Friday, March 17, 2006

No exit

I have been meaning to write a longer piece for months about the way in which the combination of global warming and the oil shortage are going to force renewal of the debate over nuclear energy. An article in the Times reminds me of the issues.

Nuclear Reactors Found to Be Leaking Radioactive Water
With power cleaner than coal and cheaper than natural gas, the nuclear industry, 20 years past its last meltdown, thinks it is ready for its second act: its first new reactor orders since the 1970's.

But there is a catch. The public's acceptance of new reactors depends in part on the performance of the old ones, and lately several of those have been discovered to be leaking radioactive water into the ground.

Near Braceville, Ill., the Braidwood Generating Station, owned by the Exelon Corporation, has leaked tritium into underground water that has shown up in the well of a family nearby. The company, which has bought out one property owner and is negotiating with others, has offered to help pay for a municipal water system for houses near the plant that have private wells.

In a survey of all 10 of its nuclear plants, Exelon found tritium in the ground at two others. On Tuesday, it said it had had another spill at Braidwood, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, and on Thursday, the attorney general of Illinois announced she was filing a lawsuit against the company over that leak and five earlier ones, dating to 1996. The suit demands among other things that the utility provide substitute water supplies to residents.
In the same way that the Bush Administration has argued that opposition to the dismantling of the Constitution is "pre-9/11" thinking, we are about to see a whole lot of arguments from nuclear power advocates that we no longer have the luxury of avoiding a massive shift to nuclear power. Peak Oil really is here, and the costs of fossil fuels will spiral ever upward. But more importantly, nuke advocates are right that with current technology, there are not a lot of alternatives that will allow new energy without adding to global warming.

I still haven't made up up my mind on that one. I think a move to nuclear power now is another manfiestation of Junior's preference for dealing with problems by cutting corners now and letting somebody else deal with the mess later. Issues like disposal of spent fuel and old nuke powerplants are very real, and have not yet been solved. It may be that there will never be a solution.

A second way in which this is a classic Dubya problem is that, just like with Iraq, one of the arguments is going to be, "you can argue all day about how we got in this mess, but we're here, so we are going to have to accept costs XYZ." Conservation and an Apollo like project on alternative energy (like, perhaps, the Apollo Alliance) could have headed off this dilemma. But as with the joke about the pyschologist changing the light bulb, the folks in charge have to want to change, and they plainly did not. Americans have been, as a society, mindbogglingly stupid on this score. As a people, we deserve to suffer for our sins. The problem with nukes is that it is our children who will pay for that sin, as they will with global warming.

And the third way in which this is like Iraq is that us lefties will be proven to be right, yet again, but the millenialist/robber baron/ostrich alliance will have again run out the clock and precluded better solutions. (I believe in solar and wind and such, but I'm not sure we can cut over quickly enough to make them work on a global scale.) We may well be forced into turning to nuclear power and leaving yet another toxic nightmare for future generations.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Double crap!!

First, all the technolgy needed already exists. However, NO LEVEL of technology supports infinite la-la thinking (not thinking) about personal energy consumption. You are certainly right that the American public has it coming. Don't wanna be there when it arrives.
Review the Japanese effort; they haven't increased consumption for something like 15 YEARs (see the recent news)!
Politics doesn't happen in a technological vacuum and commentators who write about the politcal/social scene should keep themselves apprised of current technology.

Point two. Human energy consumption is a non issue. Bird flu is likely to wipe out half the humans (see the recent news). What oil shortage? Increase personal consumption and pollution by 25% while watching total pollution go down as the population falls.

Dream? Nightmare? Wake up!!

BTW: Anonymous is a NICE name.

12:18 PM  
Blogger <-<--esoder<---<----<----- said...

Renewable Energy is the ticket. What if every house had solar panels? The cost of the technology would go down and it would become affordable.

Why don't we have this already? We had this unique character, Dr. Roberts, for our eigth grade Geography teacher. Everyone had to take his class, so everyone I graduated with heard him say 25 years ago, "You will have solar power when the M-O-N-E-Y people figure out how to put a meter on the sun." It's still true today. And it will remain true for the foreseeable future.

All energy originates from the sun. And the closer you can get to the sun, and the less refined the materials are, the better it is for the planet. It's the same with food for people. Grapes are less refined than grape flavored fruit roll ups and are better for you.

Nuke is not the answer.

2:06 PM  
Blogger vermontraccoon said...

I work for an extremely nice and intelligent couple who recently installed a 2400 square foot photovoltaic solar array that makes 5 times more energy than we use on a sunny day and sends the excess back out onto the grid for our neighbors to use. A remetering system, if you will; the electric meter actually runs backwards and at night when the utility power is back on it resumes its forward progress....until the sun comes up. Last month's electric bill was $12.* And we aren't stingy users, either. Not everyone needs to do it; just enough of us to mitigate our foreign oil use. No batteries on this system, so no disposal problem down the line. The whole thing works flawlessly and automatically, just like utility power without the big bill.
* taxes and fees.....we currently have a 184 kw credit. This is winter in Vermont, not an Arizona summer, and our carbon footprint is reduced to almost nothing without fouling the air. I have to admit, I love the solar array and grin every time I read the meter.
The only way to know for sure if something works is to try it, and folks, let me tell you, solar works. Right now.

11:09 AM  

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