Friday, August 17, 2007

Question of the Day

After posting a clip of the Democratic YouTube debate, Domestic Divapalooza asked:

I don’t favor nuclear power either, do you? Why OR why not?
Be sure to stop by and let her know what you think. As always, please be polite.


Tom Tarpey said...


Thanks for making me aware of Domestic Divapalooza's "Qusetion of the Day". I did leave a rather lengthy comment, which I have reproduced below:

Yes, I support nuclear power. I am a big believer in nuclear power, and I say that as someone who marched in anti-nuke demonstrations in the 1980’s. But, that was against nuclear weapons, not nuclear energy.

The fact of the matter is that nuclear power is one of the keys to addressing the most serious environmental crisis that we as a species have ever faced – global warming. This is not my assertion, but the assertion of the experts who study climate change and are developing strategies to address it.

Global warming is real; the evidence is irrefutable. We are seeing it on a regional level from milder winters to the advance of the mountain pine beetle decimating our forests. And, it is manifesting itself in other parts of the world with much more devastating consequences. The conflict in the Darfur region of the Sudan where men are being killed, women brutalized and children orphaned is one such area. Global warming is extending the southern boundary of the Sahara Desert bringing nomadic tribesmen and farmers on the edge of the Sahara into conflict for scarce resources.

Will it come to such a situation here in North America? I won’t say yes, but we are approaching the tipping point at an exponential rate. One of the real possibilities of global warming is a disruption of the Gulf Stream which would literally send the climate into a tailspin.

The reality of the climate change problem is that as a society we can’t and aren’t willing to go back to a time when we used far less energy. Furthermore, countries like China and India with their burgeoning populations are expecting and demanding a standard of living equivalent to ours. The problem is our standard of living is dependent on energy, which right now is being supplied by fossil fuels and its accompanying by-product CO2.

However, it is possible to maintain our standard of living, give developing nations access to the same standard of living, and stave off the truly catastrophic effects of global warming. The experts in this area of science have identified 15 key technologies and practices that will allow us to make this happen and nuclear power is one of the keys, along with solar and wind power (everyone’s favourites).

As the experts note there is no one silver bullet. Yes, we need to harness solar and wind power, but these are intermittent sources of energy. The wind does not always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. We need nuclear power to provide the baseline energy demands of our modern civilization regardless of circumstance. But, even with the above three energy pillars, we aren’t home-free. It will take time to wean us off fossil fuels. That is why we need to continue to increase the efficiency of coal plants; to pursue fuel switching from coal to natural gas; and to develop CO2 sequestration. Plus, we need to do things in our personal lives – drive cars with twice the fuel economy of standard North American cars (I don’t really see many hybrid vehicles on the roads in my part of the world); drive half as many kilometres (yes, buy a more fuel efficient vehicle and drive 50% less); adopt best efficiency practices in our residences and places of business (I haven’t noticed people snatching up new energy efficient light bulbs off the shelves of my local hardware stores or many putting solar panels on their roofs or installing geothermal heating in their houses).

One really nice thing about nuclear power is that it takes advantage of economies of scale. Not everyone has the monies to install technologies in their houses to get off the conventional power grid. Also, not only do nuclear power reactors not generate CO2 emissions, they generate conventional pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulates. The health effects of these pollutants can be expected to be exacerbated with rising global temperatures. Note, even when you do a complete life-cycle analysis of the emissions associated with nuclear power, i.e. plant construction, the mining and processing the uranium ore, they are trivial compared to coal and natural gas fired power plants.

Nuclear power is also reliable, proven technology. Critics like to point to Chernobyl as an example of the dangers of a nuclear power plant. The fact of the matter is that such a disaster could never have happened at a U.S., Canadian or Western European designed reactor. The Russians used flawed technology and they knew that they were using flawed technology, but they decided to accept the risk. In North America and Western Europe when it comes to nuclear power, we don’t accept or take risks. The reactors, should they fail, they fail in a safe mode – Three Mile Island is actually a case in point; the containment system did its job.

With respect to nuclear waste, there are safe ways to contain it and dispose of it. It can be done in manageable time frames. We know the half-life of the radioactive elements; we know how long it will be to reduce radiation exposures to safe levels; and it is not even close to the tens of thousands of years that anti-nuclear activists throw around without checking their facts.

If a person believes in social justice or believes that the polluter should pay, then that person should be embracing nuclear power. It is we, particularly in North America, who are spewing CO2 into the atmosphere, polluting it with reckless abandonment, and reaping the rewards, but we are not paying the costs. The costs are being borne, for the most part, by the poorest of the poor in places like Africa and Bangladesh. To me it seems a relatively cheap way to pay our global debt by encouraging, welcoming and adopting nuclear power.

Anonymous said...

Many comments got through, and they are unanimous. Mine was the shortest.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former H2 energy fan
How shall motoring gain nuclear cachet?