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I Oversaw the US Nuclear Power Industry. Now I Think It Should Be Banned.

I Oversaw the US Nuclear Power Industry. Now I Think It Should Be Banned.

Gregory Jaczko

Nuclear power was supposed to save the planet. The plants that used this technology could produce enormous amounts of electricity without the pollution caused by burning coal, oil or natural gas, which would help slow the catastrophic changes humans have forced on the Earth’s climate. As a physicist who studied esoteric properties of subatomic particles, I admired the science and the technological innovation behind the industry.

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I liked Andrew Yang until I found out that he is pro-nuke.

Flawed judgement.

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Thanks Greg for coming to your senses regarding the nuclear threats and current anti-nuke activism - but don’t pussy-foot around! Shut them down and (attempt to) clean them up now. NO “SAFSTOR” 60 year clean-up delay BS; demand return to “Green Field” conditions now, or public will pay!

Now if we can get corrupt self-serving politicians like Andy Cuomo to stop bailing-out the dying nuke industry and their deadly complexes, like he did in upstate NY for aging and money-losing Ginna, FitzPatrick and Nine Mile Point plants to the tune of $7.6 Billions for Exelon corporation thieves! All NY rate-payers having their pockets picked - more corrupt corporate collaboration from Cuomo who yet again screws NY taxpayers!!

The answer to “Will Cuomo stand-up to corporate swindlers” in the above linked piece is a resounding NO! He was, and remains in collusion with their scam theft!

https://www.stopthecuomotax.org/

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I can understand your point of view, and certainly you have more of a reason to be anti-nuke than most people. In fact, I’m ALSO anti-nuke, but I am only against the last generation of nuclear energy. There IS such a thing as the next generation of non-pressurized reactors. In fact, Bill Gates even got some new legislation into Congress and PASSED it. That’s pretty impressive, especially considering the gridlock there. Must mean that there isn’t a good reason to have a knee-jerk reaction against nuclear energy. Yeah, I’ve heard that it’s true that Westinghouse doesn’t want to deal with the next generation because they wouldn’t make as much money on the fuel. That’s really too bad. On the one hand, you have a new generation of people who are starting to want to get on with designing generation 4 reactors, and on the other hand, the nuclear industry is shooting themselves in the foot with this approach.

In any case, I was pretty disappointed in your article, to be honest. It was pretty non-comprehensive, especially shocking coming from you of all people. Whatevs, greens will be greens.

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Through the 1980’s, I was a carpenter doing energy conservation in housing - thermal pane windows, basic insulation and more efficient household appliances. Reducing energy consumption led to the cancellation of 4 nuclear power plants proposed in Washington State and the decommissioning of Oregon’s Trojan nuclear plant. Housing standards today are more comfortable, cleaner, healthier and more sturdily built to last decades longer. It was a study in “Less is More” as opposed to your comment which is “More is actually less.” Pretty much all regional utility grids could increase capacity and resilience by incorporating household EVs matched to rooftop/neighborhood solar PV arrays. Large photovoltaic solar farms seem wasteful and leave the public with less means to manage wasteful energy consumption.

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My question is, are there enough minerals-natural resources to put solar panels on every hose in the world? I know we must have renewable, non-carbon producing energy sources if we are to survive. Did anyone ever consider large solar reflectors, ie, giant magnifying prisms concentrated on huge boilers in order to produce steam to turn turbines rather than coal, gas, etc?

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Neither Mr. Jaczko nor any of the comments to the article mentioned the problem of storing spent nuclear waste. It will be deadly for 250,000 years, and some of it (Neptunium 237) for over 2 million years. Anatomically modern humans have only existed for around 300,000 years, and the oldest human settlements for 11,500 years. What colossal hubris, to create substances that will remain lethal for more than 6 times as long as our species has been on the planet! Perhaps we should suggest that the CEOs and cheerleaders for the nuclear industry stick some of those spent rods up where the sun don’t shine.

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Put the waste in screw shaped containers. Take them to the middle of the ocean. Drop them so that they bury themselves in the claylike sediments. The sediment will safely store the containers until they are carried by tectonic action and be subsumed back into the mantle. The AEC considered subsea burial until the 80s. It has not been publicly mentioned since. If all the waste was safely gone then big corporations would not have another endless revenue stream funded by taxpayers.
Looming sea level rise will make many more nukes unsafe. 99% of nukes are in the North. That is why after Fukushima I moved to Ecuador. The air and water from the North and South do not mix much.

The posit that nuclear power was going to save the planet is as big a corporate lie as clean coal, safe cigarettes, etc.

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I still prefer my solution, shove the rods up the CEO’s behinds.

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“As a physicist who studied esoteric properties of subatomic particles, I admired the science and the technological innovation behind the industry.”

