Coal, Nuclear or Darkness: Pick One?

Working from the assumption (see dissenting opinion below) that current renewable energy technology is insufficient to provide a reasonably cost-effective solution to the incredibly high demand for electricity, I thought it was time we talked a little bit about the practicality of our situation.

Dissenting Opinion: it's a faulty assumption, because there's no way to accurately quantify the economics and technological breakthroughs a radical increase in society's demand for residential Solar systems could bring about, but I'll let Steve continue with this discussion. For now.

I think most of us are aware of the huge difference in the amount of energy produced in a nuclear vs coal scenario—they're not even in the same league. On an atom-to-atom burn(?) comparison, nuclear produces something like a million times more energy. But there's a catch, right? Okay, there's several catches, so let's talk about them.

Item #1 (on my list, anyway) is Nuclear Proliferation, or the increased production of weapons-grade plutonium as a byproduct of the fueling process. Dangerous stuff, and not to be taken lightly. But here's the thing—we used to have a reprocessing capability, but back in the Seventies that plant was shut down in the hopes that other countries would follow suit, and the fear of plutonium would force the peoples of the world to abandon nuclear power altogether. So now we drop our spent fuel rods into a pool of water and try to keep them cool until we can figure out what the hell to do with them.

Item #2 is all of the toxic and radioactive wastes associated with nuclear power, including the hot little spent rods. As of now, we (in the U.S.) have accumulated over 1.1 billion pounds of depleted uranium alone, not to mention the thorium, radium, radon and lead that are byproducts of this stuff. What's our solution to this surplus depleted uranium? we recycle it into ammunition for weapons, of course. But that's a story for another blog. Suffice it to say that we are way behind the curve in solving the problem of toxic and radioactive wastes, and their legacy will be with us for tens of thousands of years.

Item #3 has to do with dangers associated with human factors such as greed, complacency and just plain incompetence. In the news recently we've had an earthquake that brought a Japanese nuclear power plant to the brink of catastrophe, revealing not only flaws in design, but seemingly casual disregard for rules and procedures in an effort to cut costs. We've also seen a Tennessee facility that had to be shut down due to a leak of radioactive material, and the subsequent public meeting seems to have been purposely concealed in an effort to avoid pesky questions. We've also seen the GAO pull a sting on the NRC where they were able to gain a license to handle radioactive materials and order all the stuff they would need to build a dirty bomb, and all they had to do was sit at their desk and make a few phone calls and faxes.

In closing, I will say this: we desperately need to make drastic reductions in our carbon emissions. We're killing our planet a little more each day. But as long as the nuclear power industry continues to operate the way they do, that's not a solution we (and our descendents) can live with.


Coal, Nuclear or Darkness

Dear Scharisson,

This blog piece is absolutely brilliant. It so eloquently covers just about every point I have been trying to make! It is just the thing that I wish I myself had written!

If you do not mind, I would like to invite you to write to me at . I would like to urge you to turn this blog piece into an article that will be read around the entire nation. I would be happy to help with this effort, and the promotion thereof.

Yes, your blog piece is that good. And yes, it needs to be expanded upon just a bit and used as an educational piece for all Americans to read and study.


Cathy Garger

:) Go scharrison

You're pretty smart. Recommended

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

Thanks! :)

I've e-mailed Cathy, who is very active in the Sierra Club up in Maryland and has published articles on several e-zines nationally.

I'll let you folks know if anything comes of this.

I like the nuclear option as well as solar, wind and hydro as a

stopgap. I am not thrilled with fossel.

Just some thoughts to think about when writing the paper.

Item 1. proliferation. people who want nukes will develope them, regardless if we have a plant running here in NC. Iran and North Korea are proof of that. We can wish they dont, but they will. We have been successful in shuting down nuke production facilities and that is a good thing. Even if we went entirely green and had no nuke plants or fossel fuel plants going in the US, people will be making nukes or trying to, or making enough contaminates to make a "dirty bomb". Nuclear weopons are scary and many terrorists know this. From a terrorists point of view, if I can convince you I have one, I have leverage on you. I will strive to get that regardless of anything the organized world might wish otherwise.

