policy to guide the expansion of U.S. electrical power production in the 21st century.
First, a little history. In 1975 I attended a Project Independence hearing in Philadelphia at the request of Ed Struxness, my boss at the time. This was one of a series of 10 such hearings held at various locations around the country.
Their announced objective was development of a national strategy to reduce the likelihood of a repetition of the scarcity of oil caused by the earlier Arab embargo on oil shipments to the United States. This strategy, if it had been achieved, could have served as a limited national energy policy.
My report to Struxness on the Philadelphia hearing was subtitled "An Axe-Grinders Convention."
Many speakers were scientists espousing various energy-producing techniques such as solar and wind power or use of renewable fuels for electricity generation.
These speakers were obviously hoping for funds to further develop their pet projects. Other axe grinders were politicians ranging from senators and governors to mayors, with a wide range of objectives.
The results of the Project Independence hearings were to be summarized in a report soon after the hearings were concluded and, presumably, actions to reduce our dependence on imported oil were to be undertaken.
Although a number of projects that I heard discussed at the hearing continued to be funded, only the fossil fuels - coal, oil and natural gas - have been widely used for large scale production of electricity.
The principal result of the early 1970's oil shortage was the storage of a large quantity of oil in under ground salt mines.
Nothing resembling a national energy policy emerged. Although nuclear power plants produce approximately 20 percent of U.S. electricity, there have been no new orders for nuclear power plants in the United States since 1978;
Blix points out the advantage of nuclear power as compared to use of fossil fuels. He says that, worldwide, the fossil fuels provide about 85 percent of commercial energy, divided as follows: 37 percent for oil, 25% for coal, 21 percent for gas. The balance is divided nearly equally between hydro and nuclear power.
In the United States, coal burning power plants produce more than 50 percent of the electricity used.
One advantage of nuclear power that Blix emphasized is the limited volume of nuclear waste in comparison to coal. He stated that the limited volume of nuclear waste is one of the greatest advantages of nuclear power.
This statement is in contrast to the common belief that nuclear wastes are one of the greatest liabilities of nuclear power.
Blix introduced me to the concept of energy density. He says that one kilogram (kg) of firewood produces about one kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity; 1 kg of coal produces about 3 kWh; 1 kg of oil produces about 4 kWh; 1 kg of natural uranium produces about 50,000 kWh; and 1 kg of plutonium produces about 6,000,000 kWh.
The latter figure confirms my belief that President Jimmy Carter dealt a major blow to the U.S. nuclear power industry by eliminating the used fuel reprocessing option.
Although there are significant environmental effects of coal-burning power plants resulting from production of huge qualities of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and waste, the most worrisome factor ls the global warming effect of carbon dioxide, an effect coal shares with oil, gas and other burnable fuels.
It seems like an argument to limit worldwide production of carbon dioxide will be reached in the near future. The only options for a large scale increase in the production of electricity that do not produce carbon dioxide are nuclear and hydro power.
In most country these are for new dam projects. Blix states: “If the fear of global warming after all were to be unfounded, nothing would have been lost by greater use of nuclear power, as the cost of nuclear power is roughly competitive with fossil fuel alternatives.
Not mentioned in Blix' article but of concern to me as a chemist is the continued use of oil and natural gas for the generation of electricity. These non-renewable resources, particularly Natural gas, could be better used in my opinion for future production of petrochemicals.
I believe that all of the above-mentioned factors and others discussed by Blix need to be carefully examined in preparation for the adoption of a US energy policy, which is long overdue.