More Nuclear Power Plants?

September 10, 2008 at 8:08 pm 9 comments


By Carol Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC www.themetznergroup.com
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

Over the weekend, I was extolling the benefits of supposed environmentally friendly solar power or wind farms; telling my business minded 25 year old nephew that he should find a way to invest in those businesses. Alternatively, he suggested to me that it is critical to build new nuclear power plants throughout the US. I will say that whenever I hear “nuclear power plants” I think of the Three Mile Island incident. I can remember, during the accident in 1979, that my father made flight reservations for my family to fly to the West Coast and flee Maryland if a total meltdown was imminent. It was frightening. And then in 1986, the horrific meltdown at Chernobyl. The lives lost, the death and destruction. This could happen here in the US. Pennsylvania could have had a ghost town for at least 600 years if Three Mile Island had experienced the total meltdown.

So, as my nephew (a Democrat like myself), discusses the importance of nuclear power plants and as I read Sen. McCain’s proposal that he wants to build 45 more nuclear power plants, I am queasy. We can’t maintain our existing infrastructure. Have we completed all security and technical upgrades to existing plants? Nuclear power provides 20% of our nation’s power. While it may be environmentally friendly in that is does not emit greenhouse gases can we really live with the safety risks? Is my fear and my nephew’s lack of concern a generational difference? It could be. Last year musicians, Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash and Jackson Browne, activist rock stars, reunited to battle the nuclear power industry on Capitol Hill. This new “NO NUKES CAMPAIGN” was created in part to stir up and educate those who weren’t around during the accidents; those who don’t know of the fear and horror of nuclear incidents.

Am I the last of the generational group who would MUCH rather put the $50 billions of dollars targeted for new plants towards renewable energy sources not nuclear power plants?

Let’s hear what you think….and, if you are for nuclear power, were you alive during the aforementioned accidents and if you were, were you old enough to remember the fear, the destruction? Talk to me!

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Entry filed under: Civil Engineering Issues, Failing US Infrastructure, US Infrastructure. Tags: , .

Ready For Gustav, But Ready For Another Katrina? Taking Time Out

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Silence DuGoode  |  March 23, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Obviously, my name is a fake name. Since I am only fifteen years old, it would be unwise for me to release my name on the internet.

    I was not alive during Three Mile Island or Chernoble, and I am still researching the topic of nuclear energy before I decide what my opinion is. Being fifteen, however, I was amazed at one thing: that I have more statistical information in one paragraph of the paper I’m writing then you do in this whole article. I’m not saying your opinion is bad (I don’t yet know which side I’m on), but just saying that Three Mile Island was scary isn’t a real argument. I thought global warming was scary, and then when I finally did some research about it, I found myself saying “How the heck did Al Gore make this so frightening?” You need to look up the crazy hippi people who think nuclear energy is the work of the devil, and then read lot of articles by people who think it’s the most wonderful thing on earth (63% of America, actually). Then look at the information with a completely objective eye. This article just doesn’t have enough evidence. In fact, it has hardly any. You didn’t list the number of American lives claimed by nuclear energy (some say none, some say 3 in Idaho, and others say 36,000 a year) or the details of Chernoble (not built properly and the Soviet Union hid what happened for a while without fixing it) and Three Mile Island (the water pump stopped working, and pressure built up near the point of explosion). Please do your homework and write arguments that are based by solid evidence with cited sources.

    Reply
    • 2. aepcentral  |  March 24, 2009 at 1:34 am

      Thanks for your kind comments. 🙂 The idea of the BLOG is to spark comments and promote discussion from others. Good luck on the research!

      Reply
  • 3. Jim D.  |  October 3, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Rather than get involved in the technical discussion, let’s look at this from another angle. Ask yourself the question, “How many nuclear engineers do you know?”…probably none.

    So, who’s going to design and build new nukes?..or even run them?

