Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Weather Channel and Nuclear Energy

In a post over at The Weather Channel's Climate Blog, Dr. Heidi Cullen, the channel's climate expert, is examining public acceptance of nuclear energy:

With nuclear power, it all boils down to waste disposal. Understandably, many Americans are nervous about waste disposal, with only 28 percent believing that radioactive waste could be safely stored out into the distant future. Interestingly, the survey found that almost two-thirds of the roughly 1200 surveyed, believe reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is worth pursuing. Reprocessing spent fuel, which is done in France, reduces the life span of most toxic wastes from 100,000 years to 1,000 years.

[...]

Because of the growing national concern about global warming, new energy policies will force us to factor in the cost both to the economy and the environment. Personally, I kind of like the notion of applying the Hippocratic Oath of ‘first do no harm' to our energy choices. The question is, can we get to a point where doing no harm to the environment doesn't do a lot of harm to our pocketbooks. That will ultimately be the test of good energy policy.
It's hard to find anything to quibble with here, though the industry contends that the used nuclear fuel currently being stored on-site at the nation's nuclear power plants is being cared for safely and securely.

Which is why my response to the back end of her post has to be that only a balanced energy portfolio can hope to achieve what she seems to be seeking. Over-reliance on any one source would be a mistake not only on grounds of cost, but also on grounds of energy security. Try as we might, there is no one perfect energy source that provides abundant and affordable electricity without some sort of environmental trade-offs. What we need to understand is that while there are tradeoffs, there are also ways to intelligently manage them.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Who cares what the common man thinks regarding reprocessing? He's not informed enough to have an opinion about it. I work with nuclear energy issues every day, and I don't have an opinion about reprocessing. Honestly it just doesn't matter what 1500 random people think about this.

Muckerheide said...

He's not informed enough to vote for President, Senator, Governor, State Rep or Mayor either, but that doesn't stop him electing these people with this same knowledge of reprocessing. :-)

Muckerheide said...

Heidi Cullen: "With nuclear power, it all boils down to waste disposal. Understandably, many Americans are nervous about waste disposal, with only 28 percent believing that radioactive waste could be safely stored out into the distant future."

Eric McErlain: "It's hard to find anything to quibble with here, though the industry contends that the used nuclear fuel currently being stored on-site at the nation's nuclear power plants is being cared for safely and securely.

"Which is why my response to the back end of her post has to be that only a balanced energy portfolio can hope to achieve what she seems to be seeking. Over-reliance on any one source would be a mistake not only on grounds of cost, but also on grounds of energy security. Try as we might, there is no one perfect energy source that provides abundant and affordable electricity without some sort of environmental trade-offs. What we need to understand is that while there are tradeoffs, there are also ways to intelligently manage them."

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This is a non-response to the waste disposal non-problem.

Heidi should be (have been) informed by NEI (its predecessors and other responsible parties) by providing facts that waste constitutes no meaningful public "risk" to people now or in the future. Responsible scientists have been documenting that for 40 years. But of course, then there are the "political scientists," gov't agencies, consultants and industries who see only the $100s billions in cash flow that can be extracted from the ratepayers and taxpayers only by "necessary and sufficient" fear-mongering about radiation.

Sheldon Novick of the Sierra Club, in his (1977?) Sierra Club book, "The Electric War," said that "it's hard to see how, once the excess heat has decayed, well within one human lifetime, HLW is any more hazardous than all the other poisons produced by industry" (paraphrased from memory -JM)

In its formal (1978?) review of geologic disposal, the American Physical Society reported: "it's not possible for the radioactivity to return to the biosphere in a concentration significant to human health and safety." (paraphrased from memory -JM)

Of course, NO ONE could have imagined at the time that EPA could get away with a rad protection constraint at an insignificant dose level <1% of the variation in natural background radiation, to be complied using simple-minded computer jockey "models" that overstate results by orders of magnitude.