Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nukes, Baby, Nukes!

Bruce over at Pagans and Lutherans beat me to the punch, but I definitely wanted to blog this piece from William Tucker on nuclear power. He provides a great background as to the differences between the fuel used for power generation versus that used for nuclear weapons, the safety and efficiency of nuclear power, and the canard of nuclear "waste". Unless you're already a nuclear scientist, chances are you'll learn some things you didn't know before. Here are a few new-to-me facts:
  • Nuclear "waste" reprocessing is already well-understood in other countries, even if Carter banned it here: "All of France’s nuclear waste from 25 years of producing 75 percent of its electricity is stored beneath the floor of one room at Le Hague. The lifetime output for each French citizen would fit in a soda can."
  • 10% of American electricity is produced by nuclear fission of uranium reprocessed from Soviet warheads.
Yucca Mountain, along with the whole "waste" issue, is a red herring thrown out by those who don't want to admit that they'll never actually support building actual nuclear reactors. Nuclear plants don't produce waste; most everything that comes out of a traditional reactor can still be burned in other types of reactors or reprocessed into new fuel, and many of the elements that can't are valuable in radiology and nuclear medicine. The tiny amount of nuclear fission byproduct that we truly don't have any use for needs only be stored for the generation or so it will take until we find one.

What exactly are we waiting for?


elephantschild said...

Pretty much exactly the point of the energy book you lent me, no?

Shane said...

I like nuclear power. All things considered, it's cleaner than coal.

MIT's got a really good paper floating around titled "The Future of Nuclear Power" which gives unbiased data and projections for where nuclear power might be used. I have bad internet and need to sleep soon so I leave it up to you to Google it. I really apologize; you know I like to link in the comment itself. From what I remember though, nuclear power will only be cost-competitive with coal once we implement either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme which factors in the cost of externalities of fossil fuel power.

One tiny detail left out in your summary is that nuclear power generates more waste than you imply. Spent fuel is highly radioactive, but the materials like steel and ceramics and plastics used in the operations are also radiological and must be disposed/stored properly, even if it isn't the scary plutonium/uranium type stuff.

Evan said...

Very true, but irradiated solid waste, while an issue, is in a different sort of category than the deadly-for-millennia nuclear waste. It's still an issue, but clearly not a huge one, seeing as we already deal with large amounts of this stuff coming out of hospitals.