For many people my age (the boomers who became The Hippie Generation), our introduction to nuclear energy was the H-bomb (the A-bomb came before I was born). After that, it seems every generation or two has witnessed one lonesome major nuclear disaster. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. Meanwhile, fossil fuels are doing two things apace: 1) damaging the environment and especially the climate while making our oceans rise; 2) slowly being depleted until it becomes impossibly expensive (due to supply and demand and the difficulty of extracting or harvesting it).

The documentary Pandora's Promise (available on Netflix and elsewhere) sees the notion that somehow we can replace fossil fuels with solar, wind, hydro, etc., and not include nuclear power is a an unwarranted assumption bordering on hallucination.

Rather than using less power, we are finding new ways to use it. For example, the iPhone uses about the same amount of energy as your refrigerator, most of it behind the scenes or in the manufacturing processes. And at the same time, the developing countries of the world are becoming richer and using energy at a mind-boggling pace. Forget Tokyo and Hong Kong. Here is a picture of Singapore at night:

Meanwhile, people are under the impression that, for example, Three Mile Island killed a lot of people. In fact, not one person in the US has died due to Three Mile Island. Worldwide, it's surprising how few people have been killed due to nuclear accidents. Wikipedia has an article detailing this aspect.

The fear of radiation is irrational and is, in part, based on the falsehood that radiation is absent from everyday life. However, bananas, granite countertops, cell phones, smoke detectors, and powerlines among many other things emit radiation.

I could go on, but let me recommend Pandora's Promise, which is about some pro-environentalists who understand that the promise of solving the problem of environmental degradation caused by fossil fuels with solar, wind, etc., simply (a) will never be popular enough to work, (b) will have problems of their own as they are upsized, and (c) will continue to be exacerbated by the economic growth of China, India, Brazil, and other burgeoning economies which will at least triple consumption by the end of the the century.

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I find the resistance to nuclear power as an option annoying particularly when it is based on nothing more than some vague feeling that nuclear = dangerous. I sometimes wonder if people subconsciously think of bombs as soon as the nuclear word is mentioned.

It is certainly true that an accident at a nuclear power plant has the potential to be far more devastating than an accident at a fossil fuel plant but the same could be said of an accident on an aeroplane compared with a car (in terms of likely death count). How do we respond to this? We make the business of flying planes much more tightly regulated and safety-conscious. From the design of aircraft system fail-safes through to pre-flight checks and the training required to be a pilot (compared to being a car driver) we match the levels of safety and control to the nature of the risk.

With nuclear power we should do the same. Acknowledging its risks should be accompanied by efforts to get better at minimising those risks. It's all very well burying one's head in the sand and hoping for a miracle solar or wind solution but I don't think either of these technologies can cope with the sheer demand. I'm sure that all the time solar and wind devices are improving bit by bit but are we really going to reach a point where the world's energy demands can be met by these?

" I'm sure that all the time solar and wind devices are improving bit by bit but are we really going to reach a point where the world's energy demands can be met by these?"

It will more likely be a combination of several emerging renewable technologies that we will come to rely on. Wave movement is one of those with huge potential. The largest obstacle we face in the energy arena is the capitalists currently in control who stand to make so much more wealth by milking the fossil fuel's cow for all it's worth and stifling expansion into other more environmentally friendly areas. Their short sighted goals are a disservice to the planet.

It will more likely be a combination of several emerging renewable technologies that we will come to rely on.

It is certainly true that an accident at a nuclear power plant has the potential to be far more devastating than an accident at a fossil fuel plant

The problem with the public's perception of nuclear (and I'm referring to the general public, not environmentalists in particular) is that their views are driven by disaster headlines, not a cold assessment of the facts, which include that, global warming and all that aside, fossil fuels are killing people and shortening lives all across the planet everyday, and are not getting the same sort of headlines.

Yep, head-burying... it's never solved any problems and it never will.

"The fear of radiation is irrational and is, in part, based on the falsehood that radiation is absent from everyday life."

As long as we can eliminate poor engineering design (Fukushima), gross negligence (Chernobyl), and an unwillingness to address the long term storage of leftover radioactive waste then perhaps nuclear power has a limited future. Our planet is too small to continue being forced to permanently cordon off areas surrounding former nuclear facilities that are no longer inhabitable. These sorts of incidents are fraught with nearly insurmountable problems. Just ask the Japanese how much fun they're having trying to keep the radioactive plant waters from further contaminating the adjacent Pacific Ocean.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-05-23/japan-begins-purposely-dum...

Long term storage can be address by breeder reactors which can actually use "bad" nuclear waste as fuel, including reusing their own spent fuel over and over until it is safe.

