Thursday, July 19, 2007

This one's for Coco

On a comment thread on the Duke City Fix which was about carbon offsets, I said I was in favor of nuclear energy. This prospect, this using uranium for some something positive and good, is apparently terrifying, so I'll start by re-stating what was said, to your shocks and gasps

"I'm for nuclear power. The US has plenty of Uranium, and it's been thought of as an alternative to oil dependency since the fifties. The risks are their (there), but we have the power of SCIENCE! (as said by a cheesy comic book narrator), and cleaner, safer nuclear technology is something worse (worth) serious consideration. And, as an added point, it'd be good work for the labs to be doing in this post-cold war mentality. Using nuclear energy for the benefit of the nation, rather than as an aggressive tool, is fine by me."

(There are plenty of typos, and so the edits are in italics following the original wording)

That's already been said. My reasoning follows, and my research comes from an MIT study, The study has an observation worth repeating - "it would be a mistake to exclude any... options from an overall carbon emissions management study".

This contains two important points - Nuclear Power is not the only option, but it is a valid option. There are flaws, of course - it's more expensive than carbon dioxide emitting power generators. That's an economic problem, and as the world moves away from fossil fuels, that disadvantage will go down. The other three disadvantages the study points out are all tied to fear - fear of the reactors being safe and of the consequences of accidents, fear of nuclear waste being used for terrorism (state-sponsored or otherwise), and fear of the radioactivity of the waste that nuclear power plants generate. These are valid fears, but they are hardly insurmountable. Of course, overcoming fear of nuclear technology will be impossible if no effort is put into developing the technology that will lessen the fears and make nuclear power safer.

I'm for nuclear power because it seems a waste to forgo a potentially valid source of energy in the face of hysteria, and it seems pointless to let fear get in the way of developing safer technology. At the least, it can serve as an immediate good, as a temporary resource until wind farms, solar farms, and other, more environmentally friendly energy sources are made cost effective. Nuclear power is a more-known quantity, and could more easily and more immediately replace coal-burning plants, and other electricity generating devices that contribute to global warming. Power needs are not going to decrease, and being able to meet those needs, at least for the next 50 years or so, with nuclear power is a better option than giving up electricity.

Fear of a reactor meltdown is the most valid of fears concerning nuclear power, and in that, it creates a good check against it ever being something terrifying - people will not let power plants be built if they feel the risk is too great. If technology cannot demonstrate that new reactors are safe and pose incredibly little threat, people won't be in favor of them. For new developments to be economically viable, they must be safe enough to be built. Since the power needs will exist, people are going to want to build them, and since this is in the public interest, government money will flow to these projects. Market forces, aided by government research and tempered by citizen concerns, should be able to fill a need that society has. Safe reactors are the only kind the public will let be built build, and safety standards will be strict.

The storage of waste is a problem that can only be met with either further research or a disregard for people and the environment. Not being a terrible, cynical person, renewed research is the course worth advocating, and as earlier mentioned, I think it would be a much more useful application of the scientists at the Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs than other projects regrading nuclear power that they could be working on. Energy is always preferable to bombs.

Dirty bombs are a possibility from nuclear waste, but there are processes, such as "once-through" fuel rods, that reduce that risk to the point where it can be made negligible. Not absent, but negligible.

Science, which promised so much in the heady days of "duck and cover" can now, more likely than not, deliver on safe, economically feasible, and more-environmentally friendly energy.

We can have the technology. Let us not just abandon it out of fear.

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