    Having worked for a major player in the 70’s and 80’s who designed and built nuclear and other power plants, when the country stopped doing it, the only thing that nuclear engineers did after that was age. Most are now over 60. Now, if nukes were to come back, it would take years to rebuild the infrastructure to support a safe and effective program. The few colleges and universities that taught nuclear engineering would have to pull their curriculum out of mothballs (but who would teach it?). Maybe others would jump on the bandwagon. Then, there’s the ‘minor’ problem in getting students interested in the discipline. It’s bad enough that STEM enrollments are down. Does the Navy still have a strong nuke program?…that would be one source of talent.

    Then, of course, there’s always Jane Fonda. She never did make a sequel to the China Syndrome.

    Reply
  • 4. Gordon  |  September 26, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    Mark

    My statement regarding your objectivity wasn’t based on your opinion, but on your argument. You said slumpy’s contention about electrical transmission was irrelevant and his statement about the siting of wind farms was wrong, then made arguments the supported his position. You stated that location of wind farms was based on terrain and prevailing wind records. As I understand, those are the very reasons that wind farms are usually located in the western plains. I believe Slumpy’s point was that getting wind power from the western plains, where it could be generated cost effectively, to the coasts, where most of the power is used, would suffer from transmission losses.

    Yes, every home could have panels and wind turbines, but the economy of scale would be lost driving up equipment and installation costs thus driving more people out of that market and working against your purpose. I have looked at the small wind generators at a local store and considered having one. But critical market mass hasn’t been reached yet. Just as with the shift in the auto market, when the cost of commercially produced power reaches a point where alternative sources are competitive, folks will look to the alternate sources.

    As to high mileage vehicles, you stated you can’t afford a hybrid. If change isn’t hapening fast enough, why not take the plunge? You complain about what auto companies aren’t selling, but refuse to buy what is available. Have you done a cost analysis? How much of your higher up front cost would be offset by lower fuel costs. If you keep the car until the wheels fall off, you might break even or come out ahead. Even though Ford and Toyota aren’t selling the vehicles you cited, the auto manufacturers are shifting their production to higher mileage models because fuel prices have shifted comsumer sentiments. The auto manufacturers are also shifting their poduct development efforts for the same reason. These changes are evidence of a self-regulating market.

    I doubt either of us will change the other’s outlook regarding market forces. I would suggest you consider college freshman economics courses (or at least what they were 26 years ago) regarding supply and demand. Even monopolies are regulated by the market because consumers will reduce use of or do without their products at some price. A free market, in a un-contaminated form, is an efficient assigner of resources. Regulation has it’s own problems. Sometimes, the unintended consequences of the cure are worse than the supposed disease.

    Reply
  • 5. mark  |  September 23, 2008 at 4:52 am

    I can appreciate skepticism and fairness but simply because i reached a conclusion you disagree with doesn’t mean that i wasn’t objective in reaching it. Even if my views were biased, that doesn’t make my conclusions wrong.

    I recognize that nuclear material is currently shipped and stored without incident. But what i was getting at was:
    1) the material cannot be remediated. it simply has to be isolated until it decays (over hundreds of years).
    2) the material, whether low-level or high-level, is radioactive and everything that comes into contact with it quickly becomes radioactive waste, as well.
    3) low-level waste is poorly monitored and insufficiently controlled.
    http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/14-mainstreaming-nuclear-waste/

    Whether radioactive material is efficient or not, it is still finite. For all intents and purposes, the same cannot be said of sunlight, solar thermal, and natural forces such as wind, tides, waterway currents, and goethermal heat. Futhermore, most radioactive material is found outside of the US, which further aggravates energy independence.

    we are in agreement that nuclear power can be a bridge to alternative power sources. However, I would argue that the time to cross that bridge is now. In fact, nuclear power has been around since 1951 and no new plants have come online in the US since the ’70’s. In order to restart the nuclear power industry, a massive influx of capital is needed. Why not redirect that capital to other, more modern, less polluting, safer, sustainable, and independent sources.

    People have every right to be scared of nuclear power. There have been numerous catastrophes that claimed human lives and sickened many others. It happened. These were real events. it’s not just a risk. It’s evidence. How many lives have been claimed by wind turbines and solar panels? I don’t know that number but I’m comfortable with saying it’s not many.

