Skip to main content

Song of SONGS: The Moral Dimension of Nuclear Energy

The San Diego Union-Tribune offers an exceptionally interesting op-ed on the closing of San Onofre (which is about midway between San Diego and Los Angeles):

For economical reasons alone, it would be shortsighted to exclude nuclear from California’s future power mix, particularly given major technical advances made in the 60 years since SONGS technology was conceived.

San Onofre didn’t stand still in terms of technology, but it’s a good point. What’s really striking about the editorial is that it spends many of its column inches waxing philosophical about nuclear energy and electricity production more broadly. That’s not usual in case-making op-eds.

Electricity empowers modern industrialized nations. Those that don’t have economical energy are at a disadvantage in an increasingly globalized economy. If energy is expensive because of insufficient supply or high costs of generation, consumers suffer. This can mean lower productivity, slower business and jobs growth, lower wages and lower living standards.

This is what Japan is finding out. Writer Linden Blue, vice chairman of General Atomics, departs from the specifics of SONGS to elucidate what we might call the moral argument for nuclear energy.

Failing to have diverse economical sources of energy can have adverse consequences. Today, about 40 percent of the world’s population is without electricity. Frequently that also means no sanitation facilities or potable water. Without those, health deteriorates. Without good health, people are only marginally productive. This alone should put reliable low cost electricity on top of our priorities.

Why moral? Because people must have access to electricity to thrive. The industrialized world would like developing countries to avoid oil and wood and fossil fuels, but how do you enforce that preference when people must have electricity and, it’s fair to say, will have it regardless of larger issues? Nuclear energy answers to that question and facilitates progress without producing harmful emissions. That’s a strong point in its favor.

Blue does return to the sandy site of SONGS:

The good news is that better generator alternatives have evolved with time and technical progress (including compact, high speed turbine generators, magnetic bearings, solid state inverters and permanent magnet armatures). With advanced ceramic fuel cladding materials, it is technically possible to make reactors whose cores last 20 times longer than today’s reactors, and noncorrosive helium can replace water. The risk of Fukushima-like hydrogen explosions also goes away.

Fair enough, and Blue probably has a company in mind that can deliver this – but he does stay fairly general in his view. It’s a really good op-ed, especially because it addresses issues beyond just the SONGS situation. 

Comments

jimwg said…
Good informative article!

I only wish Blue gave a little better perspective in explaining the "Fukushima-like hydrogen explosions" to an atom-bomb imaginative public. Farmers have seen far worst silo explosions make greater damage. Let's hope the media does more sincere (and guilt-laden) soul-searching in its coy witch-hunt after nuclear energy.

James Greenidge
Queens NY


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 …

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…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…