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The False Promise of Nuclear Power

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/30/false-promise-nuclear-power

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I’m pretty sure this was actually first published in the Boston Globe, which let me see a little of it and then snatched it away.

I seem to recall Oreskes as a respected global warming communicator. I don’t recall much about Lifton. But if they are respected climate communicators, well, that’s a problem, because they are lying like flatfish.

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Nuclear generated power does not stop when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing. Just like the global warming denialists, the fission-phobic arguments in this article have been refuted a thousand times.

But at any rate, popular opposition to nuclear is a fact, so it looks like natrual gas (from shale fracking) is filling in for coal to solve the base load and intermittancy problem.


Yes, I was dissapointed reading this from Ms. Oreskes too.


The head of the snake may be here: “The appropriate comparison is between nuclear and renewable energies”. No. The appropriate comparison is between nuclear and gas. It is on gas that governments get intoxicating revenue bumps whenever they prevent nuclear power plants from operating.

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The only error in this article is its reference to “half century”.

Nuclear power plants have operated since the mid 50s, not 1969, so the industry has had well over a half century to test its efficacy and keeps coming up short. Granted that a nuclear plant generally produces power for more hours each year than a fossil fueled or renewable plant does…but at a high monetary and social cost.

I have worked in power generation industry for decades and concluded that a nuclear reactor is the most expensive means of boiling water ever devised while the industry is no further along in figuring out how to safely deal with the waste than it was when I was born.


Having never been to an anti-nuclear power rally, busy insulating homes, principally doors and windows as a part of Jimmy Carter’s Home Weatherization Tax Credit program that Reagan cancelled in 1982, but not before its stimulus effect spurred whole industries and created millions of jobs. Homes today are more comfortable, cleaner, healthier, more sturdily built to last more generations as well as more energy efficient. Energy consumption was reduced enough to cancel Washington State’s (Wwpps) proposal to build “4” nuclear power plants and decommission Oregon’s Trojan plant by the mid 1980’s for the same reason - expensive nuclear power wasn’t needed. The authors are correct to promote solar power especially for household rooftops and neighborhood array systems, rather than huge solar farms. Advocates for nuclear power are idiots or crooks.


Or maybe the snake’s head is here:

wherever extensive nuclear power is put into use there is the possibility of its becoming weaponized. Of course, this potential weaponization makes nuclear reactors a tempting target for terrorists.

The final sentence of that, no-one can believe, because terrorists are not known for resisting temptation. Throughout the beginning of the nuclear power era, where have they been?

The deception attempted in the first part is the insinuation that that possibility makes a difference. Wherever violins are played, there is the possibility that the bow will be used to launch arrows. Wherever piston-in-cylinder engines are released into the hands of the masses, there is the possibility they will be converted into multibarrel cannons.

My take on this at Quora.

The TL;DR: nuclear power plants were uninvolved in most, maybe all, nuclear weapon creation, but to safely destroy one kind they are vital.

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The nuclear plant in my area and others in Pennsylvania were very cost-competitive until they were undercut by the dirt-cheap natural gas from the Marcellus Shale fracking.

PJM interconnect has modeled a grid where all coal and nuclear generators are retired. It found that it would consist of 80 percent natural gas and 20 percent wind and solar and hydro. Any more than 20 percent wind and solar and reliability issues arise.

The demise of these deadly plants is now degenerating further, to newcomer corporations “buying” the decrepit plants to squeeze the last dollars from nuclear terror. None of them are competitive to run!

The reality is the decommissioning and “clean-up” (laugh now) will be disappeared IMO. Under NRC’s “Saf-Stor” 60 year delay scam, taxpayers will likely be on the hook for the also disappeared or legally re-constituted corporations that will evade the responsibility and the toxic deadly sites will continue to pollute and threaten life.

“Riverkeeper has major concerns that Entergy will sell the Indian Point reactors to Holtec for decommissioning. Both Holtec and its intended partner, SNC-Lavalin, have problematic operating histories, including a bribery scandal in Canada that threatens to topple the Trudeau government. This proposed license transfer therefore needs careful scrutiny”

Compliant corrupt politicians make deals to save dangerous plants and steal more money from the public for wealthy corporations. The upstate NY nuke “bailout” of three plants owned by Exelon Corp by Andy Cuomo for $7.6 Billion a case in point. His claims of “preserving jobs and fighting climate change”, BS!