Item 2. Excellent observation

Suffice it to say that we are way behind the curve in solving the problem of toxic and radioactive wastes, and their legacy will be with us for tens of thousands of years.

Encouraging methods of "denuking" the pipes etc should be a priority. In my unscientific mind, there should be a way to get the contaminants off the material to safely dispose of it. Thats for the scientists to develope. The actual rods in the water, and the pipes used to help cool a nuke plant are a problem that need to be corrected. If it becomes a national requirement, scientists will find a solution. How many folks thought JFK was mad to think we could put a man safely on the moon and bring him back by the end of the generation? Our scientists came up with a plan and did it.

Depleated rounds for munitions are safe to handle. Loaded up Phalanx rounds which use depleted uranium and no special handling requirements for it. Just wear gloves. All it is is a very heavy and dense metal that if shaped correctly, has a high penetration factor. Knocks stuff down nicely when flying at my ship. The government is not spraying nuclear contaminated waste around in an attempt to get rid of unwanted nuclear waste. Study for depleted uranium from WHO. move to pg 3 for main body of document. It is only 7 pages total.

Item 3. proper placement of nuke plants and proper running of them is key. The US Navy has not had a failure of a nuke plant. Failure of other things might have caused a failure of a plant, but when a sub is at the bottom of the ocean emploaded on itsself due to preasure, you cant really say the nuke plant failed catastrophicly. They have 4 plants on every Nimitz class class carrier and 8 on the Ike. Not sure how many are on a sub, but we have a few subs. Arguably, the US Navy is the most profiecient and prolific users of nuclear plants in the world. To work these plants, it takes years of training even for the enlisted guys, and then the guidlines for turning a valve are stagering. Respect of the plant is paramont. They have been running these plants since the mid-1950s.

has to do with dangers associated with human factors such as greed, complacency and just plain incompetence.

are more the problem then the nuke plant itself.

Nuclear power can be utilized if it becomes a priority. We cannot depend on fossel fuels. Solar, wind and hydro alone are not going to cut it. The demand is to high and the output is to small. Biofuels and agrofuels will not replace fossel fuels. I do not wish to compete with Betsy the cow for my mode of transportation. What these technologies are doing is putting us in the right frame of mind to get off of fossel fuels. Paradigmy shift. Safely disposing of spent rods etc can be performed and investigated.

It can be argued that anything made by man is inhearently dangerous to the planet. What does happen is the risk of that item is weighed against the potential side effect. If found acceptable then it is utilized.

Final analysis.....Nuclear, solar, wind hydro in their current forms are not going to power this planet in the future. As soon as we accept this and work to the next generation of power production and mobility we will be moving in the right direction. Failure to start moving is worse then using the options available to us today. That includes nuclear. Nuclear can be made safe if we wished to as a stop gap to the next real power producer, whatever that is.

talked with my mom about the JFK

thing and she mentioned that at that time, if JFK said we could do something, then we believed him and went and did it. So I have to retract my JFK was mad comment. Mom was there, while I was also, I was a weeee bit young to grasp the ramifications of that statement or what the country was saying.

Wish we had a president where we could belief him like people did across the board with JFK.

Spent fuel worst problem

Some comments on your post:

Nuclear power does produce more energy per atom that fossil fuels. However, an atoms to atoms comparison does not make sense. Uranium, per atom, is far more expensive than coal, oil, or gas. A cost comparison of nuclear vs. fossil shows that they are relatively close. Nuclear fuel is cheaper (per KWH produced) but the plant itself is more expensive.

I think that, based on economics alone, fossil power is a better choice than nuclear. But it is close enough for reasonable people to disagree.

Safety is the problem.