There is nothing in Jaczko’s background to indicate he ever viewed nuclear power favorably. When he went to Washington, he first signed on to work for staunchly anti-nuclear (and pro-gas) Ed Markey, and then worked for Harry Reid, who held up Bush appointments to get Jaczko appointed to the NRC board–specifically to act as Reid’s wrecking ball to kill the Yucca Mt. project. Then Obama elevated him to Chairman as quid-pro-quo for Reid’s support. Jaczko blocked the release of the findings of one safety evaluation and unilaterally terminated another that was in progress, withdrew the Yucca application without board approval, and his tenure was mostly notable for his ignorance of nuclear power, his brittle, bullying form of mismanagement, rulebreaking, and investigations into his misconduct.

“Two years into my term, an earthquake and tsunami destroyed four nuclear reactors in Japan. I spent months reassuring the American public that nuclear energy, and the U.S. nuclear industry in particular, was safe.”

Jaczko’s response to Fukushima was to jump into the thick of a foreign incident which was outside the NRC’s purview and to stoke fears by urging a recommended evacuation zone for Americans in Japan which far exceeded the Japanese zone, justifying it with the panic-inducing claim that the Unit 4 spent fuel pool was dry and that the fuel was burning–which was not supported by any evidence at the time and only months later did Jaczko grudgingly admit in response to questioning at a press conference in the U.S. that both claims had in fact turned out to be false, and he never apologized for having jumped the gun and incited panic.

“Despite working in the industry for more than a decade,”

Jaczko never worked in the industry.

“Over the decades since its inception in the 1950s, nuclear power has prevented hundreds of fossil-fuel plants from being built, meaning fewer people have suffered or died from diseases caused by their emissions.”

Hansen puts it at 1.8 million premature deaths avoided. (Apart from illness, suffering, and medical expense avoided.)

“Nuclear power is also the path to nuclear weapons,”

The U.S. had bombs before power reactors. No U.S. bombs ever got their fuel from our power reactors.

“A massive release of radiation from [Fukushima], as its four reactors failed, lasted for months.”

There were three meltdowns / three reactor failures at Fukushima.

“History shows that the expense involved in nuclear power will never change.”

Much like history “showed” that electric cars will never be viable.

“No matter your views on nuclear power in principle, no one can afford to pay this much for two electricity plants. New nuclear is simply off the table in the United States.”

If that were true, there would be no need for a ban.

“After I left the NRC in 2012, I argued that we needed new ways to make accidents impossible.”

You can’t make all accidents impossible. You can, however, make the certain outcomes from accidents impossible.

“When a reactor incident occurs, the plant should not release any harmful radiation outside the plant itself.”

That is a goal that several next-gen developers have set for their designs. So if they succeed, should their reactors be banned too?

“Fukushima provided a good test of just how important nuclear power was to slowing climate change: … Eight years after Fukushima, that question has been answered. Fewer than 10 of Japan’s 50 reactors have resumed operations, yet the country’s carbon emissions have dropped below their levels before the accident. How? Japan has made significant gains in energy efficiency and solar power.”

Reality check:
https://www.carbonbrief.org/carbon-brief-profile-japan

Solar power output is still a small fraction of what nuclear used to be. Coal and gas are both way up from 2011 and Japan is still building more coal plants. The majority of the savings in overall carbon emissions is from reduced consumption of oil–which has been declining since 1996. (see the plot by source by year–top graph) Japan also has a shrinking population, which makes it easier to reduce overall consumption.

“Could reactors be phased out here without increasing carbon emissions? If it were completely up to the free market, the answer would be yes, because nuclear is more expensive than almost any other source of electricity today.”

What happened to taking lessons from history? When nuclear plants have closed in the U.S., fossil fuel use has consistently increased.

“In 2016, observing these trends, I launched a company devoted to building offshore wind turbines.”

Which I’m sure provides no ulterior motive at all in calling for all future forms of nuclear power to be banned.

“This tech is no longer a viable strategy for dealing with climate change,”

Old-tech nuclear was mostly built before climate change was an issue. Since climate change became an issue, new builds of old-tech nuclear have not happened fast enough to halt the growth in fossil-fueled electricity. Even nuclear and all new renewables combined have not accomplished that. It will take a very different kind of nuclear for it to have real potential for displacing fossil carbon. And new types are in development, and Jaczko had to have heard about some of these when he was at the NRC. And yet, no mention of future forms of nuclear power in an article concerning the future of nuclear power. Odd that.

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Solar reflector systems in use today are huge, at least 4 acres. They’re also ‘centralized’ or dependent upon long-distance transmission lines and then connect to regional utility grids, both vulnerable to grid failure. The beauty of rooftop solar and larger ‘neighborhood’ arrays is their ability to function during grid failure. Yet, they complement the grid; they add solar energy without increasing the grid with new sources like solar reflectors. A household with rooftop solar has the means to more closely monitor and reduce energy consumption for both household use and for driving with shorter trips. That’s especially true with PHEV plug-in hybrids rather than all-battery BEVs like the Tesla with its 85kwh battery pack 17x larger than the 5kwh Toyota Prius pack. Smaller EV battery pack = smaller rooftop array.

