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

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…