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Bruce Sterling On Lovelock's Pro-Nuclear Stance 693

Posted by timothy
from the whistles-gunsmoke-and-tumbleweed dept.
Robert Berger writes "Bruce Sterling, author, journalist, editor, critic, blogger is also the creator of the Viridian Notes series of emails that comment on articles and websites about global warming. The current Viridian Note 00415: Doom is Nigh (scroll down past the inital links) has inserted his Sterling's pithy comments into Jame Lovelock's assertion that 'Nuclear power is the only green solution.'" (See also this earlier Slashdot post about Lovelock's nuclear apologia.)
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Bruce Sterling On Lovelock's Pro-Nuclear Stance

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  • by Stinking Pig (45860) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:52PM (#9299153) Homepage
    Yeah. Those "pithy comments" were practically all from the list of fallacies we covered back in Logic 101, lo these many years ago. Too bad Bruce didn't take time from his busy schedule to attend Logic 101, he might have been able to stir up so cogent counterclaims.

    I'm no fan of big nuclear reactors, but I am a huge fan of using fossil fuels for materials science instead of energy. It's a limited resource, and it looks to my untrained eye like we're much more able to replace it as an energy source than we are to replace it as a plastics source.
  • by iwadasn (742362) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:55PM (#9299169)
    Ok, this is nice, but neither side gives any evidence. Since when does "no it isn't" count as a refutation?

    Everything that guy has to say is about nuclear weapons. Well, guess what. WE ALREADY HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS. There, accept it. Get over it. There is no danger of additional reactors turning the US, or China, or India, or Western Europe into nuclear armed powers. NONE, because they already are.

    It's easy to tear down someone else's proposal when you don't have on of your own and need rely on nothing but juvenile comebacks. Get some actual evidence. And you know what, even if you count the victims of Hiroshima and Nagisaki against nuclear power (but don't count the victims of conventional warfare against fossil fuels) and you throw in Cherenoble, and maybe round everything up by a few hundred thousand just to be sure, Nuclear killed far fewer people per kWh of energy. It is almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which it might be otherwise. Fossil fuels kill tens (hundreds, depending on how you count) of thousands of people each year.

    A nuclear disaster would have to kill tens of millions (at least) in order to even the score. Nobody can even conceive of how that could happen with civilian reactors built to even the most incompetent of standards, like Cherenobl. About the only real possibility is if WW-III breaks out and people start tossing around nuclear weapons (which they already have, and don't need civilian reactors for), and that is far MORE likely if we start fighting over oil.

    Just once I'd like to hear a well reasoned out anti-nuclear position. Include some numbers (you know, dollars and cents, lives lost, that sort of thing) and keep them accurate. Include an honest asessment of nuclear waste dangers (assuming various means of disposal) and honest asessments of nuclear proliferation. I have never seen any evidence that civilian nuclear power leads to proliferation, but it seems to be a given for the anti-nuke types. Japan and South Korea both have reactors, and neither has nuclear weapons.

    The only scenario the anti-nuke types ever argue against is such a complete straw man. They assume we dump all the nuclear waste into the nation's beer supply, give away spent fuel to everyone with a driver's license, and somehow (though nobody can really imagine exactly how this happens) have lots of melt downs in highly populated areas. Seriously. Assume an even marginally competent nuclear program (needn't be perfect) and then try a comparison with our fossil fuel system. See how that treats you.

    It's like comparing against an oil economy where it's assumed that 99% of the oil is dumped raw into the ocean, the rest is burned in the foulest, dirtiest machines imaginable, and that somehow access to oil allows every fool who can rub two sticks together to build a jet fighter with which to kill people. Be serious.

  • The Thing is though (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GrimSean (545405) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:56PM (#9299177) Homepage
    what the hell else are we supposed to do? Sterling is attacking Lovelock based solely on fear of Nuclear weapons - not energy, and a nuclear plant has about as much of a chance of blowing up as my chair does when properly designed. Chernobyl happened because the Soviets let regular Engineers perform a test on a reactor - not Nuclear Engineers who actually would have known what they were doing. Three Mile Island happened because of pure stupidity. A properly designed nuclear plant, with proper safeguards and well trained staff is a fairly safe place.

    I think Sterling's comments would have been decidedly better had they actually proposed something else, instead of attacking an idea that is a feasable solution to significantly lowering the emission of greenhouse gasses. I have to wonder if he would have been among the people objecting to wind power because it ruined the view [go.com], if he lived in Martha's Vineyard.

