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The Warming Story That Won't Go Away

Two days ago, my colleague Lisa Shell debunked the talk coming out of Europe that nuclear power plants can't possibly help battle global warming in light of some of the cooling related outages we've seen there recently.

Despite this, we still see examples of folks who are repeating the anti-nuke talking points verbatim without asking any serious questions of the folks who are leveling the charges. In particular, I'm referring to Susan Sachs of the Christian Science Monitor and eco-blogger Joel Makower, who links to the Sachs story and calls on the nuclear industry to answer the charge.

What's so frustrating in this case is that neither seemed to make an effort to talk to a professional in the nuclear industry before sitting in front of the keyboard. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a legitimate questions to ask, which is why I asked Lisa to give it the once over when I saw the stories surface last week. But to not give us a chance to respond is simply irresponsible.

UPDATE: Joel, to his credit, has added a reference to Lisa's post. However, in a nod to accuracy, he should have noted that he had appended the post after the fact, instead of making it appear as if his reference to Lisa's post had been there from the beginning.

UPDATE: And the story continues to spread. Amazing.

UPDATE: Here's another one. Feel free to stop by and leave comments on these blogs that I point to. All I ask is that you be factual and respectful. Don't be a troll.

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Robert Schwartz said…
Once Again, I beg you to create a FAQ of these repeated issues.
Wally said…
Doesn’t the Christian Science Monitor use fact checkers anymore? This nearly incoherent article is larded with incorrect facts, unproved assumptions and unattributed quotes. Where to begin?

Well, to start, one of the major underlying themes of this fantastic piece is the ridiculous assumption that power plants consume water. Duh. Power plants use water to condense steam in their condensers, so they can pump the condensate back into the steam generators and make more electricity. The cooling water is either discharged back into the river or lake it came from, albeit warmer, or it is pumped into a cooling tower where it is allowed to evaporate into the atmosphere, increasing the humidity of the air and eventually falling as a gentle, or not-so-gentle rain. Water passing back into the environment is still available for refreshing crops, wetlands or bodies. Strike one.

The fact that some greens complain whenever a nuclear power plant hiccups does not mean that Nuclear Power has contracted Aids. In fact, I would be surprised and worried if anti-nuclear groups did not call for all nuclear power plants to shut down after any kind of minor incident. And given the way that politicians pander to environmental groups, I would be surprised if some of those voices calling for the end of nuclear power weren’t politicians.

The anti-nuclear groups tactics of seizing every opportunity to inflate a molehill into a mountain are a known quality, a knee jerk reaction designed to opportunistically further their own, Luddite goals, regardless of the whether their argument is internally consistent or confused.

The Stéphane Lhomme, quote about Nuclear (Power) not saving us from climate change, but being in trouble because of climate change is a case in point. Neither statement is proven, neither is relevant and neither is a strong argument either for or against Nuclear power. Coal power plants have the same limitations as nuclear power plants. Their dependency on cooling water is pretty much the same as Nuclear, they don’t save us from climate change, and they are also in trouble because of climate change. So we should shut down or coal plants too?

After telling us that 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004 are the 4 hottest years on record, we find out that some environmentalists are concerned that some reservoirs have not returned to their pre-2003 levels. What a yawner. Tell me that they are falling rapidly, tell me that they are at their lowest ebb, or tell me that they are dangerously low and I might be concerned, but how can I be concerned when for all I know the levels are slowly rising and there is more than enough water in the reservoirs to meet all possible needs? This ambiguous statement is open to interpretation, and I chose to interpret it as deceptive and uninformative, until proven differently.

Finally, after shamelessly inflating a pastiche of inarticulate, incomprehensible factoids and pointless accusations, the author declares that the burden of proof lies with the Nuclear Industry. Permit me to disagree. It would seem to me that the burden lies on the author to come up with a theory or hypothesis, assemble a collection of scientific observations that support the assertion, and present the proposal in a coherent, logical and internally consistent manner so as to define the problem. Stringing together casual observations, propaganda statements from activists and interested parties and unrelated, disparate events form nuclear power plants does not elevate this argument above the not inconsiderable level of background noise that already exists in the nuclear power debate.
Bill Y said…
I am about as pronuclear as anyone this side of Dr Strangelove but there is a small kernel of truth is the stories about heating.

The coolant temperature in a PWR/BWR is lower than a fossil fired plant. Thermodynamically, that means that more heat must be rejected per kwh generated. That then means more heating for a river or other coolant source.

I agree that most of the antinuclear chatter is mostly BS but even a blind squirrel will occasionally find an acorn.
Mike Mulligan said…
Well, it’s my a lookup on global warming through the NRC adams and my name will be the first one to pop up. I recently talked to the NRC region I environmental officer talking about global warming and the Vermont Yankee relicensing. I wanted the NRC to engineer these new nukes....such that they would have adequate heat sink margins throughout the life of their project out for global warming...and thus a plant can be at 100% during the future heated summers, low river flows and low levels. Or at least design these new plants to be easily scalable for the changing weather.

The best of what my NRC buddy could come up with...he said, why should a plant spend 25 million dollars for 10% to 20% power for only a few weeks year. It’s too expensive. I said, what if all of electric power plant’s in the USA, for economic reasons, were incapable of running at 100% in the dead of a summer heat wave and within a drought...are we talking about widespread outages and unbelievable economic damages.

It really bothers me that an NRC official would be thinking so shallowly about...not meeting or engineering the complete needs of society and businesses...such as making their plant’s fully 100% capable for the stress of the weather.

Right, we are facing that within our mega cities with their distribution system not be capable for their weather environment.

mike mulligan
Hinsdale, NH
Damon Bryson said…
I like to look at this heat wave issue as another good argument to build more nuclear plants. Since any power plant may go down at any time (especially during heat waves), we need more power plants to be available. If all power plants might have to reduce to 90% power in the middle of the summer, I say we need 10% more plants. Of course, the grid is an even more limiting factor, so we will need upgrades in that department as well. I agree the new plants should be designed and built using some extra thermal margin on their heat sink (whether cooling towers or direct cooling). However, this is NOT the NRC's job. NRC is only required to check for nuclear safety. FERC is supposed to be regulating the grid.
Anonymous said…
Lisa's debunking was fundamentally wrong. If ALL plants suffer from the same thermodynamic problems as nuclear, they ALL would have had to be shut down. ONLY nuclear plants were shut down. So, RE-BUNK this story and come up with a new lie. After all, mendacity is what the nuclear industry does best.
As far as cooling towers go, in addition to being butt-ugly, they are expensive and not practical for all locations, so the wasteful practice of throwing away 2/3rds of the energy produced by this economically disastrous industry is sure to continue until governments tires of providing corporate welfare. In the mean time, thanks for using our rivers as "heat sinks," strip mining our land for the most dangerous radioactive poisons known to man and then having the tax payers pick up nearly all of the bill to store this waste for the next 25,000 years. Call me skeptical, but I somehow think it might cost more than the 0.1 cent/kWh the nuclear industry currently pays to store all of their waste in perpetuity, much less keep it out of the hands of terrorists.

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