Skip to main content

A Running Debate on Nuclear Energy

Janet BurganWe suppose you could call it a running debate:

Stating that the country's atomic energy program is self-sufficient in terms of human resources, advisor to Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Prof MGK Menon on Monday said, "In the past two decades, the country has successfully been able to generate trained people to carry out nuclear energy programs on its own."

Menon goes further:

Menon, a former ISRO chairman, said, "We need nuclear energy because it is a source that does not leave carbon footprint. The development of the country rests upon nuclear energy and hence we need it in abundance."

But do we need it? Switzerland has studies:

Over the past few months, a group of researchers at the Energy Science Center (ESC) of ETH Zurich have carried out an intensive examination of whether the available options will enable Switzerland to scope out a medium-term energy future without nuclear power, as decided by the Swiss Federal Council in May. Their answer was yes.

Well, okay. How?

If the remaining 40 TWh [not supplied by hydro, which is tapped] is to be provided without nuclear energy, this will need a major expansion in new renewable energy sources, mainly photovoltaic, followed by the localized utilization of biomass and finally geothermal energy.

That sounds a little – implausible.

According to the ETH Zurich researchers, flexible gas-fired power stations or electricity imports will be indispensable to cover demand peaks, at least in the short term.

Ah, there we go. Maybe they can import it from France. If this sounds as though the ESC is struggling a bit, just wait:

[F]oreseeable technological development should enable, from 2020 to 2025 onwards, the construction of combined gas-fired power stations in which the CO2 produced can be captured and stored.

Or not. Do read the whole thing, though, for the full perspective. Energy efficiency will also play a big part.

Or ESC could just look next door, at Germany:

The upshot [of keeping eight nuclear facilities closed]: so far, Germany has lost about 10 percent of its power-generation capacity, officials said.

But surely things will improve:

The phase-out was hasty, some say. And by some measures, it has backfired. Despite extensive support for renewable energy, Germany is now producing more carbon emissions. At a time when its economy is already slowing down, businesses are bracing for brown-outs and higher energy prices.

Perhaps Germany can right the energy boat with some imports from France.

I guess one could say that tough decisions lead to tough choices. But let’s let the debate play out:

Helen Caldicott, M.D., will speak at 7 p.m. Oct. 10 on “Lessons from Fukushima: What role should nuclear energy and natural gas extraction play in our energy future?” The free event, which begins with a concert by recording artist Janet Burgan at 6:30 p.m., will be held in Binghamton University’s Mandela room in the Student Union.

I’m sure Dr. Caldicott will find some kind of a place for nuclear energy and natural gas extraction, don’t you? But at least Ms. Burgan, whose tune “No Fracking Way” is catchy if over-earnest, will provide a little leavening to the dough.

Janet Burgan. From No Fracking Way: “Landsmen came to me one day; No,no, no fracking way; Want to lease my land for pay; No, no, no fracking way; What about the waterway?; No, no, no fracking way; Where our brother fishes play; No, no, no fracking way.” Ms. Burgan’s work doesn’t seem as committed as this generally, though there are titles such as Range War and Trouble in the Fields in her songbook. We looked for a nuclear-themed song by her, but came up dry.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy (Updated)

And the winner is…Cassini-Huygens, in triple overtime.

The spaceship conceived in 1982 and launched fifteen years later, will crash into Saturn on September 15, after a mission of 19 years and 355 days, powered by the audacity and technical prowess of scientists and engineers from 17 different countries, and 72 pounds of plutonium.

The mission was so successful that it was extended three times; it was intended to last only until 2008.

Since April, the ship has been continuing to orbit Saturn, swinging through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not previously explored. This is a good maneuver for a spaceship nearing the end of its mission, since colliding with a rock could end things early.

Cassini will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. The radio signal will arrive here early Friday morning, Eastern time. A NASA video explains.

In the years since Cassini has launc…

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…