  • "So what" all around (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:17PM (#9299310) Homepage Journal
    Electricity generation is only a fraction of fossil fuel use. Industrial process heat, living space heating, and vehicles will produce almost as much greenhouse gas as we do today even if, like France, we go almost-all-nuclear for the power grid.

    We could go to electric vehicles but not with today's generation of batteries. The battery pack in my Prius weighs about a hundred pounds and stores only as much energy as a few ounces of gasoline.

    Things get interesting if we could build small reactors economically and operate them safely with off-the-shelf personnel. Then you could have nuclear cogeneration systems where a factory has its own reactor to generate electricity and generate heat for factory processes. Pebble-bed reactors promise to fill this role, if they work as expected.
  • by JInterest (719959) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:26PM (#9299354)

    Just once I'd like to hear a well reasoned out anti-nuclear position.

    You won't. All anti-nuclear power arguments I've heard or seen in print are essentially reactionary and paranoid ravings that confuse nuclear power with nuclear weapons and depend on popular fears of new technologies. It is quintessentially luddite mindset. There aren't any rational arguments against nuclear power. There may be rational arguments against certain power plants or techniques for using that power, but the argument never really gets that far. Fear of nuclear power isn't based on reasoned argument, and those who argue most strongly against nuclear power are fully aware of this.

  • by cdrguru (88047) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:33PM (#9299399) Homepage
    I think Mr. Sterling's real "solution" is disclosed about 80% through the article:
    (((How about the relatively simple solution of seven or eight billion of us starving to death? Or how about a few massive heat-wave-boosted lethal epidemics? That ought to put a swift kibosh on energy demand.)))
    This is the only real solution according to much of the "Green" philosophy. I agree that it would solve most of the problems - having 1/8 of the population would put us back to where things were in the 1800s (or earlier) and effectively "solve" all of the pollution problems.

    Unfortunately, I do not see many of the "Greens" volunteering to be in the first wave of losses to begin this process. If this is truely the way to a sustainable level of development, I see it coming about only as a couple of Green-inspired governments starting the process. Let's see, if Canada and Norway got together and declared war on Germany, France (nukes! bad!) and the US, could they win? Could they start a world war that would decrease the population by the necessary amount? I doubt it, but it would be a start in what could be considered "the right direction".

    Are we interested in this as a solution?

  • by crmartin (98227) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:37PM (#9299428)
    Still a moron.
  • by 2901 (676028) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:40PM (#9299448) Homepage Journal
    As opposed to the small leakages of nuclear power, which are a kind of health tonic

    This wise-crack got me confused. People sometimes say that there is no safe level of radio-activity, not realising that this is a methodological assumption, rather than an empirical fact. When scientists have tried to investigate this, using the natural variation in background radiation and existing epidemilogical data, they have found that radiation is a health tonic!

    Some scientists have speculated that this might even be a real effect, not a statistical artifact. Their idea is that damage from free radicals is a much bigger deal than damage by background radition. Cells have repair mechanisms that get turned on in response to increased metabolism and the consequent rise in free radicals. Lags in the regulation of repair are responsible for much of the damage caused by free radicals, and if radiation upregulated the repair mechanism that could more than compensate for the actual damage done by the radiation.

    My guess, from having done research on speech recognition, is that most scientists just don't get how hard it is to do statistics right, and the "tonic" effect of radiation will turn out to be an artifact, probably due to incorrect compensation for regional variations in cigarette smoking.

    Meanwhile Bruce Sterling's attempt at sarcasm is a bit of a disaster, revealing that the controversy over the dangers (or otherwise) of low levels of radiation has passed him by.

  • Re:No.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by slipstick (579587) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:42PM (#9299456)
    I don't know what it's like in Britain but decommissioning costs have been included in North American Nuke plans for quite some time. It's (usually) put on as an extra cost/KW or something like that. In other words the plants are forced to set aside x amount of money for decommissioning.
  • by Sirwar (659041) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:50PM (#9299496)
    No one knows where to put the stuff. Everyone says "not in my back yard" and that "nothing will ever grow there. EVER." When you live someplace where there isn't anyplace to put it that you know of, those comments make a lot of sense. Only since I've moved to Utah did I find out there are thousands(?) of square miles of...nothing. Of big salty deserts. Where nothing will ever grow. EVER. People also worry about transporting it..."what if there is an accident?" Also in Utah is an airforce base where they make/dispose of chemical weapons. The most dangerous weapons in the world are disposed of just outside the city. And how do they get there? late at night on the public freeway. And its allowed. Still, regardless of all these facts, the overwhelming hatred for nuclear power is louder than anything else. Shows to go that no matter what, the hypocrisy of the "Green" to nuclear power conquers all.
  • Re:No.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sparks (7204) <acrawford@noSPam.laetabilis.com> on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:52PM (#9299511) Homepage
    Part of the reason the UK nuclear industry is in such a bad financial shape is that the Government makes it pay the "climate change levy", on the basis of the amout of CO2 produced to generate a given amount of elecricity.

