Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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2 May 2006

Why Nuclear Power is a Non-Response to Peak Oil – Part 1. Do We Really Have to Argue All This Again?

DraculaAn article in The Times last week looked at the fact that coal is starting to be taken seriously again as an energy source now that oil prices are so high. It quoted Gerry Spindler, UK Coal’s chief executive as saying “coal is the rich, drunken uncle at the family party. No one wants it there, but no one is going to ask it to leave because it is going to pay for the party.” If coal is the drunken, rich uncle, nuclear power is an over-exuberant Count Dracula. Every time he is safely dispatched with a stout stake throught the heart, he somehow manages to come back again, and the villagers have to once again start fashioning a new and hopefully sharper stake in order to sort him out for what they hope will be the final time.

nuclear noI thought that when I was about 16 the arguments against nuclear power had been won. Seemed to me like most people had come to see that it really was a bad idea. It became deeply politically unpopular to advocate new nuclear plants and no new ones have been commissioned for ages. The UK Government’s 2003 Energy White Paper stated that no new plants would be built, a decision now being reconsidered in the current Review.

draculaNow, with peak oil breathing down politicians necks, nuclear power has one again emerged from its coffin with a faintly disturbing twinkle in its eye, some referring, messianically, to nuclear power’s ‘Second Coming’. Even a number of previously reliable environmentalists are starting to argue that nuclear power is an option again, some moved to say so by Lovelock’s recent gloom-fest book “The Revenge of Gaia”, which is alarmingly appearing in lots of places as somehow being the definitive argument for nuclear power. Over the next few days I want to sharpen up a fresh stake and see if we can’t finish off this evil monster once and for all.

FEASTAThe best place to start is an excellent new briefing paper that has just been produced by FEASTA in Dublin, penned by David Fleming. I was in Dublin for its launch, which featured an excellent lecture by David, a feeble pro-nuclear response by John McGuirk from a right-wing think tank (surely an oxymoron there) called the Freedom Institute (I can almost smell the Margaret Thatcher posters from here…) and Green MEP Nuala Ahern. The paper, called “Why Nuclear Power Cannot Be A Major Energy Source”, sets out clearly what nuclear power is, and the reasons as to why it is not a response to peak oil. It can be downloaded from the FEASTA website for free, and it highly recommended.

Many of the points I will raise over the next few days are drawn from David’s analysis. The first argument, which I will explore tomorrow is that fact that any chance of a co-ordinated Powerdown response will effectively be scuppered once we commit to a new nuclear programme… clearly something of a ‘grave’ concern to Transition Culture regulars…. don’t miss that ‘tomb’morrow…

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8 May 2:39pm

i hope i live to see the day when all of you greenies are screaming at the powers to be why in heavens name they did not build nuke plants during the beginning of the 21st. century. my oh my what will you do without 900 cable channels and broadband internet service ?
no starbucks … no easy motoring…(thank you for the phrase , JHK) , no jet set service to the vacation of your dreams. oh my goodness. will we have to walk to the grocery ? why are there no more hairdressers in the mall ? they can rename SOHO to SOHARD…as to ‘so hard to get to’ without subways and trains and buses.
sorry greenies…the only way for your utopia to work is if five and a half BILLION people all of a sudden vanish from the face of this earth. then there will be enough oil for the remaining idiots to fight over.

8 Aug 9:55am

Ref: Scientific American , Dec 2005 “smarter use of nuclear waste”
According to this article we can eliminate %98(!) of the nuclear waste by reprocessing and reusing it.
not only that but the final unusable waste would be of isotopes that would decay to background levels in a few hundred years, not tens or hundreds of thousands of years.(!!) in another 50 years we might even find a use for that.(?){this is pure speculation on my part,nevertheless waste that decays in a few hundred years is far preferable to creating a “nuclear priesthood” or creating some kind of warning pyramid or whatever to keep our descendants[or the intelligent descendants of hairy nosed wombats] or whatever from poisioning themselves}
This along with replacing our current nuclear plants with smaller , current “inherently self limiting” designs as opposed to the 30-40 year old designs we have now(which are not self-limiting)
For those who don’t know, an “inherently self-limiting reactor” is designed so that there is no way for it to run out of control or melt down.
If it gets too hot , the reaction slows down, causing it to cool.
even in total, catastrophic loss of coolant , the reaction shuts down, the reason that the reactors are smaller is so that they can radiate sufficient excess heat to the outside to prevent anything from melting. they are designed in such a way that”more heat=slower reactions”
They are designed not to NEED any emergency backup system {that could possibly fail, as evidenced by the events in Sweden)
These “slow-down”, and “shut-down” features are built in to the design , and do not rely on control rod position or any mechanical system (such as cooling pumps)which could fail, or be accidentally(or deliberately) be set or controlled improperly .
These designs now exist, however it has been the incredibly vocal opposition of the “no nukes” people that has prevented them from being built.

As far as other alternative power sources are concerned? WE NEED TO INVEST FAR MORE IN EVERY ONE OF THEM! our energy problem is not simple and there is no simple solution to it.
I read an article(I believe it was on MSN) about a group of architects who were designing “green” energy efficient buildings for the reconstruction or New Orleans, THIS IS GREAT! We can (if we have the determination) turn the tragedy into a triumph by rebuilding GREEN! think of the advantages of reducing the energy bills of the poor residents there by as much as %75.
not to mention the reduced energy consumption overall.

I reject the arguments of the extreme “no-nukes is good nukes” bunch , while I don’t think nuclear is the whole solution,intelligently used it IS part of the solution.