From the “Not-my-circus-not-my-monkeys” department, after the 10th anniversary of the Fukishima disaster last March my curiosity ventured into the nuclear energy debate. See these observations from those who actually know something about the issue (read the articles themselves for the full story). Opinions vary widely:
Aubrey Hilliard’s Texican reports weekly on commodity prices and commentary on the markets. He has ideas about nuclear as a dependable carbon-free baseload source. He says the old fission power model is out and a complete rework is on the way from, for example, TerraPower, a nuclear reactor design company developing a class of nuclear fast reactors called the traveling wave reactor. It uses depleted uranium as fuel and could reduce our 700,000 metric tons of nuclear waste. Eight metric tons could power 2.5 million homes for a year. Another project is NuScale, a small-scale modular nuclear reactor. In the meantime China has its sights on nuclear fusion.
At eenews.net Nuclear Regulatory Commission historian Thomas Wellock says, “Are nuclear reactors safe” is an impossible question to answer. The correct question is, “Are they safe enough? Can nuclear reactors be engineered to protect the public and the environment against plausible emergencies and accidents without so many layers of security that their energy becomes unaffordable?” He discusses the “defense-in-depth” and “probabilistic risk assessment” strategies for dealing with safety issues.
Michael Shellenberger in Forbes describes the many ways that HBO’s sensationalized Chernobyl gets the disaster wrong, in the process terrifying millions of people about nuclear technology, assisted by overreaction of media such as Vanity Fair and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Read the article for the show’s myriad inaccuracies.
In Nature, Aditi Verma, Ali Ahmed and Francesca Giovannini say that regardless of whether the climate crisis is as bad as some people think, the largest problem is the nuclear sector itself, which is opaque, inward looking and inequitable. Among the inequalities presented by reliance on nuclear energy, three-fourths of all uranium production globally comes from areas that are in or near indigenous communities, and mines are left un-remediated to poison lands and peoples.
Their questions: Will the sector ever overcome public disapproval, and are its benefits worth the risks and costs to people and the environment? According to the authors, after Fukushima left and undeniable mark on the public psyche, the industry consistently plays it down. The studies concluding that its economic impact wasn’t much fail to capture the harder-to-quantify collateral damage to people’s lives and the environment. An example: After Fukushima, Germany voted to phase out nuclear energy altogether by 2022.
And Nature appears to be pretty much against nuclear as an energy source.
Katie Tubb, at the Heritage Foundation, as you would expect, champions America’s domestic nuclear energy industry, crediting economic freedom. She offers these and other suggestions for our nuclear regulatory environment:
- The Nuclear Waste Policy Act distorts the market by making taxpayers responsible for disposal of nuclear waste.
- Re-evaluate outmoded regulations that overstate the risk from radiation exposure.
- Update outdated reactor regulations that are unsuited to modern technology.
- Avoid doing business with state-controlled “rogue nations” (you know who they are) and fix misguided barriers to collaboration with private companies in transparent and free countries.
And in California, ideology trumps sound policy. You knows its bad when climate alarmist the Los Angeles Times says so.
In case you were wondering, nuclear energy supplies 10.3% of the world’s electricity through 414 nuclear power reactors in 32 countries. In the U.S. in 2020 renewables had a greater share of electricity generation (21%) than coal (19%) and nuclear (20%). Natural gas lead at 40%.
You rmusical interlude, callin’ out the Delta variant.