    But wait; the nuclear industry doesn't emit CO2!

    I know this sounds stupid, crazy, unreal, but it's absolutely true. The only major source of electricity in the UK which doesn't contribute to climate change has to pay a climate change tax. This is to the tune of 600 million UK pounds for British Energy. That amount is the difference between a 300 million loss and a 300 million profit for that company.
  • Re:No.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sparks (7204) <acrawford@noSPam.laetabilis.com> on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:14PM (#9299635) Homepage
    ..but yet those same city investors were prepared to absorb the cost of the newer British Energy reactors.

    So your point seems to be that old nuclear plants were expensive but newer ones are potentially profitable.

    (Remember two things: 1. BE has the full cost of decommissioning set aside and 2. BE was profitable for several years before the climate change levy and NETA came along)
  • by rebelcool (247749) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:39PM (#9299775)
    The most modern of fission reactor designs are passively safe, meaning they require little to no active safety systems (ie, working cooling pumps) in order to operate.

    Toshiba is working a design which requires no crew even. You build a housing, put the reactor in the ground, and in 30 years replace its core fuel element. Several of these put together can power entire towns.

    http://www.nuclear.com/n-plants/index-Small_modulr _reactr.html [nuclear.com]

  • by ttfkam (37064) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:42PM (#9299804) Homepage Journal
    IFA/AFR reactors [nationalcenter.org].

    In the course of nuclear power in the US, raw fuel has only used approximately 2% of the fissible energy potential. Much of this material can be taken out of the current storage pools and put to good use in newer reactors and without the previous longstanding concerns of weapons proliferation.

    Since IFRs take so long to burn through the fuel, it will take quite some time to go through the waste and weapons material (which can also be used as a fuel source). By the time you get back to actually mining uranium for power again, let alone going to the oceans, a great deal will have passed.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:49PM (#9299859)
    The waste problem is not completely political. Check out this story [npr.org] about how there are thousands of tons of nuclear waste sludge in South Carolina that simply can't be dredged out and taken to some storage site in Nevada or Washington state.

    What I think this is emblematic of: the people who run our nuclear plants are near-morons who don't think about the fact that eventually the plant will shut down and there'll be a lot of deadly stuff left over that there's no good way to dispose of. (And that's ignoring potential leaks or bigger problems when the plant is operating).

    While we're on the subject, check out this article [cbsnews.com] about fuel rods which some geniuses lost some time between 1978 and now (yes, it's pretty bad not to even know when you lost that sort of thing).

    A few of my favorite highlights:
    "would be fatal to anyone who came into contact with it"
    "In 2002 a Connecticut nuclear plant was fined $288,000 after a similar loss. That fuel was never accounted for."

    Advocates of nuclear power always say, "Well it'd be perfect if it was done right." Really though, we're pretty lucky the shortsighted and careless way in which the nuclear industry in this country operates hasn't resulted in more Three Mile Islands.
  • Re:No.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:26PM (#9300051)
    Ah the UK. Are those nuclear power plants the weird 1st gen plants based on sodium, instead of light water reactors like everyone else uses? Regarding decommissioning costs, yes, the private industry will not pay for anything if they possibly can. They don't pay for cheap railroad maintenance, why should they want to pay for decommissioning a nuclear power plant? A bunch of scrooges that is what they are.
  • Decide for yourself (Score:4, Interesting)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Monday May 31, 2004 @10:05PM (#9300218) Homepage
    Take a look at wikipedia's List of Nuclear Accidents [wikipedia.org] and decide for yourself weather or not we should be using nuclear power.

    The list is either alarmingly long or extremely short depending upon how you look at it.