Meanwhile Cuomo’s deal to close Indian Point still shrouded in secrecy and likely corruption! Global Climate Change dangers to these monsters NOT taken into account!

Cuomo had not the wit, wisdom, integrity. vision or concern for the future to shift those Billions to sustainable energy projects - typical for that corrupt political tool!


“clean-up” (laugh now)

Ya that’s a laugh, good one

Rather like Fukushima and the Genius Ice Barrier

Read… Citizen Tax Load “ad infinatum”

Never even would have thought of that
Perpetual Ice in the South Pacific
Such Quality Science and Engineering

But let’s keep it strictly economic in evaluation
For the Nukies sake
Hate to confuse them with facts
Like the Westinghouse Bankruptcy
Build, rape profits and leave before the check arrives
Toshiba you cut rate garbage scavengers

Don’t want to get too far into the Vast Health and Ecological Benefits
Cause we’ll miss all the money (laugh now)

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" According to the US Energy Information Agency, the average nuclear power generating cost is about $100 per megawatt-hour. Compare this with $50 per megawatt-hour for solar and $30 to $40 per megawatt-hour for onshore wind "

They do. Robert Jay Lifton, Naomi Oreskes are hoping nobody bothered to read that table to the end, nuclear power beats every other system but hydroelectric on $/MWh.

What they are quoting is the operation expenses only. Following the table to the end and adding maintenance and fuel we get the following $/MWh

Nuclear 243.8
Fossil Steam 354.1
Hydro 102.9
Gas Turbine 317.6 (Gas Turbine and Small Scale category consists of gas turbine, internal combustion, photovoltaic, and wind plant)

Buy hey, why get bogged down with details? Nobody follows the links anyway and if they do most of us have no idea what we are looking at anyway.

Ugh. Oreskes. Hard to take her seriously after she accused James Hansen of engaging in denialism.

“Any solution must involve the control of greenhouse gas emissions by phasing out fossil fuels and switching to alternative technologies that do not impair the human habitat while providing the energy we require to function as a species.”


“This sobering reality has led some prominent observers to re-embrace nuclear energy. Advocates declare it clean, efficient, economical, and safe.”

Some advocates think it is not quite any of those things yet, but even so, see good potential for it to become all of those things.

“In actuality it is none of these. It is expensive and poses grave dangers to our physical and psychological well-being.”

In actuality, it probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives relative to the even-worse alternatives we were using.

“The financial group Lazard recently said that renewable energy costs are now “at or below the marginal cost of conventional generation” — that is, fossil fuels — and much lower than nuclear.”

As intermittent renewables have been used to reduce the output from fossil fuel plants, the cost per unit of electricity from the fossil plants has gone up, but we are still running the fossil plants for backup. So the renewables are offsetting some fuel costs, but they are not offsetting much in the way of fossil infrastructure costs.

“In theory these high costs and long construction times could be brought down. But we have had more than a half-century to test that theory and it appears have been solidly refuted.”

We’ve had wind power generation for many decades, yet still, at the start of the modern era of wind power, it was much more expensive than the conventional alternatives. The many decades in which its cost did not come down did not refute the theory that it could be done cheaper with a new approach to designing and building them. And its former high cost at the start of the new era did not mean it was unwise to invest in it at that time. The potential for bending the cost curve down for old-tech nuclear is clearly not good, but very different forms of nuclear are in development that show much more promise, and we haven’t even begun to test that potential.

“Unlike nearly all other technologies, the cost of nuclear power has risen over time.”

What did cars cost back in the 60’s?

“Even its supporters recognize that it has never been cost-competitive in a free-market environment,”

It has never operated in a free-market environment before. Nuclear was like hydropower, large scale infrastructure projects initiated and bolstered by government policy.

“and its critics point out that the nuclear industry has followed a “negative learning curve.””

_1) Some of that learning went to improving safety and operational performance. It would be cheaper to build them like we did in the 70’s, but the reduced safety would not be worth the cost savings. 2) We learn by doing. When an entire construction industry stops, so does the learning. 3) One of the main drivers of the learning curve is usually competition–which was largely absent from the way the government set up the old nuclear industry. And 4) sometimes to get onto a good learning curve, you have to change something fundamental about the technology. My view is that the kind of reactors which Rickover selected for civilian power were the wrong kind, and much of the cost problems since then have been due to trying to shoehorn it into a role it was never well-suited for (as was the opinion of the guy who developed that kind of reactor in the first place).

