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Trampling Science to Boost Nuclear Power


Trampling Science to Boost Nuclear Power

Jim Naureckas

When the Washington Post and New York Times are making the same corporate-friendly point, it’s safe to assume that some PR agency somewhere is earning its substantial fees.


While money is neutral and it’s the LOVE of money that qualifies as the root of all evil, science is neutral when it’s not used to cushion for-profit enterprises.

Increasingly, anyone who challenges the safety of Monsanto’s horrors or the wisdom of pouring untold vaccine cocktails into newborn babies’ bodies is granted this same kind of blanket condemnation as if science is always right and like some kind of deified religion, beyond doubt, scrutiny, or questioning:

"Meanwhile, at the New York Times, Eduardo Porter was defending nuclear power—“the only technology with an established track record of generating electricity at scale while emitting virtually no greenhouse gases,” as we’ve debunked above—against an even scarier foe than Bernie Sanders: “the left” as a whole and its “scientific and technological taboos.”

One day all those mouthpieces for harmful policies who did their utmost to silence dissent will make confessions as now is becoming the case with drone pilots and other insider-whistle blowers.

Really, this is all about making dissent, itself, a taboo.


A trifle melodramatic. I prefer the dangers of vaccines to the dangers of smallpox, poliomyelitis, diptheria, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis A, B and C, cholera, typhoid and some other nasties that I and many others have been protected against by vaccination.


Nuclear power is leading to radiating the planet beyond the point of sustaining life. Fossil fuels are leading to heating the planet beyond the point of sustaining life. To claim that one is better than the other is like claiming that its better to eat arsenic instead of strychnine. There is no logic in the argument that nuclear power is in any way “better.” But, of course, logic has no place when there is money to be made!


For more perspective on the generation of electricity using nuclear processes take a look at a program on Netflix called “Occupied”. It is fictional story about the nuclear energy industry in Norway except that they are committed to using Thorium as the fuel and not Uranium or Plutonium. Why? Because the use of Thorium is much safer and it is much cheaper and easier to obtain. Thorium is not something new. It was mentioned by Kennedy in the early 60s. So, why would there be such an emphasis on the other two elements and a blackout on how much better Thorium is? One answer may be that Thorium cannot be processed into weapons-grade material. In other words, the nuclear power industry in the U.S. has always been part of the generation of material for tens of thousands of nuclear warheads instead of being turned into the safest and cheapest form of nuclear energy available.
The story line is that Norway makes such a commitment to this superior form of clean energy that the government is in the process of phasing out the production and use of oil and coal to reduce the potential of global warming. This represents such a threat to regular markets and causes such consternation among carbon-based fuel consumers that Russia ends up “invading” Norway with a limited military force and creating an embargo and occupying force on the North Sea oil platforms to ensure the continued supply of oil. This in turn creates a crisis in the Norwegian government. The first year has already been aired and I don’t know if it was renewed. The chief value for me was being introduced to the concept of Thorium as a fuel for nuclear energy and the likely reason why this superior technology was never generally adopted.
Imagine, since the 1940s the U.S. has spent TRILLIONS on nuclear weaponry and has probably sidestepped a much more suitable form of nuclear power that could have reduced the amount of CO2 released during that time all because of our “arms race” with the Commies. The result is the huge accumulation of spent but still highly dangerous nuclear material with the potential for spills and accidents. If the Soviets had used Thorium the appalling effects of Chernobyl would not have occurred and our own Three Mile Island would have been a minor industrial accident. All part of the price we have paid to make sure that MAD, “Mutually Assured Destruction” was possible.
Make no mistake, I am fervently in support of the development of as many forms of alternative and renewable energy as possible. However, many of those types of energy are limited by climate and physical location. Thorium energy should only be part of a collection of energy sources designed to reduce CO2 and methane releases and the resultant global warming that continues to worsen. I’m afraid that the application of fusion-powered electricity is not something that we can count in the foreseeable future.


“In reality, nuclear power is not emissions-free;”

The paper said “practically emissions-free”. We don’t have any emissions free energy options.