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Interesting post as always. I would like to push back on:

Their amount of shrinking is currently insignificant unless you compare to a country with a growing population. Better to say “their stable and slightly shrinking population makes it easier … “ (their peak was at 128.1 and are now at 126.8 million)

It is quite frustrating that so many politicians or people who speak out about nuclear power can’t be bothered to learn some of the basics about Gen IV reactors. I think Jay Inslee gave them a brief mention on Bill Maher but he could have had a few facts ready (I emailed his campaign). I wish Tulsi or Bernie would educate themselves a bit on the topic as well.

What is your current assessment in terms of MSR demonstration reactors? Are we going to see them in other countries first and then the political discussion here may mature? Or are there going to be any in the US in the same time frame?

But solar thermal towers do have the advantage that thermal storage is a cheaper add on than grid battery storage. I’d like to see more of both types of solar.

Someday I’ll have to put some more effort into understanding your claims about car batteries connected to the house being that practical over dedicated batteries at the house (or at the grid). My car (in the end I opted to lease another Leaf though I considered a Plug-in Clarity partially from your posts) is not at the house during most of the solar day and I have to think many people are in a similar situation.

The two-million±year half-life of neptunium 237 is only a consideration if it is left to decay away on its own. But Np-237 is fissile, so it can be fissioned instead. With the sort of reactors we have today, it isn’t worth extracting the small amounts of Np from spent fuel (around 500 grams per metric ton) but there are molten salt fast reactors in development which are being designed to consume spent fuel whole, turning all the uranium, neptunium, plutonium, americium, and curium it contains into fuel. We will still need to store spent fuel until it can be consumed, but that should only take two or three centuries. It won’t require storage on the order of millions, or even thousands of years.

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It was obvious in the 50s and 60s to anyone with a passing knowledge of how nuclear power works that building reactors without first solving the nuclear waste problem was sheer madness.

But the industry convinced the lawmakers to let the government (ie us taxpayers) shoulder all the costs and all the risks - and let the corporations make the profits - with no viable plan for dealing with the waste.

We are now having the debate that didn’t happen 60 years ago when it would have made a difference. Same as our tardy recognition of the climate change crisis.

To complete your argument you may want to add details on what is left after fuel is spent in an MSR (I know you have in past posts). Various components and their amounts and half-lives and chemical toxicity. I know it is much better than current spent fuel but it’s always good to have numbers.

And on this topic, do you know of public statements from companies developing MSR about how they can exist with a worldwide moratorium on uranium mining? In my opinion this is a very important part of the argument to pursue these reactors.

OK, Trog, let’s assume that we need to store spent fuel for two or three centuries. Think about what the technology was like in 1700 or 1800. The first commercial steam engine was built in 1712. But in the 1850s people were still traveling across the continent on foot, on horseback, and in ox-drawn wagons. No one back then could have imagined what the world would be like today. Then think about political instability–war after war, still going on in the Middle East and elsewhere. We can’t predict what the technology or political climate will be in the next two or three centuries. I can imagine terrorist groups getting their hands on some of that spent fuel. Why not invest in something less poisonous, like solar or wind power, rather than assume that we can safely store those spent rods for all that time?

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Thanks for the mention, Dara. I owe you one. I agree with your assessment that battery storage at windmill farms is more expensive than thermal storage! When I first heard of proposals to install battery packs at wind farms, that set off my alarm bells. Wind farms are still a centralized power source. Adding battery packs - to balance the load during low wind hours and store energy during off peak demand hours - it’s still a centralized power source vulnerable to grid failure.

Let’s say both a Honda Clarity 17kwh pack and a Nissan Leaf 30kwh pack need replacement at 100,000 miles. The Clarity replacement pack is less expensive, but more important, being smaller, it’s simpler to extend its use as low-power household backup matched to a smaller, simpler, less expensive rooftop solar array. As for those whose cars are parked at their workplace during daylight hours, their battery packs could be charged at outlets there. The most important benefit with rooftop solar is an emergency backup power supply during grid failure.

Let’s say rooftop solar componentry more closely measures household energy consumption. You gain the means to uncover energy waste and replace outdated household appliances. Let’s say this system creates economic incentives to make shorter trips to local retail rather than long trips to Costco or Walmart Supercenters. Over time, more of these shorter trips become possible without having to drive. Thus, walking, bicycling and mass transit - all more energy efficient than EVs alone - become the norm. Supporting local retail also undermines the undue influence of the corporate ruling class.

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Thanks for your thoughts. I realize the use of transmission lines which is why I thought that the large “solar arrays” could plug into the existing lines. Also, individual rooftop panels, again, would require a lot of nonrenewable resources if every house were to go that way. If everyone were to store their own power with batteries, same result. I used solar and wind on my cruising sailboat and am aware of the benefits of using and storing your own power and the awareness of how much ‘juice’ each item uses. Also, if each owner just ‘sells’ back power from their individual arrays then how does that alleviate the grid system going down problem? I am not attacking your thoughts; I just enjoy the conversation and do not dismiss any ideas lightly.