Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Utahns support nuclear energy

Who knew? The Natural Resources Defense Council certainly hopes you don't put two and two together.
Voters in Utah's 2nd Congressional District say climate change is the nation's most pressing environmental problem and that immediate action is needed to address it, according to a new poll by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
Half of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s 24-member Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change voted last week to endorse nuclear energy. Utah currently has no nuclear power plants, given the sensitivity of the issue in a state that has fought high-level nuclear waste storage, received nearly $1 billion in compensation payments for victims of nuclear-testing fallout and endured about $1 billion in cleanups from previous nuclear-energy activities in the state.
David Tuft, director of NRDC's climate change project, said the group included nuclear power as part of its survey but was not releasing that data at this time. He noted that nuclear energy is not part of the climate-change legislation Congress is currently considering.
A Salt Lake Tribune poll last summer showed that Utahns were roughly split in their belief that global warming is occurring. Baldwin said as more businesses tackle climate change and as Huntsman gets more active on the issue, it has become more visible to the public.

Nice try Mr. Tuft. Good work on getting the lede you wanted in there though. The whole point of this poll was to pressure Jim Matheson to vote with other Democrats on binding climate change provisions. Now that Rep. Matheson is on the Commerce Committee, he has a say on whether our cars and trucks will have increased full efficiency, whether the US will further subsidize ethanol [please say no], or how much will go into solar and battery research, if the US will have more nuclear plants etc. Since Rep. Matheson used to be an energy consultant and is from the west, his colleagues will listen to him more than other new committee members.

Rep. John Dingell, the octogenarian chairman who is from Detroit and for decades has been an SUV maker's best friend, is considering offering a bill that calls the environmentalist's bluff--a carbon tax and major gasoline tax hike. Sen. Chris Dodd supports a carbon tax but none of the other candidates for president do. Most Democratic candidates support raising the CAFE standards (average fuel efficiency) and other more moderate efforts to address global warming.

Climate change is a real issue and it needs serious solutions, not just statement bills like Dingell's (that say environmentalists lack support) or Dodd's (that says I am liberal so vote for me Iowans). Recently nuclear energy has been given a second look by environmental politicians and policymakers in Europe as well as the US because it is carbon-neutral (and radiation-not-neutral).

Nuclear's fundamental problem is the end waste has a more immediate, localized, and long-term danger. Where do you put it? NIMBY How do you transport it out of your backyard? Who will accept it? (Nevadans don't want it, but impoverished Native American tribes do)

This is a serious problem with no easy answers. But pretending you didn't get informaiton supportive of nuclear energy really is dishonest, even if I might be inclined to agree with NDRC. I just hope Jim will vote for solutions that seek to make a real impact on climate change and not just a feel good measure like hydrogen fuel cells or ethanol.


Jennifer Killpack-Knutsen said...

The end waste is a huge problem, so is also the cancer legacy of Uranium mining. Then you add to all that extra terrorist targets and the potential for other disasters - like the Nuke plant in Japan that was damaged by an earthquake and leaked radioactive water into the ocean -- and nuke power is a VERY bad idea.

We have the ability to do the right thing now. We get more power than we can ever use from the sun each day - we just need the political will to commit to harvesting it, but there's a lot more money in nuclear.

Joffan said...

The most difficult obstacle that has faced nuclear power over the last 25 years has been public acceptance. If this is now in place, it is big news indeed.

Other issues are less significant obstacles. To Jennifer's post, nuclear waste is small in volume, hazardous and highly detectable (so very difficult to steal), and contained at point of generation. Disposal is technically straightforward - with public acceptance. Uranium mining for nuclear power plants is clean and safe for workers. Terrorists would have to be mad (yeah, I know) to try to take on a nuke plant, any of which is both tough and well-defended, that would result in their ineffective death or arrest. The huge Japanese nuclear plant was hit by a savage earthquake and spilled a very small amount of mildly radioactive water from a holding pool, so little that no change was discernible in the nearby ocean (see detectability).

The nuclear industry has an exemplary safety record, and is positively paranoid about incidents, shutting down plants for the most minor of reasons and holding hearings on even trivial issues. Part of that safety record can reasonably be credited to the vociferous efforts of the antinuclear movement; but the same group must also take some of the blame for the deaths from the coal plants that were built instead of more nuclear.

Life cycle assessment shows that you can generate more nuclear energy for the same input energy than solar. Solar and other non-carbon generation should be pursued too - diversity is good, and they each have strong market niches. However, eliminating hydrocarbon use, in particular coal, from electricity generation will absolutely require significant nuclear power build.

Jennifer Killpack-Knutsen said...

You have been well versed on the nuclear industy talking points.

Just because we haven't had more Chernobyls in the past few decades doesn't mean that we won't be suseptible to them in the future. Nuke power hasn't been around all that long -- it's only a matter of time before something like this happens again -- but I guess that's just collateral damage.

To fully take the extreme care that is needed with just the waste disposal part, we'll need to assume that the U.S. will always have the financial resources to do the right thing, if you can call creating more of a waste that is deathly toxic for tens of thousands of years -- even with the best systems we have now - the right thing. Will the U.S. have a stable economy and government in place for even the next hundred years, let alone those many thousands that this stuff is dangerous, to make sure that humans and other living things are protected? That's very optimistic if you think so.

As for terrorist targets, I wasn't even thinking about stolen nuke material -- the plants themselves are targets for bombing as well as the trucks and trains used to transport the waste. And what about truck and rail accidents? A couple of years ago they evacuated a few neighborhoods because a train car was leaking toxic chemicals -- if it had been nuke waste the contamination would have been far worse.

Almost everyone I've known has been in at least one car accident -- with thousands of truckloads of waste being hauled around the country in search of "safe" disposal (not sure the nuke co.s and government are really concerned about the safety past 20 years down the line or so) it doesn't seem like such a stretch to imagine that there are going to be some accidents that could potentially contaminate an area for thousands of years.

Uranium mining -- we know how much care for human safety has been taken by this industry. How many people have to die excrutiating cancer deaths for this bad idea?

Wind and solar's negative impacts in comparison to nuke energy are practically microscopic. Let's do the right thing now and not burden future generations with the mess that our greed has created. There's not as much money to be made by the wind and solar industries, it's true, but it's the humane and ethical thing to do.