Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Safe Nuclear Power

Let me first just say that I support Nuclear Power and I have always supported Nuclear Power.  I also want to express my sincere condolences to the Japanese.  The earth itself attacked them, leaving devastation that few military powers could match.

The calamity is ongoing as we know.  Containment buildings seem to explode daily and we are constantly soothed that this is not a big deal.  At least Its not as bad as Chernobyl so far.

"What the hell do you know about Nuclear Power?"  That's a question you might be asking me and its a fair one.  Well I grew up in a nuclear town.  I spent most of my formative years living in Pickering Ontario.  Kids in Calgary grow up with the Rocky Mountains on the horizon.  My Rocky Mountains were the containment buildings and vacuum building of the Pickering Nuclear Power Plant.   We all called it the Pickering Nuke, The Nuke or just The Nuke Plant.  I use the term affectionately, but I know others use it the same way some use the term "Tar Sands."

The Nuke's main power-lines ran right past my subdivision.  A little park at the end of the street led to an old apple orchard where the towering pylons hummed with power.  If you stood directly beneath a set of two power lines you could sometimes feel the power in the air.  If the barometer and humidity were just right you could touch another person and feel an odd buzzing vibrating sensation.  It was like magic, but the rows of pylons gave us a clear line of sight all the way to the source.  (I never found out exactly what that effect was but I'm sure it had to do with the magnetic field generated by flowing electricity over my head)

It was awesome to me.  I would ask my dad to take me there on weekends when there was nothing else to do. Behind gates and barbed wire they had an Educational Center that was like a free local Science Center.  It had full size mock-ups of the CANDU core and of fuel rods.  It also had games and Geiger counters and miniature models.  Needless to say I became an early supporter of Nuclear Power. 

That of course put me at odds with the mindless do-gooders like Greenpeace.  I was already familiar with that crowd from the save-the-whales craze.  I argued for Nuclear power in the face of ignorance time and again.  When Greenpeace tried to ban Chlorine, an abundant element necessary for life, I argued against that too.  When they started arguing against Coal and Oil to stop Global Warming, I was right there with harsh dose of reality and perspective for them.

Then a strange thing happened.  Eco-nuts started declaring that nuclear was safe.  'Well yeah' I thought.  I've only been telling them for so many years.  Let's not get carried away here.  They are safe if and only if they are well designed, well operated and well maintained.  To make nuclear safe, a great deal of care must be taken that is frankly not required when operating a Coal power plant.

When eco-nuts began touting nuclear power as the safe alternative to coal power or even natural gas it gave me a huge sense of foreboding.  It was divide and conquer and some good people took the bait.  I supported nuclear power, but the last thing I wanted was a nuke plant on every corner.

These facilities will be dangerously radioactive for 10,000 years.  To give you some perspective the pyramids at Giza are 8,000 years old.  That's the age of pyramids plus the time since Christ walked the earth.  Nothing lasts that long.  No one can make predictions that far into the future, especially at the accelerated rate that history seems to move in these times.  I'm not saying we can't handle it.  I'm saying, lets just keep in mind the scores or generations that we volunteer as eternal custodians to our energy needs.  I'm sure that good engineering could extend the life of a nuclear plant for 60 or even 80 years at most.  How does that compare with the 10,000 year tomb that must remain un-violated?  I'm in favor of larger nuclear plants, not more of them (though we could probably do with a few more big ones).  Look at the 10,000 year tombs we have already.  I hope somebody has etched this map into stainless steel and plans to defend them from all the nasties who haven't even been born yet.  We can neither forget or ignore these sites now that they exist.

Nuclear is also non-renewable.  Sure there is plenty of it, but it can only ever be a part of the energy mix.  Nuclear cannot replace fossil fuels or we'll just run out of fissile material quicker.  Nuclear should be used to conserve fossil fuels and reduce the overall cost of energy.   

At the peak of the ridiculous Global Warming Hysteria people were actually talking about nuclear drilling rigs (nuclear-electric rather than diesel-electric).  That's right, some bright lights wanted to circumvent a carbon tax by deploying portable miniature nukes to roam the countryside.  Can you see a little problem with that idea?  Can you see the problem in the green ideology that leads to these ideas? 

This is why it distresses me when some proponents of nuclear power use green ideology to push nuclear safety.  Surely you must realize that the eco-nuts will turn on you eventually.  How sad that some in the nuclear industry would temporarily befriend their old enemies to get an edge on their energy competitors.  Shame.   

Drilling and nuclear power intersect again in yet another hysterical example eco-mania in the faux controversy over fracing.  It's too large a subject to discuss fully here, but one method of mining for Uranium involves In-Situ Recovery (ISR) in a process very similar to fracing in hydrocarbon wells.  Some American company botched their well and it led to the fear mongering we see today in Quebec.  It's the same old pattern from environmentalists over and over again.

Drilling rigs are safe, but with their wide use a BP disaster was statistically bound to happen.  Nuclear Power plants are safe and so scaling up their use and playing down their risks will probably lead meltdowns given enough time.  The triple partial meltdown and explosions in Fukushima was the result of extremely bad luck.  Suddenly everyone remembers the risks in nuclear power. 

Does this mean we should abandon nuclear power?  Does the BP spill mean we should not drill for oil?  Does the botched well in Pennsylvania mean we should stop fracing?  No, absolutely not.  We should proceed with caution in all of these endeavors including the high degree of caution required for safe nuclear power.  Some times bridges fail and planes crash.  Does it make sense to ban bridges or airplanes?  Does it even make sense to ban bridges vs airplanes in lieu of one over the other depending on some nonsensical safety comparison?  No, but this is exactly the argument of green nukes vs gas or coal power plants.  It's nonsense and nobody should tolerate it, not even for short term tactical advantage.  When you play with green ideology just remember that you yourself might be the next target of self-righteous green de-marketing.


Anonymous said...

Back, way back in the 1950's some people in the utility industry had a vision of an entirely nuclear-generated grid. Large scale nuclear power would be ridiculously cheap, so heating water and buildings,and just about everything but transportation could have been done with electrical power. That's where the old slogan, "Live Better Electrically" came from. Enviromentalists killed that, instead pushing for fossil fuel generation where hydro would have been impractical. And this is the first nuke incident to occur without a human cause.

Anonymous said...

you know,considering these facilities have been hammered by a M8.9 earthquake the situation could be one hell of a lot worse.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an informative post. You are so right, what happened in Japan was not human error.

All the safety things were in place, and even survived a earthquake very high on the scale. If it were not for the water destruction things would have been different and controlled.

It is so good to hear from somebody that lived under a neclear power plant, and has first-hand observations. It is also good to hear and warn of the danger of uneducated people in necular energy fears being answered. Pollution should be faught, not a battle on carbon [which is essentual for plant life which produces oxygen]

Again, thank you for a well balanced post.

Clown Party

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