    You’re correct that alternative, renewable energy sources invite environmental concerns. All source of energy generation have an ecological impact to deal with. This task remains, to varying degrees, no matter what we do. In fact, this concept applies to all aspects of our society. Everything we do has an impact that needs to be considered.

    As for reinventing ourselves, you’re damn skippy it’s not happening fast enough. Did you know that the first electric car was produced in the 1830’s? Fluorescent bulbs were first produced over 100 years ago and even the CFL was invented in the early 1970’s. Electricity was first produced from wind in 1888. The first solar electric power was produced in 1954. Most of these creations that people see playing a role in our future have been around for generations.

    Electric cars are hardly mainstream. No major automotive company has ever produced them for sale in the US. Leased electric vehicles were available for a brief time but have since been recalled and destroyed. Currently, there are many electric vehicles manufactured around the world, such as the Zap Zebra, the Tango, Dynasty, and ZENN…but none are available in the US other than the Tesla Roadster….which cost over $100K. <–not mainstream.

    And hybrids?…they’re great. I wish I could afford one. But placing a gasoline powered electric motor in a gasoline powered car hardly constitutes a reinvention of any sort. The first gasoline internal combustion engine was produced in the 1880’s and has remained virtually unchanged ever since. Did you know that the Model-T Ford got better gas mileage than many of today’s Fords get? Did you know that Toyota makes a minivan that gets over 40mpg?…and that they won’t sell it in the US? Ford is rolling out a new diesel car that get’s 60mpg. They’ve publicly stated that they won’t sell it in the US.

    So, yes, you’ll have to forgive my impatience toward such technical wonders of the green revolution. I think we could step up the pace a little.

    As for the magical wonders of market forces, I refer you to all the financial news of 2008. Capitalism is important and has it’s role to play. But markets forces are fundamentally based in greed and greed is never self-regulating.

    Look, I’ll admit I don’t have all the answers. But the reality is that nuclear energy harbors a health and safety risk, on numerous levels, that isn’t present in most alternatives. It does not make us energy independent. It includes a heavy toll on the environment. If we’re going to dump billions of dollars into a new energy future, why not try to make the best of all possible solutions? Why not invest in power sources that are plentiful, found in the US, and not heavily polluting or dangerous?

    Reply
  • 6. Gordon Glass  |  September 13, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    Mark

    You are not objective and therefore your argument looses credibility. Your claim “there is no possible way to safely transport or contain the waste material” already stands disproven by current practice. Radioactive material may be finite, but a small amount of material produces a considerable amount of energy. It seems to me that nuclear would be a considerable bridge to future technologies.

    I am not aware of the subsidies you claim prop up nuclear energy. I am under the impression that the considerable regulations, certifications and ongoing control systems operations and maintenance add considerable cost and obstructions to nuclear. Although, as I wrote before, the restrictions imposed by the NRC may have made the difference between TMI and Chernobyl.

    The ongoing fear of nuclear energy results in the continued burning of fossil fuels. Wind farms are already being challenged as interferring with bird migration. I imagine tidal generation would be challenged as interferring with some species.

    Your claim that we are not “reinventing what we do” is also false. We may not be reinventing fast enough for you, but there is considerable change coming. Electric and hybrid vehicles are becoming mainstream, and it is a result of increased fuel prices and market changes. As gas goes up, people are changing what they buy. Market forces are accomplishing what a generation of government subsidies and tax credits have failed to do.

    Reply
  • 7. Mark  |  September 13, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    @whereslumpy: Your point about power loss over distance is irrelevant. For one, this power degradation is a physical reality of electricity regardless of the source by which it was generated. It doesn’t matter if it comes from wind, sun, radioactive material, coal, or millions of mice on running wheels. It is just part of the laws of physics that would have to be dealt with regardless. Second, you’re mistaken that wind farms and the like must be constructed at great distances from population centers. That’s simply untrue. Locations are subject to terrain, prevailing wind records, and zoning laws. Fortunately, the greatest obstacle to widespread wind and solar power is zoning laws, the one factor which can easily be changed.