“the process of mining and enriching uranium fuel…”

The energy needed to do mining has been falling as the industry has been shifting to in situ recovery mining, and there was a huge drop in the energy needed for enrichment as diffusion enrichment was phased out.

“along with constructing nuclear plants,”

Wind power and hydropower have larger construction profiles per average delivered capacity.

“operating backup generators during reactor downtime,”

That would only be when grid power is unavailable, and the generators are tiny compared to the output of the plant. Backup generators for wind and solar are much larger and used more often.

“disposal of nuclear waste”

Which basically has been putting them in casks and setting them out on a pad. The largest CO2 contributor is the concrete, and that’s still tiny compared to the lifetime output of the plant.

“and eventual decommissioning of plants all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.”

So did writing this article. What matters is the quantity.

“According to an analysis published by the journal Nature (9/24/08), nuclear power does produce 14 times less in greenhouse gas emissions than coal, and seven times less than natural gas—but twice as much as solar cells and seven times as much as onshore wind farms. For halting climate change, in other words, there are more serious options than nuclear.”

First, that wasn’t the actual journal. Second, that wasn’t a publication of the analysis in question. It was an article by a freelance writer (with degrees in writing, literature, and journalism) reporting the views of noted anti-nukes. Third, the analysis in question was actually a meta-analysis (of other studies) by Benjamin Sovacool, and has been widely criticized for the rather arbitrary way some studies were excluded while more fringe studies were included, and for having been written with guidance from the controversial Storm van Leeuwen, And as Beerten et al. noted “a critical assessment reveals that a majority of the studies representing the upper part of the spectrum are studies that can be traced back to the same input data and performed by the same author, namely Storm van Leeuwen. After careful analysis, it must be concluded that the mix of selected LCAs results in a skewed and distorted collection of different results available in the literature.”

Storm van Leeuwen’s studies calculated nuclear lifecycle energy inputs based on various assumptions and guesses about the technologies used in uranium production, rather than actually measuring them. As one critique noted “The energy consumption is predicted to be so large that is comparable to the energy consumption of a particular sub-section of the economy. In the case of Rössing [uranium mine], the over prediction is larger than the energy consumption of the entire country of Namibia.” [ie. the country in which the Rössing mine is located].

And Sovacool did not include in his analysis the CO2 footprint of adding storage or spinning backup to smooth out the intermittent nature of wind and solar, or the increase in CO2 from other sectors of the grid due to the inefficiencies involved in powering up and down.

More realistic assessments of lifecycle emissions generally place current technology pressurized water nuclear in the middle of the pack of renewables, usually a bit worse than wind and a bit better than solar PV.

“The Post went on:
[ Shutting down that much clean electricity generation would put the country into a deep emissions hole. …]
Sanders actually favors “a moratorium on nuclear power plant license renewals in the United States”—in other words, as the Post had earlier described it more accurately, “phas[ing] out nuclear power nationwide by steadily retiring existing reactors.” So it’s not a question of using money to replace a nuclear plant that could have gone to replacing a coal plant; the nuclear plants need to be replaced with something when they reach the end of their useful lives.”

The point is that Sanders would move the end of their useful lives forward by imposing a moratorium on license renewals. I think it is reasonably fair and accurate to characterize accelerating the closure of plants as shutting them down.

“And if you put that money into renewables rather than into a new nuclear plant, you can reduce emissions more quickly.”

There are differences in build rates between renewables too, but we build all of them because they have different attributes and advantages, so there is more to consider than build rate. When it comes to actually reducing emissions, the most substantial and fastest reductions in the U.S. has come from the expanded use of fracked gas. So clearly, short term speed of emissions reduction doesn’t automatically determine the best long-term option.

“The Post concluded that the best bet would be to put a tax on carbon, then “let the market find the fastest and most efficient road to slowing the warming of the planet.” The irony is that if you had a truly market-driven energy system, there’d be no need for a moratorium on nuclear licenses”

Great. So Sanders can drop the moratorium idea and focus on the greenhouse gas tax instead.