The link you shared is an example of how environmentalists fan the flames of hysteria, which results in their fan base sticking to the "No nuclear ever. Never. Never. Never. No-no-no" line, leaving fossil fuels which are also killing people and will kill more what with global warming, the dying oceans, etc.

The question should be when are we going to stop making the choice of going cheap on nuclear reactors by using old and poor designs and when are we going to stop putting them in stupid places like close to population centers, on or near fault lines, or on the ocean shore, though breeder reactors don't produce irradiated water anyway. They use sodium for cooling.

Are breeder reactors uncontroversial? Are there no ways things might go wrong? Nothing is that perfect, but they do seem to solve the biggest problems associated with water-cooled nuclear reactors which also produce problematic waste materials. I think this Wikipedia article presents the criticisms of breeders pretty fairly well.

The environmentalists who underline the problems of nuclear seem to be willing to accept fossil fuels and the damage and death they cause until that glorious pie-in-the-sky day when we all agree to rely on solar and wind and the rest, a day on which we'll realize we still need either fossil fuels or nuclear because the other "clean" sources of power will still be needed to supply well over half of the world's power needs, UNLESS we accept nuclear power.

Glorious pie in the sky day

Green technology is abundantly used in several states, many European and Asian countries, increasingly in Africa and other states in the US. I don't know where your extreme pessimism for green technology comes from. Sounds like FOX news really.

The fear of radiation is irrational and is, in part, based on the falsehood that radiation is absent from everyday life. However, bananas, granite countertops, cell phones, smoke detectors, and powerlines among many other things emit radiation.

Absolutely true. A large part of the problem is how people conflate different kinds of radiation into one. There are different kinds, with profoundly different effects.

Wind and solar are extremely popular in countries other than the USA so I don't know what you mean by "will never be popular enough". In some European countries green energy will dominate energy production in a decade or two. As well, in windy climates, wind power is already cheaper to produce than even the most efficient nuclear power plant no matter which way you analyse the costs in both the US and in Europe. Solar power should also be cheaper in the next couple of decades. There's no reason to build capital intense nuclear power plants with very small probability but disastrous safety concerns and that whole meddlesome where to bury the nuclear waste problem and a limited amount of radioactive material left on Earth. Nuclear power plants always cost way more than budgeted for, produce problems which put them offline for months and when the do (and rarely do) go kaboom they create disasters that aren't just a local problem but effect people in other countries and for years on afterwards (not just a problem that can be swept under the rug). There's no convincing reason to build more power plants per efficiency, cost effectiveness, safety concerns, environmental concerns, long term growth strategy interest ests, long term research interests etc.

Don't get me wrong, whatever contribution can be made by solar and wind technology I'm all for. I just think we shouldn't eliminate another option from the table for the wrong reasons. Let's not be irrationally fearful but instead be sensibly cautious and explore whether nuclear is feasible as an extra source of energy. Investment may reveal that the risks and waste outweigh the benefits making it a no go but let's investigate whether the current issues with nuclear power are surmountable.

I keep reading things like a 100m square area of solar panels in the desert would be enough to power x number of states of the US, etc, but then it tends not to pan out that way. For example, you have to keep rotating the panels to keep them in the sun, then you have to keep cleaning them with gallons of water because of the dust. No technology is without its drawbacks and that's why I think we need as many options as we can come up with.

Europeans hold a lot of views that the average American might find a bit wacky, like the hostility toward firearms. As with firearms, where the difference between Canada and America when it comes to gun deaths/crimes is the difference between Canadians and Americans, it's the same with European attitudes toward "green" power.

And how does one vastly increase the amount of solar power without also vastly increasing the amount of natural habitat devoted to it? (See Simon's comment above.) How does one devote huge tracts of natural environment to solar without further reducing the land available to creatures of forest and field? And, fuck, if one black footed ferret shows up...

Wind farms kill birds. Lots and lots of birds. New designs are said to kill fewer, but you can count on the Audubonists to fight against windmills tooth and nail. Pro-windmillists will tell you that windmills currently in place kill fewer birds than cats and cell towers (cell towers kill birds?), but put on your thinking cap: what's more likely, getting rid of cats and cell towers or not building many more windmills? I think you know the answer.

Breeder reactors will all but eliminate the dangerous waste problem by producing safer waste and using existing dangerous waste as fuel. Because they are safer, they present fewer siting problems. They are also cooled with sodium rather than water. That existing clean power sources are insufficient is evidenced by the fact that utilities that rely on them don't rely on them totally, and still supplement their power with coal, oil, or natural gas.

All of the optimistic views of converting to clean power sources minimize the adverse effects of scaling up and treat the (in reality, almost hallucinogenic) dream of changing people's minds as though it's an already-accomplished given. They also discount the resistance they'll run into WITHIN the environmental community, especially from the sector whose primary interest is preserving wilderness and saving animals.

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