    Furthermore, people are missing the fact the new system of energy doesn’t have to be modeled like the current system. Rather than a massive centralized power plant, the system can be aggregated (at least in part) over the entire grid. That is one of the greatest benefits of wind and solar power. The resource is EVERYWHERE, unstoppable, and inexhaustible. Every home and building in the country could have panels and or small-scale turbines on site and tied into the grid. All public and unused land (where appropriate) could host panels or turbines.

    And again, rather than having one centralized plant that uses only one resource (eg, coal), a new system, especially if aggregated, could easily use multiple resources depending on the region. Coastal cities could tie into tidal forces and and subsurface currents. The region around Yellow Stone could supplement with geothermal.

    As for nuclear power. I cannot mince words. Nuclear power isn’t just colossally stupid. It is totally insane. First and foremost, it is in no way environmentally responsible. The mining, processing, and waste products are environmentally devastating. Secondly, the waste products are LETHAL…to ALL forms of life…for hundreds to possibly thousands of years. And because of this radioactivity and how long it remains toxic, there is no possible way to safely transport or contain the waste material. Oh, and just for good measure, the radioactive material used for power generation is also finite resource, just like fossil fuels, only many orders of magnitude more rare. And lastly, the only reason nuclear power is even viable is because it is, and always has been, propped up by enormous subsidies. Take that away and it could never compete against other sources.

    Regarding Pickens’ Plan: his TV ads are nothing more than a PR campaign aimed at raising capital for his project. And his project is nothing more than a thinly veiled water rights and land grab. There is nothing altruistic or even progressive about his plan. Nothing.

    The only thing holding us back from a responsible and sustainable lifestyle is a collective lack of commitment to reinventing what we do and how we live. Our society is built on concepts and technology that is a hundred years old. Today, there are new and better ways. We lack the leadership and commitment. One thing is certain. Things have to change, one way or another. I would argue that it is best to start now so that we can do it on our own terms. Make no small plans.

    Reply
  • 8. whereslumpy  |  September 12, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Not an expert, but remember that power is lost as its sent over transmission lines. The further it goes, the more power is lost. Giant wind or solar farms can really only be built far away from the places that need the power most (the Northeast) – too far for them to be much help.

    This is why I regard T. Boone Pickens’ Texas wind farm plans as just so much shameless gladhanding for corporate welfare in the form of government subsidies – for a solution that won’t work. He’d love the $50 billion you want to give him, but he’s just going to line his own pockets with it and in the end you’ll still be dependent on nuclear and fossil fuels for your electricity needs. We have to build the generation capacity near where its needed, and that pretty much rules out giant wind and solar farms. Nuclear power has to be part of the answer – not the entire answer, but part of it.

    I grew up in western Lancaster county, PA – within 20 miles of TMI. I remember that day in ’79 when we weren’t allowed to go out to recess, and the ashen look on my teacher’s face as he explained why. I live even closer to the Limerick PA nuclear plant today (though not as close as some folks I know associated with this board ;). Doesn’t bother me much.

    I should also mention that I consult in the energy industry, for the largest centrally-dispatched ISO in the world, in terms of megawatts managed over the grid. My opinions are own and not necessarily those of my client.

    Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash, and Jackson Browne are great musicians, but that doesn’t make them authorities on energy policy.

    Reply
  • 9. Gordon Glass  |  September 12, 2008 at 3:12 am

    I would have been 19 in 1979. I don’t recall the extent of damage at Three Mile Island. I do recall more of the reporting on Chernobyl. Has the area around Chernobyl been determined inhabitable for 600 years? Are the areas in Japan that were bombed with nuclear devices now ghost towns for 540 more years? I would think the contamination from the bombs in Japan would be more significant than that of a nuclear power plant that lost containment. Are the regulations and procedures imposed in the US responsible for the better outcome at Three Mile Island versus Chernobyl?

    Reply

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