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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. 


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

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