Saturday, September 27, 2008

Is opposition to nuclear power progressive?

I cross posted my discussion of Federal subsidies to the nuclear industry on Daily Kos . One of the first responces I received was from "shann" who argued
Facts aside, Nuclear Power generation is not a Progressive cause, it is political poison on this forum. End of story, lets get back to windmills and solar power, they are substantially more popular here.

Note that "shann" tells us that facts do not counts for progressives. What progressive want, shann claims, is windmills and solar power. Progressives, according to shann are identical to Daily Kos readers, who believe such energy forms to be progressive.

There is no substantial case against nuclear power on the political left. The so called liberal or left wing opponents of nuclear power back up their opposition with bumper sticker slogans, misinformation, and out right ignorance.

As a liberal I value truth and reject misinformation and lies. A major purpose of my blogging is to develop fact based and tightly reasoned analyses of issues relating to nuclear power. My review of the charges brought against the use of nuclear reactors has led me to demonstrate that the opposition to nuclear power is largely myth based.

Nuclear opponents charge that nuclear generation of electricity in inherently unsafe. The facts are these, nuclear power in facts represents the safest form of electrical generation. This is true whether safety is measured by the human toll, that is by loss of life and human injury, or by property damage. A new generation of reactors slated to be built during the next decade are far safer than the the currently operating nuclear plants. These reactors rely on the automatic functioning of the laws of nature, rather than the judgement of human operators for safety. Finally Generation IV reactors, currently being researched, represent an even higher level of nuclear safety. The charge that reactors are inherently unsafe is a myth.

Nuclear opponents charge that the problem of nuclear waste cannot be solved. In fact, the same opponents block any attempt to solve the nuclear waste problem. There are several approaches to resolving the issues involved with used reactor fuel. In terms of energy reactor fuel is not spent. Indeed current reactor technology uses less than 1% of energy potential of nuclear fuel. This failure to efficiently use nuclear fuel is the true source of the Nuclear waste problem. Tested technologies exist that will enable a new generation of reactors to extract 100% of the energy from nuclear fuel. These technologies, coupled with efficient recycling of reactor fission products into many existing, industrial, agricultural, medical and sanitary uses, would not only end the problem of nuclear waste, but turn what has previously regarded as "nuclear waste", into a major economic resource.

The energy of so called "spent fuel" can be extracted by processing that fuel in Generation IV reactors. The end of that process would be the production of valuable resources. The progressive attitude thus should be not to reject nuclear power, but to implement it in a form that would produce the maximum social benefit. Thus the Idea that there is any real waste in the nuclear process, and that this waste creates a problem which cannot be solved is thus a myth.

A third myth created by nuclear opponents is that nuclear power is more expensive that renewable sources of energy, and that renewable sources of energy will bring society greater benefits. I have tried to demonstrate this is a myth by identifying the cost of generating facilities, and the relative amount of time they can be expected to produce electricity. From published reports, the cost of new solar electrical generating facilities, are comparable to the cost of nuclear reactors. Further more, the expectation is the cost of both solar and nuclear generating facilities is expected to rise dramatically during the next few years, with the cost of solar facilities rising, if anything, faster than the cost of nuclear. The solar facilities typically produce power 30 to 33% of the time, while nuclear produces power over 90% of the time. Thus a new nuclear plant will produce from three to four and a half times as much electricity during a 24 hour day, as a solar facility for a similar investment.

Windmills currently cost about 1/2 as much per rated unit of output as nuclear plants. However, windmills typically produce between 20% to 40% of their rated output. Thus wind and nuclear facilities that can produce an equivalent amount of electricity over time will carry similar costs. However, windmills requires fossil fuel plant backup, while nuclear plants do not. The fossil fuel backups emit CO2. CO2 emissions can be eliminated by massive energy storage, but any energy storage system would increase the cost of renewables relative to nuclear power. Thus the myth that nuclear is more expensive than renewable energy generating facilities is demonstrably false.

Finally while many of the factors that create cost problems for the renewable energy business are out of its control, significant cost savings would be available to the Civilian nuclear power industry through the adoption of such Generation IV technologies as the Pebble Bed Reactor, and the Liquid Fluiride Thorium Reactor. The LFTR would particularly be able to combine inherent reactor safety, with a high level of fuel efficiency that eliminates the problem of nuclear waste.

A further myth of nuclear opponents is that the civilian nuclear power industry receives heavy government subsidies. In fact it is not as I demonstrated in posts earlier this week. Indeed while the nuclear industry pays 100% of its taxes, the renewable power industry receives massive tax breaks from Federal and state governments.

Nuclear opponents argue incorrectly that we are running out of nuclear fuel. In fact enough nuclear fuel lies in the ground at Lemhi Pass in Idaho, to provide the United States with all of its energy needs for 400 years. A further probable reserve at the same location would provide the country with well over 1000 year more energy. World fuel resources, if well managed, far exceed foreseeable energy uses of nuclear power.