    Some of the accidents are incredibly trivial. Others are pretty darn frightening. It's all a matter of a chain reaction (no pun intended) of bad events happening in succession. Take this one for example:

    "September 19, 1980 - An Air Force repairman doing routine maintenance in a Titan II ICBM silo in Arkansas drops a wrench socket which rolls off a work platform and falls to the bottom of the silo. The socket strikes the missile, causing a leak from a pressurized fuel tank. The missile complex and surrounding area is evacuated and eight and a half hours later, vapors within the silo ignite and explode with enough force to blow off the two 740-ton silo doors and hurl the nine megaton warhead 600 feet (180 m). The explosion fatally injures an Air Force specialist and twenty-one other USAF personnel are injured."
  • Re:What about IFRs? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slickwillie (34689) on Monday May 31, 2004 @10:19PM (#9300281)
    Integral Fast Reactor [anl.gov]? It's supposed to be passively safe, and recycles it's own nuclear waste.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @10:57PM (#9300463)
    Recycling uses more energy than it saves for almost any material with a low-energy production value. Aluminum and some plastics are about the only things that are more efficiently recycled.

    Howeevr "Green" is a well-known label for a political movement. It has a lot of attached stigma because the average "Green" is an ignorant nut. Maybe if that doesn't describe you, you're not a "Green."

    Maybe you shouldn't try to co-opt other people's labels to describe yourself, simply because you view yourself as having reasonable environmental opinions.
  • by tehdaemon (753808) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:13PM (#9300549)
    Find a park with a merry-go-round. Get on, spin it, and then try to hit something on the other side of the merry-go-round with a ball. Have fun!
  • by Jakob Eriksson (40438) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:24PM (#9300598) Homepage
    *Look, fella, I get to wisecrack about nuclear power
    to my own email list if I feel like it. I didn't post that thing on Slashdot,
    and not everything that flies off my keyboard into cyberspace
    is gonna be solemn, Asperger-style argumentation intended
    intended to convince a bunch of Linux freaks.

    * If you can't take a joke, take a hike! And if you can
    take a joke, then read the friggin' list and get a clue
    as to what's been going on there for the past six years,
    before you send email to novelists and get
    all teary-eyed about your disillusionment.

    http://www.viridiandesign.org

    bruces

    On May 31, 2004, at 9:35 PM, Jakob Eriksson wrote:

    Hi Bruce,

    I stumbled upon your comments on Lovelock's nuclear power article today. I'd previously read your book "Distraction", and enjoyed it. In particular, I liked your portrayal of the nomads and the political power struggles.

    Because I enjoyed your writing, and thus respected you as an author. I was hoping to read a creative and possibly convincing argument against the use of nuclear power. Instead, to my dismay, I was confronted with a series of immature comments, often with very little basis in fact, far from either creative or convincing.

    Due to my respect for you as an SF author, I was prepared to take your advice to heart, and to give up the hope of nuclear power, had you shown good arguments for your case. Instead, I'm afraid you've spent all your whuffie (see Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out") on this childish flamebait. Given the comments on /., it would seem I am not alone in feeling this.

    You just lost a faithful reader.
  • by rebelcool (247749) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:27PM (#9300611)
    Similarly, should we be using natural gas or gasoline?

    I bet the list of horrific accidents involving those two items (natural gas of course, generates much of the US' electricity) is quite a bit longer than nuclear fission's accident list.

    And considering that a new nuclear power plant hasnt been built in the US in *20 years*, reactor designs have advanced considerably in the time.
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:34PM (#9300636) Journal
    That's a perfect example:
    "September 19, 1980 - An Air Force repairman doing routine maintenance in a Titan II ICBM silo in Arkansas drops a wrench socket which rolls off a work platform and falls to the bottom of the silo. The socket strikes the missile, causing a leak from a pressurized fuel tank. The missile complex and surrounding area is evacuated and eight and a half hours later, vapors within the silo ignite and explode with enough force to blow off the two 740-ton silo doors and hurl the nine megaton warhead 600 feet (180 m). The explosion fatally injures an Air Force specialist and twenty-one other USAF personnel are injured."


    It's a good example, actually.
    The explosion and subsequent death/injuries are because of the CHEMICAL explosion and, despite the massive blast, there was never any danger of the warheads either going off or being dispersed in dirty-bomb style.

    I'd say that's a testament to the safety of the darn things.
  • by tehdaemon (753808) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:36PM (#9300649)
    The problem with wind is as you stated: you get power when the wind blows, not necessarily when you need it. The solution to this problem is simple in theory. Storage. Get some good storage method and wind has no problem.

    One storage method that will work in many places is water, on a hill. About 10 cubic meters of water 1000 ft up stores about 1 MWh of energy. This energy is easily stored and released with high efficiency, (pumps and turbines) This can be used easily anywhere there is a mountain 1000 ft high or more, and here in Utah at least, those are in abundance.

