Friday, August 28, 2009

Energy Collective Foxes

The rule of the Energy Collective is that it is ok to pose as an expert while being ignorant, and it is ok to lie about your data, but it is not ok to be rude as a response to ignorance or lies. British self designated "energy expert" Vicky Portwain, regularly posts on the Energy Collective, and offer one sided, pro-renewable, anti-nuclear comments on energy issues. In her latest Energy Collective posts, Portwain tells her readers:
A large sector of the UK population remain sceptical about nuclear energy, how to deal with the waste and who is to pay being as yet unanswered questions. On the other hand the UK population as a whole does not appear prepared to make sacrifices by way of serious energy demand reduction and alternative energy committment. Overall we seem happy to sacrifice other peoples’ standard of living i.e. those living in the areas near where waste will be disposed of or the standard of living of the next generation. The result is a highly likely continuation of our energy addiction fed by expensive nuclear energy.
Of course Portwain assumes that there is such a thing as nuclear waste. The term waste suggest that something is not wanted, but for some users, post reactor nuclear fuel is highly desirable. My suspicion is that were the United Kingdom to offer to sell, what Portwain calls "nuclear waste", it would find a ready buyer. India has recently had a shortage of fuel for its Heavy Water reactors. heavy water reactors can turn the U-235 and plutonium in nuclear waste into nuclear fuel. Since Indian reactors have recently been operating at 50% of capacity, due to a shortage of nuclear fuel, and for the Indians, the UK's nuclear waste is a source of electrical generation energy. So Portwain's use of the term "nuclear waste", is falls far short of telling the whole story.

Secondly, Portwain tells us that how to deal with the waste is an unanswered question. This would seem to suggest that there is no known solution to the problem of nuclear waste. But as I have pointed out there is no problem of nuclear waste, simply because post-reactor nuclear fuel is desired by India, and therefore is nor waste. The whole problem comes about because of a political decision to not recycle post-reactor nuclear fuel in reactors, and tonot sell it to anyone who does. Thus post-reactor nuclear fuel becomes waste for political rather than technical reasons. The solution to the problem would be a political decision to change the way post reactor fuel is treated in laws and regulations.. Thus the solution to the politically created problem of nuclear waste is to change the laws and regulations concerning post-reactor fuel.

Portwain's third alligation is the claim that resorting too nuclear power will
sacrifice other peoples’ standard of living i.e. those living in the areas near where waste will be disposed of or the standard of living of the next generation.
Note that for Portwain it this is so obvious that she does not need to explain how the living close to "nuclear waste" would impinge on anyone's standard of living. If Portwain is a typical "Green", she believes that living close to nuclear waste will lead to cancer. But repeated research on cancer rates in areas surrounding nuclear plants that has not produced any evidence that living close to nuclear plants where "nuclear waste" is stored produces any health consequences. Portwain should tell us the whole story.

There are areas in the United States where nuclear waste associated with the military use of nuclear materials was mishandled during the Cold War. Communities like Hanford, Washington, Oar Ridge, Tennessee and those communities near the Sevannah River Project were polluted by the uncontrolled cold war dumping of radioactive nuclear materials.

I grew up in Oak Ridge, and since my parents lived in Oak Ridge from 1948 until my father's death in January 2009 I have been kept aware of area health issues by the comments of my parents. Yet despite numerous studies of public exposures to radioactive materials during the 1940's and 50's, and of area cancer rates, no conclusive evidence has emerged suggesting that Oak Ridge area radiation related cancer rates exceeded the national averages. Research in areas surrounding American reactors show the same thing. There is no evidence that radiation related cancer rates increase in the proximity of reactors, despite the presence of stored post-reactor fuel on site. Thus it appears that Vicky Portwain expressions of concern about nuclear waste are offered without an attempt to establish an objective foundation for them.


Jason Ribeiro said...

When it comes to supplying clean electricity for England in the upcoming years, they have few choices to do this cleanly. Solar energy is a non-starter in the UK. The capacity factors for solar panels that far north will be abysmal and will not be worth their expense for a few decent summer months. Wind is impractically expensive and unreliable. In a relatively densely populated country there will be few spots available for turbines except off shore where it becomes more expensive and marginally more reliable. There is not enough room for an expansion of bio-fuel crops that would push food crops aside. Natural gas only perpetuates fossil dependency and they would end up spending billions on the fuel that could otherwise be put toward a sustainable nuclear facility. The one good choice left is nuclear.

Hypothetically, even if nuclear costs the ratepayer there a little extra money there, this is a reasonable sacrifice for individuals given the benefits it provides and the potential to get them out of the pickle they will soon be in if no decisive action is made.

Richard Kulisz said...
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Charles Barton said...
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Richard Kulisz said...

The preferred method of plutonium disposal is whatever doesn't risk a criticality incident that will kill workers. Since reprocessing does that, it is NOT the preferred method of plutonium disposal.

You seem to have a poor understanding of engineering if you think laboratory experience is the determining factor there. This is ludicrous since engineering is defined by its goal of producing real things. You can have as many top-notch engineers in top-notch labs as you want, if you don't deliver products then you don't have an engineering culture.

This is why the Americans don't have an engineering culture worth shit despite the continued dominance of Westinghouse in the reactor design business. Because the American political culture is dominated by bankers and rapists, so critical civil works get trillion dollar shortfalls. The same with the Indians, who are too incompetent to put in proper water and sewers.

Doubtless you think these are purely political problems but you are wrong just as surely as people are wrong now to claim that political economics is an objective non-political discipline.

Finally, as far as nuclear reactors go, I'm a fan of chemists' (as opposed to physicists') nuclear reactors because they allow for continuous control. It doesn't matter too much to me what kind of coolant you use. Just as it doesn't matter to me what happens with plutonium, whether it's buried in my backyard or used up in a reactor, so long as criticality incidents don't happen.

Charles Barton said...

Richard there were exactly two criticality accidents at Hanford and none at Savanah River during the cold war. I am not aware of any casualties from those accidents. At least 100 tons of Plutonium were recovered by fuel reprocessing at those facilities I would take that as a reasonable test of the safety of reprocessing, and the competence of American Engineers.

Your assessment of American engineers is absurd, and your comments on Indian nuclear engineering is equally absurd.


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