Once the myths of the anti-nuclear movement is exposed, its illiberality is obvious. Far from embracing progress, many anti-nuclear advocates are neo-luddlites. Some actually advocate an abandonment of cities and a return to a pre-industrial way of life. Such an approach is far from being progressive. It is in fact reactionary. Other nuclear critics. while offering less radical schemes still advocate measures that will drastically reduce the energy demands of society. This can be describes as the method of sacrifice, and it does not bring with it the increase in individual and collective human power that progressives seek. Since the end of the middle ages progress in society has been closely linked to an energy based increase in human wealth. That increase has improved the material lot of an increasing number of human beings, and ought to be brought as an opportunity to the all peoples. Benefits have included improvements in the material standards of life, improvements in human health and the human life span, increasing educational levels, increasing human comfort.

The promise of science, envisioned by Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes is increasingly being realized by human society. The single most important key to that promise has been the control of ever more efficient and powerful energy sources by the application of science to energy production. The continued control of such powerful energy sources Nuclear energy offers great power coupled with control is critical to the realization of the goals of progressives.


Anonymous said...

I believe there is still some residual puritanism in Western society (think of the way "decadent" - a derivative of "decay" - is used as a synonym for "hedonistic").

Attacking anti-nukes as romantic rural reactionaries would be less effective than attacking them as Malthusians advocating mass die-off.

Do any of the anti-industrial radicals believe that a pre-industrial WOL could support our currently planetary population? (For example, could solar and wind alone supply the energy we need to run the Haber process to produce fertilizers?)

Charles Barton said...

George, people who seek pleasure are much too engaged to want to make war. The mass die off is entailed in the back to the land movement, but not obvious to many of its more shallow advocates. They will get very upset when you tell them, "hay I take this personally, your solution would kill me!" To understand how a neo-rural society would work, you would have to look at how European and North American societies worked before the industrial revolution.

Anonymous said...

Didn't pre-industrial Europe and North America though only have about a third of the population they have today? That's my point...

Why aren't radical environmentalists as hated as the Stalinists with their Holodomor, or the Nazis with their Shoah?

(Come to think of it, one of the problems with Stalinism is that it sought double-quick progress regardless of the cost in lives, not that it opposed progress. The only noteworthy anti-technology regimes that come to my mind are the Khmer Rouge and the Taliban - both products of war-devastated societies.)

Charles Barton said...

I had a debate over a year ago on my Xanga Blog with another blogger Mama Jesse, who advocated a radical approach to energy. She wanted to get us off the grid.

In my debate with Mama Jess, I pointed out that "I have a serious heart condition. I would not live very long if I were forced to endure the Texas heat [without air conditioning]."

Mama Jess responded: "We are not talking about your particular hardships or situation. We are talking about saving the world."

Anonymous said...

When I get involved in discussions of nuclear power I find that people who know how it works are generally supportive, while those who dont understand it are fearful. When you dont understand something it feels more natural to oppose it. A lot more advertising and public education would help.

Perhaps the largest misunderstanding centres on entropy. To make a grid run we need sources of low entropy. Providing high entropy energy does not help.

I think the largest source of fear centres on radiation. People think of it as some kind of death ray. A full exploration of the benefits of radiation is needed.

A second desperate hope centres on war. People in rich countries dont want war but they think it is likely because the poor people out there want the goodies too. So if we can deny the poor people the knowledge and technology they need for war, then we can continue living well, and parade our wealth in front of the poor which makes us feel superior. The other alternative, namely giving lots of goodies to the poor, does not have this angle of allowing us to feel superior. So the thought is that we should suppress all thinking of nuclear reactions so that war will be less likely. I know this line of reasoning is almost insane but that is how people think. The best way to prevent "proliferation" is to give goodies to the poor people, but this simple idea is never even hinted at in the formal discussions.

The people who are making money from nuclear power are not doing enough to promote and explain it.

DV8 2XL said...

The tide is turning on the general public's perception of nuclear energy. The knee-jerk antinuclear reactions that typified discussions outside the group of usual suspects has given way to a cautious 'show me' attitude, that we can work with. That's not to say that the battle is won, just that the opportunity to present a rational case without having to deal with reflexive dismissal is at hand now in a way that wasn't true five years ago.

I find it very telling that nether candidate for the U.S. presidency feels there is any percentage in taking even a vaguely antinuclear position in this campaign.

Anonymous said...

I believe nuclear power is the best (greenest) medium term solution to base load generation and future electric vehicle recharge demand.
However I am concerned about having the plants designed, built and operated by corporations whose only moral obligation is maximizing shareholder profit.
I am also concerned about decisions about nuclear waste management being made by politicians with political priorities.
Also getting the required infrastructure for the next generation electrical distribution system installed will be a great technical challenge.

Other than that it's all peachy.

Charles Barton said...

Not all nuclear utilities are for profit. For example TVA.

Anonymous said...

I recommend the mini series Frontier House. It's about 3 modern families living in the manner of 19th century homesteaders in Montana for a summer season; I think it will cure most romantic notions about subsistence farming and self-suficiency.

htomfields said...

You can find more information about the Idaho National Laboratory’s Generation IV Systems at

Charles Barton said...

I am aware, However, I think that only 2 Generation IV technologies will be really useful. They are the PBR and the LFTR.


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