“Both the Nuclear Energy Agency and International Energy Agency have concluded that although nuclear power is a “proven low-carbon source of base-load electricity,” the industry will have to address serious concerns about cost, safety, and waste disposal if it is to play a significant role in addressing the climate-energy nexus.”

Or, people outside the industry can address those issues with radically new approaches.

“But there are deeper problems that should not be brushed aside. They have to do with the fear and the reality of radiation effects.”

Most of that fear centers on the potential for catastrophic dispersals due to meltdowns. That fear can be addressed by eliminating the possibility of meltdowns.

“No technological system is ever perfect, but the vulnerability of nuclear power is particularly great. Improvements in design cannot eliminate the possibility of lethal meltdowns.”

Liquid fuel reactors cannot have meltdowns. Liquids cannot melt. If any of the liquid fuel gets out of the reactor, it freezes.

“Climate change itself works against nuclear power; severe droughts have led to the shutting down of reactors as the surrounding waters become too warm to provide the vital cooling function.”

Power plants with hotter reactors would be easier to cool. So would smaller reactors. And flexible reactors could be run at varying output levels. All of those are objectives of new designs.


“Advocates of nuclear energy invariably downplay the catastrophic events at Fukushima and Chernobyl.”

Rejecting absurd hyperbolic claims (“The Pacific is a dead zone” “West Coast absolutely fried by radiation”) is not downplaying.

“informed evaluations in connection with Chernobyl project future cancer deaths at anywhere from several tens of thousands to a half-million.”

UN, IAEA, and World Health Organization estimates range from “up to” 9000 (with no lower limit specified) to as much as 16,000. Any figure like a half-million most likely comes from Greenpeace or some other anti-nuke organization.

“Studies of Chernobyl and Fukushima also reveal crippling psychological fear of invisible contamination.”

And the nuclear fearmongers of course don’t bear any of the responsibility for that.

“The combination of actual and anticipated radiation effects — the fear of invisible contamination — occurs wherever nuclear technology has been used:”

By far the largest dose of man-made radiation to the public comes from medical sources.

“not only at the sites of the atomic bombings and major accidents, but also at Hanford, Wash., in connection with plutonium waste from the production of the Nagasaki bomb;”

That has nothing to do with old-tech nuclear power. Some forms of advanced nuclear could actually consume some of the waste and by-products from bomb fuel production.

“at Rocky Flats, Colo., after decades of nuclear testing;”

Rocky Flats was a weapons production facility, not a test site.

“and at test sites in Nevada and elsewhere after soldiers were exposed to radiation following atomic bomb tests.”

That has no more to do with nuclear power than it does with nuclear medicine.

“Nuclear reactors also raise the problem of nuclear waste, for which no adequate solution has been found despite a half-century of scientific and engineering effort.”

We have multiple possible solutions, with more in development. We just haven’t settled on the ultimate solution. And it would probably be premature to do so until we see how the options in development work out.

“Even when a reactor is considered unreliable and is closed down, as occurred recently with the Pilgrim Point reactor in Plymouth, or closes for economic reasons, as at Vermont Yankee, the accumulated waste remains at the site, dangerous and virtually immortal.”

Danger is ubiquitous. Our houses are filled with things that have a much higher death toll than has ever been racked up by nuclear power spent fuel.

“Finally there is the gravest of dangers: plutonium and enriched uranium derived from nuclear reactors’ contributing to the building of nuclear weapons.”

Enriched uranium does not come from reactors. It comes from enrichment facilities. Any enriched uranium that goes into power reactors will not go into bomb fuel. Nearly all bomb plutonium comes from production reactors. The exceptions were particular instances where they stuck a generator on a production reactor to make use of heat that would otherwise be thrown away, and there were a few experimental (now discontinued) attempts at dual-use reactors (mostly Magnox in the U.K. and UNGG in France).

“Steps can be taken to reduce that danger by eliminating plutonium as a fuel,”

What we need are reactors that are better at consuming plutonium as fuel. If you don’t like having tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium lying around–as is the case right now–nothing will get rid of it more thoroughly than burning it up in power reactors.

“but wherever extensive nuclear power is put into use there is the possibility of its becoming weaponized.”

Humans have figured out how to weaponize pretty much everything since we first weaponized rocks, sticks, and bones. A possibility of weaponization does automatically translate into risk. You could, in theory, weaponize the reactor-grade plutonium sitting in the woods in dry casks at decommissioned power plants, but the sheer difficulty and expense of doing such a thing makes it very unlikely anyone will ever attempt it.