Item #1. I am not as worried about proliferation. Plutonium is produced as a part of the nuclear reaction, but it is extremely difficult to separate the plutonium from the spent fuel.

Item #2: What to do with the spent fuel is the big problem. Whether the rods are reprocessed to recover plutonium or unreacted uranium, there is still some very bad stuff left over.

Item #3: Plant safety is a problem, but nothing as bad as the spend fuel (Item #2). The new types of reactors are much better than those currently in use, but I am not sure that they are good enough.

I recently downloaded the detailed description of the latest Westinghouse proposal (all 6000 pages, highly technical). I haven't read it all yet, but there are a few things I don't like and have commented to Westinghouse and others about.

As for human factors, I have done some work in that area. But it is now assumed that not only will people make stupid mistakes but that some people may be evil and deliberately do bad things.

Of the above, item #2 is the worst. It will remain if item #3 is solved.

Your assumption that "current renewable energy technology is insufficient to provide a reasonably cost-effective solution to the incredibly high demand for electricity," I think you are right. But there are things that can be done to reduce the use of coal, oil, and gas.

First is to try to reduce the demand.

While solar is very expensive for power generation, there may be ways it can supplement existing power plants and reduce the amount of coal that is burned.

Wind is very limited due to siting problems, but any amount that can be used will reduce the burning of coal.

Biofuels also have promise.

Anything that reduces the burning of coal will reduce greenhouse gases.

NC Laws Are Biased Against the Consumer

Solar panels even (if/when) affordable ... the energy produced and sent back to the grid is biased in favor of the utility not the consumer who generated the electricity.

There is a time limit. The documents are on line but they are damnably difficult to find. Basically what happens is this: You end up giving away most of what you've generated if you haven't used it for yourself.

Other states (PA, CA, NY, specifically) don't do this. NC is one of the worst out there.

But hey. Don't take my word for it. Go see for yourself. Do a comparison and you'll see what I'm talking about.

You're right, and it needs to change.

I can't do the linkie thing, but I've done a lot of reading about net-metering in the last few months.

As I've mentioned before, Duke Energy has set a cap on how much of their baseload can be generated by net-metering consumers/partners, and that cap is 2/10 of a percent. I am very curious to find out if anybody has been refused access because of this (yet).

I also read a regulation from Progress Energy about net-metering, and it stated bluntly "No money shall be paid to customers for surplus energy". Everything I've seen where people are trying to promote this claims that surplus is carried from one month to the next, and, at the end of the year, the power companies "settle up" with their customers. I don't know what that means, but it apparently doesn't mean cold hard cash.

There's also the issue of Solar customers paying retail for the power they use, but only being credited wholesale for power they send back to the grid.

Installing Solar is expensive enough without adding more negative incentives like this. SB3 would have been (could be?) the perfect vehicle for fixing these problems, but it ain't gonna happen as long as the utilities write the legislation for us.

See? See what I mean?

You found it. I just couldn't say it like you did.


NC reps are not world green friendly

they are money green friendly and power green happy.

SB3 would have been (could be?) the perfect vehicle for fixing these problems, but it ain't gonna happen as long as the utilities write the legislation for us.

People want me to go solar, sink $32,000 of my money into this venture to help our state reduce its dependance on fossel fuels and our legislators are tossing up road blocks. Allowing the power company to use my sold back power, but if to many of us jump on this, some of us will not benifit?

Screw that. I will just turn on every freakin light in my house. run the dam AC with the effing windows open, jump into my V-8 mustang mach-1 and run around in 3rd gear until every dam ounce of oil and coal is gone. Then these dumb shit politicians and power company folks can sit around in the dark and have a good ole fashion circle jerk.

At least I will get some satisfaction from taking this world down the crapper. Freakin gready people. Have a meeting at one of the Duke nuke plants with these bastages and someone open up the water waste valve on the whole collection of fools. The world will be a much better place.

Rant off. sorry.