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Dr. Caldicott vs. Nuclear Power – Rounds Six, Seven and Eight

We’re going to speed things up in this post and hit the next three chapters. The main reason is because chapters 7 and 8 deal primarily with nuclear weapons, and since NEI is the policy organization of the commercial nuclear energy and technologies industry, I would like to stay focused on nuclear power.

Chapter 6 – Generation IV Nuclear Reactors

Other than the cynical tone throughout this chapter, nothing really stuck out for me to comment on. Dr. Caldicott did cite David Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists as saying (p. 127):

It is inappropriate for the industry to talk about Generation IV reactors when neither the United States nor the rest of the world has a Generation I high-level waste disposal site.
That’s a good point. We should be focusing on what we are going to do with the used fuel. And that’s what NEI has been doing. Over the past month there has been much activity with Congress, such as hearings and legislation, to support the safe disposal of used fuel.

The great thing with used fuel, as stated by our President and CEO Skip Bowman, is that:

Used nuclear fuel is stored safely today at nuclear plant sites, either in pool storage or in dry casks. It could remain in storage at nuclear plant sites, posing no threat to the public health and safety or to the environment, for an indefinite period of time. From an operational and technical perspective, and from a health and safety perspective, there is no immediate need to move used nuclear fuel to centralized interim storage facilities.
But since the United States and the world are looking at a “nuclear renaissance” (our CEO again):
it is absolutely essential to public and state policymaker confidence that the federal government identify and develop sites for centralized interim storage, ideally linked to future reprocessing facilities, and begin the process of moving used nuclear fuel to these interim storage facilities, in order to demonstrate its ability and willingness to meet its statutory and contractual obligation to move used fuel away from operating nuclear plants and decommissioned reactors.
This is our primary focus but given that the used fuel is fine where it’s at, I think many would find it perfectly acceptable to design and build even better and even safer nuclear reactors for the future.

Chapter 7 – Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Weapons Proliferation
Chapter 8 – Nuclear Power and “Rogue Nations”

It is unfortunate that the nuclear power industry is stuck with the stigma of being connected to nuclear weapons. Everyone needs to recognize that whatever governments do with nuclear weapons should not be a reflection of commercial nuclear power. What we can and should always do is push our governments to use nuclear only for peaceful purposes and to get as far away from nuclear weapons as possible. And we have seen that happen between Russia and the United States.

The good that came out of the production of nuclear weapons was the ability to harness the atom for power. And as a result, the consumption of electricity has increased our standards of living and life expectancies.

And while proliferation is a concern, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership is a program that addresses it. Unless I missed it, neither GNEP nor the Megatons to Megawatts program were mentioned at all in Dr. Caldicott’s book.

Enough on weapons. Stay tuned for the last post, which will sum up the last two chapters about Dr. Caldicott’s solutions and alternatives to nuclear power.

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robert merkel said…
Stopping nuclear proliferation isn't a matter of attempting to stop the spread of technology. That genie is out of the bottle; given sufficient patience, good management (something developing countries often lack), and a relatively modest application of funds just about any semi-functioning state can develop nuclear weapons. The various technologies required were originally developed 50 years ago (and not all by the United States - it was captured Germans working for the Soviet union that developed practical centrifuge enrichment) and have been reimplemented a number of times throughout the world.

What stops nuclear proliferation is the incentives for not developing nuclear weapons being greater than the incentives for doing so.

Proliferation is thus largely an issue of geopolitics, not civilian nuclear power.
Randal Leavitt said…
Interesting to learn that Dr. Caldicott thinks that nulcear weapons are significant. How obsolete. The world has moved well beyond that front. The machete, the rifle, and the land mine are far more ghastly. At present the USA and China are locked in a "hold your breath" contest, each one determined to outlast the other in the global heating challenge. The resulting baking of the planet along with the release of sulpherous gases from the heated oceans will make nuclear winter look like a skiing holiday. Yes we have problems, and Caldicott does not have any answers. Refusing to use fission will be a cultural-philosophical catastrophe equivalent in stupidity to the Easter Island humantiy extinction. Caldicott will be one of the causes.
Jim Hopf said…
It seems that the new language from NEI (Bowman, etc...) is now all the sudden focused on long-term storage, at plant sites or at central facilities, and on reprocessing. It's starting to look like all the political powers that be are turning their back on Yucca Mtn, which I view as a betrayal of the industry, and something that will have a substantial chilling effect on new plant orders.

I would like someone to explain to me what these terrible "problems" with Yucca are. The scientific studies showing acceptable long-term performance are done, DOE signed off on the repository, then the president did, and then congress did. Once the EPA promulgates its new dose standards, even the court/lawsuit phase will be essentially over. Thus, we are at the moment of victory, right? Yet I'm now being treated to stories about how Yucca "may never happen".

What the heck is going on here? Seems that some in the community are wed to the concept of a quasi-permanent govt. project. Continued political hay for politicians, and long-term job security for engineeers. Gosh, they almost "screwed up" and got the job finished (i.e., actually suceeded)!! Now, all the sudden, 2017 is an "agressive" schedule.

Please explain to me what point is served by voluntarily allowing the anti-nukes to keep their best argument, i.e., that "we still have no idea what to do with the waste". I am sooo tired of hearing it, and impatiently await the day when it's stopped. That would be a tremendous boon to selling new plants to the public.

You quoted Caldicott above making that same argument yet again!! Note that she said "disposal site". I don't think that keeping it on plant sites indefinitely, or even moving it to central storage sites, will make this argument go away.

We need a permanent solution. That is, we need to place it underground, in the mountain, even though it is likely that we will pull it back up someday to reprocess it. Perceptions are important. It would be important to the public to know that we've acceptably "disposed" of the waste in a way that no further actions are required. If we put it in the mountain, we will have this, along with the option of pulling it back out at any time. Until the waste goes underground, the waste issue will be perceived to be "unsolved".

We need to not get distracted, and take our eye off the ball at this (critical) time. We need to focus relentlessly on Yucca Mtn. Before we can move on to more aggressive projects, we have to show the public that we can successfully get something done (i.e., push at least some project to completion).
Anonymous said…
Just learned that Dr. Caldicott was going to make a speech at my universtiy (Vanderbilt). I was wondering, does she get paid for these visits, or are they only for publicity. The articles in the school newspaper said it was sponsered by several group, and was wondering if they mean financially sponsored, or just that these groups lobbied the university to let her speek there?
Anonymous said…
Jim --
Finally someone with common sense speaks up about what we are all really thinking about...
If we had removed the politicians and government workers from the equation, YM would be up and running by now.
Not wanting to bash my colleagues in the R&D fields, but once they have solved the problem, they're out of a job! Hence, the "incentive" to never fully solve the problem or move on to a more "fun and exciting" problem, leaving others unresolved behind...
Anonymous said…
So, I went to Dr. Caldicott's speech today and my main reacion would have to be one of astonishment that someonw who is considered an "expert" in nuclear power could in fact know so little about it. I mean just getting simple things wrong like not knowing that the "fat man" bomb used plutonium, and suggesting that breeder reactors ran on pure plutonium instead of breeding it from 238. Basically it makes it hard to believe all her other claims when she gets historical/technical facts wrong that are not even in debate.

There were some NA-YGN members in the audience, too, and they sent me a note saying that there was no Q&A. Did Caldicott or the hosts say why they weren't allowing questions?


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