“Of course, this potential weaponization makes nuclear reactors a tempting target for terrorists.”

So far, most of the attacks on nuclear plants have come from anti-nukes, trying to show terrorists how it could be done. The actual terrorists seem not to have much interest, once they look into it.

“There are now more than 450 nuclear reactors throughout the world. If nuclear power is embraced as a rescue technology, there would be many times that number, creating a worldwide chain of nuclear danger zones — a planetary system of potential self-annihilation.”

The danger zone for a molten salt reactor would be within the plant boundary.

“To be fearful of such a development is rational.”

Say the fearmongers.

“What is irrational is to dismiss this concern, and to insist, after the experience of more than a half-century, that a “fourth generation” of nuclear power will change everything.”

It is not irrational to think that doing something in a very different way from how we did it before could produce a different result. Indeed, that’s the basic working principle of technological progress. The track record of problems in a technology does not apply to the very changes in the technology which are designed to address those problems. That’s the whole reason for the changes–to produce a different track record.

“Advocates of nuclear power frequently compare it to carbon-loaded coal. But coal is not the issue; it is already making its way off the world stage.”

Very slowly. On our current trajectory, coal is projected to be above 90% of current levels 30 years from now. And next-gen nuclear is also targeting natural gas.

“The appropriate comparison is between nuclear and renewable energies.”

The goal is for nuclear to help in displacing fossil fuels. That will only happen if sometimes it is the best option, meaning sometimes it will be better than all the renewable energy options. But every time a particular renewable option is selected for a project, that means that for that application, it too was better than all the other renewable energy options. Different options will be best for different situations, and the more clean energy options we have to work with, the better our chances of displacing fossil fuels faster.

“Renewables are part of an economic and energy revolution: They have become available far more quickly, extensively, and cheaply than most experts predicted, and public acceptance is high.”

The experts underpredicted in part because they were going by the old track record for their progress–which included decades of hardly any progress. The success story of renewables shows that sometimes, new approaches can produce better results.

“To use renewables on the necessary scale, we will need improvements in energy storage, grid integration, smart appliances, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. We should have an all-out national effort — reminiscent of World War II”

So nuclear has to be cost-competitive in a free-market environment, but for renewables, we should make it a huge government program on the scale of WWII.

“Gas and nuclear will play a transitional role, but it is not pragmatic to bet the planet on a technology that has consistently underperformed and poses profound threats to our bodies and our minds.”

Developing better forms of nuclear would not be “betting the planet”. It would be insurance. Maybe we won’t need it, but better to have developed more options than we need than not enough. It would be a cheap investment, so the downside if we don’t need it would be trivial, and the upside potential if it turns out to be useful could be huge.

“Above all, we need to free ourselves of the “nuclear mystique” : the magic aura that radiation has had since the days of Marie Curie.”

Radiation isn’t magic, and it is not the main appeal of nuclear power. The main appeal is in its ability to produce enormous amounts of heat from a very small amount of fuel. If it could be done without the radiation, that would make it even better.

“We must question the misleading vision of “Atoms for Peace,” a vision that has always accompanied the normalization of nuclear weapons.”

The nuclear weapons came first, and nuclear propulsion technology was an outgrowth of that, and that, in turn, led to early forms of nuclear power. But nuclear power later became our best way of disposing of nuclear weapons fuel, and there is much less bomb fuel in the world today because of it. And new forms of nuclear could increase its anti-proliferation potential.

“We must free ourselves from the false hope that a technology designed for ultimate destruction could be transmogrified into ultimate life-enhancement.”

I don’t know of anyone saying it will be “ultimate life-enhancement” whatever that means. But it has been useful despite its problems, and its problems only show that there remains a large space for improvement.


So which one do you think James Hansen is?

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“looks like natrual gas (from shale fracking) is filling in for coal to solve the base load and intermittancy problem.”

It’s more complex than that.

“terrorists are not known for resisting temptation. Throughout the beginning of the nuclear power era, where have they been?..The deception attem-”

attempted “deception”? not linking shellenberger the nuclear industry shill is dishonest, what a surprise

Definitely don’t look at Government subsidies
Cause that phucks up the whole $/w thing

Better to read the troglodyte’s hyperbole

And dream the endless clean energy dream

Or in Intelligent People’s world

The nuclear nightmare gift that keeps on giving

Pretty sure which family tree you studied with

OK: What do we do about nuclear waste?