Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Nuclear Power is Not the Answer

Whooee! Well friends and foes, I posted up a big comment to yesterday's post and I'm dragging it out for today's post. I got the more easily decipherable James Robert to write most of it. BigCityLib asked me if I was mostly concerned about the way nuclear's being crammed down our throats or if my objections are against nuclear, in general.

Nuclear power is not the answer to global warming.
To replace all of its current oil, gas and coal use, the world would have to build about 80,000 medium-sized reactors. It would take over 200 years to build them even at the rate of one a day, and the cost would be staggering. And common sense tells us that we must not trade one environmental problem for another.(Source)
The projected time frame for nuclear conversion in Nanticoke ranges from 8 - 14 years. Much quicker, cheaper, less-objectionable methods are available. If we put billions into nukes, we take away precious funding that could be used for a better solution.

Nuclear power generation is not emission-free as often claimed by industry advocates and also by Diane Finley --
"...a nuclear facility with its zero emitting technology..."
Minister Finley is getting her information solely from industry advocates. The Sierra Club of Canada informs us that nuclear energy is by no means emmission free.

"Routine emissions from nuclear reactors include a number of different elements such as carbon-14 and tritium. The long half-lives of these radioactive elements (5730 years for carbon-14 and 12.3 years for tritium) allow them to accumulate in the environment and in living tissue. Over the years, leaks around nuclear reactors in Canada have raised levels of tritium, a known carcinogen, well above background levels.

Spent fuel from CANDU reactors contains over 200 deadly radioactive elements - byproducts of the fission process - including uranium, plutonium, cesium, and strontium. Plutonium, for example, has a half-life of 24,400 years. Other waste byproducts have half-lives as long as 710,000 years (uranium235) or 15.8 million years (iodine129). High-level nuclear waste will remain toxic for periods far longer than recorded human history." Sierra Club

What about the increased availability of nuke waste and fuel as contaminants in a dirty bomb or even a "clean" A-bomb?

The connections linking nuclear power and weapons is more than political or historic. Consider: l FISSIONABLE MATERIALS: It is the same nuclear fuel cycle with its mining of uranium, milling, enrichment and fuel fabrication stages which readies the uranium ore for use in reactors, whether these reactors are used to create plutonium for bombs or generate electricity. In the end, both reactors produce the plutonium. The only difference between them is the concentration of the various isotopes used in the fuel. Each year a typical 1000 mega-watt (MW) commercial power reactor will produce 300 to 500 pounds of plutonium -- enough to build between 25 - 40 Nagasaki-sized atomic bombs.

As Dr. Amory Lovins, director of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado points out, "Every known route to bombs involves either nuclear power or materials and technology which are available, which exist in commerce, as a direct and essential consequence of nuclear power."

2 In order to get plutonium for weapons, one needs a reactor, whether it is a "research" reactor (such as the one which provided India with the fissile material for its first atomic bomb) or a commercial reactor. (Source)

Many countries have phased out or are in the process of phasing out nuclear power generators. They have proven to be too costly, too unreliable, -- several of Ontario's existing reactors are either kaput or awaiting $billion+ repairs -- too dangerous and too unpopular with citizens. I believe there are only 2 reactors being built presently in the entire world - one in Finland and one in Taiwan. These were the first new starts in something like 25-30 years. The industry spends much of its corporate energy attempting to woo governments because without massive subsidies, nuclear cannot be implemented.

Waht about the risk to nearby people and property?

Nuclear installations are, by law, free from financial liability in the case of a nuclear accident. Private property insurance specifically excludes nuclear accidents from all homeowner and farm policies. It is not purchasable at any price. In the event of an accident forcing residents to abandon their property, there is absolutely zero compensation available.

The industry has already been using "temporary" waste storage while it supposedly tries to find permanent solutions. This has been happening since the very first nuke plant went online about 50 years ago. It's an accident waiting to happen.

What about Return on Investment of taxpayer money?
Over a fifty year period (from 1953 to 2002), government subsidies to AECL Atomic Energy of Canada Limited ) totaled $17.5 billion (in 2001 dollars). Cost overruns on the last nuclear station to be built in Ontario at Darlington were in the billions of dollars. Debt incurred by Ontario Hydro (the predecessor to OPG) in the operations of its power reactors amounted to over $35 billion dollars. The public cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors and attempting to contain the waste products over extended timeframes has yet to be determined. Sierra Club
And now, McGuinty is at it again along with the support of MP Finley and presumably the federal government. The financial situation vis-a-vis Canadian investment is typical of the poor ROI experienced by other countries, like the US.

The Nanticoke coal generator is only about 35 years old. If replaced by a nuke plant, the existing plant will be totally demolished. This will cost millions. If we'd known 35 years ago what we know now, it would not have been built. We do know now all the reasons why building a multi-billion dollar nuclear facility is wrong-headed. In 50 years (the industry-projected life span of a new nuke plant), we'll be spending billions to decommission nuke plants.

About 3 years ago, a wind farm proposal came before Norfolk council and was approved. Those 70-80 windmills are already pumping out enough power for tens of thousands of homes. A multi-acre solar farm has just been announced and approved for development. It will come online before the drawings could be completed for a nuclear Nanticoke.

Reduction and energy efficiency are the real answers.
(N)uclear power is seven times less cost-effective at displacing carbon than the cheapest, fastest alternative -- energy efficiency, according to studies by the Rocky Mountain Institute. For example, a nuclear power plant typically costs at least $2 billion. If that $2 billion were instead spent to insulate drafty buildings, purchase hybrid cars or install super-efficient lightbulbs and clothes dryers, it would make unnecessary seven times more carbon consumption than the nuclear power plant would. In short, energy efficiency offers a much bigger bang for the buck. In a world of limited capital, investing in nuclear power would divert money away from better responses to global warming, thus slowing the world's withdrawal from carbon fuels at a time when speed is essential. (Source)

Don't forget, that's our money that Ontario is investing. We could be getting seven times better ROI.

James Robert (for JimBobby)


RobertP said...

You're absolutely right, nuclear power is not the answer.

You mention plans for a large solar farm, are you aware of a mature solar technology called Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)?

Unlike Photo-Voltaics, CSP uses the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and, of course, there are not many of those in Canada! But it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in the US and Canada too. A recent report from the American Solar Energy Society says that CSP plants in the south western states of the US "could provide nearly 7,000 GW of capacity, or about seven times the current total US electric capacity". There is clearly plenty available to meet all of Canada's needs as well.

In the 'TRANS-CSP' report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.

Further information about CSP may be found at www.trec-uk.org.uk and www.trecers.net . Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from www.trec-uk.org.uk/reports.htm . The many problems associated with nuclear power are summarised at www.mng.org.uk/green_house/no_nukes.htm .

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