    I read in another /. post that this is being done in West Virginia, and he had links.

  • by king-manic (409855) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:37PM (#9300658)
    Invention: Atom bomb

    Nessecity: Win a war quickly.

    Invention: Tanks

    Nessicity: Trenches from world war I were a bitch

    Invention: Surgery

    Nessecity: War time causualties.

    Invention: Rockets

    Nessecity: The british, they shoot down planes too efficeintly.

    Invention: Rockets/ space moduels.

    Nessicity: IF we don't the damn ruskies will do it first...

    People work better under pressure. A lot of thigns come from serindipity and imagination but desperation makes it come faster. For instance, most scientist do their most ground breaking work before their 40. Why? Becuase they are desprate to prove their worth.
  • by calidoscope (312571) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:36AM (#9300854)
    600 years, by the way, is how long it would take the waste to be *less* radioactive than the ore it was mined from IF we recycled the usable fuel.

    IIRC, that data point was from a paper by Pigford and Chen - and the timespan has been increased somewhat since the paper was published (a few thousnad years) - and please note that the course I took on fuel cycles was taught by Pigford.

    Your point is valid - by isolating nuclear waste on a timescale that falls within human experience (think "King Tut's" tomb laying undisturbed for 3,000+ years) it will decay into something about the same toxicity as the original ore.

    If the fuel is recycled into an Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), the time it takes for the decay prodcuts to drop down to the original ore levels will probably be close to 600 years - the IFR will convert the long-lived transuranics to short-lived transuranics. The IFR project has been closed down by the DOE, but it took a long time to close down.

  • by Dun Malg (230075) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:03AM (#9300952) Homepage
    The political price-tag of energy. Witness Chernobyl and TMI.

    Huh? Chernobyl was caused by idiots deactivating safety systems on a reactor that should have been decommissioned decades earlier. TMI was a partial meltdown, but it was fully contained.

    And if they lied to John Wayne, they'll lie to you.

    WTF is that supposed to mean?

    Plutonium goes missing more often than they'll tell you.

    If they don't tell us, how do YOU know about it? Lack of evidence is the surest sign that the conspiracy is WORKING, right?

    Death-rates due to fossil fuel by-products are hidden behind insurance company premiums.

    So, hidden deaths are OK? I don't follow your point here.

    We shouldn't put up with any process that leaves undesirable by-products

    Life is a process that leaves undesireable byproducts. That's why we have sewer systems and crematoriums. It's all a matter of degree.

    Especially not ones that are dangerous for 250,000 years.

    No nuclear waste takes 250K years to drop below background radiation level. Current waste drops to safe levels after 600 years, and a modern design breeder/recycling reactor produces waste that's safe after 100 years.

    If the foregoing makes me a head-in-the-sand Boomer Anti-Nuclear Satanist, then at least I'm older, wiser and sadder than you young idiots. It's no wonder they send boys of your age to war, you're too stupid to accept that you'll die.

    You're completely off your nut, man.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:51AM (#9301087)
    Mercury is no better than radiative pollution. It is also vastly worse than arsenic.

    To a person familiar with mercury, the levels of mercury in the world's food chain today are downright scary.

    In actual weight terms, it is small. But mercury is so poisonous and bioacumulative that even small quantities will build up.

    For comparison, our daily intake of urainium is about 1mcg. Our mercury daily intake can be as high as 60mcg.

    I like to think of the nature of mercury's toxicology as being more like radiation than other heavy metals. You might have substantial exposure to mercury one day and not notice. Radiation is the same. But in the greater scheme of things, it has the same slow, destructive, mathematically unforgiving effect on a population.

    People try to play down the toxicology of mercury because it's effects aren't immediately apparent at anything other than massive doses. You could also walk around Chernobyl's forests and not have any immediately apprent effects too. But it'd harm you something nasty in the long term, and mercury is the same.

    And the whole world is being systemically exposed to far too much mercury because of pollution. Mercury should be ruthlessly contained, in much the same way as if plutonium was entering the food supply. But nobody will listen. Toxicologists are well aware of how bad mercury is, but other than that, nobody will believe it. I've seen people in medicine say that mercury poisoning is not possible under any circumstances other than an industrial accident.

    You can get mercury poisoning by just eating a slice of tuna per day.
  • by ShooterNeo (555040) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:51AM (#9301304)
    Because solar cell technology is the first cousin of semiconductor chip tech. The laws of physics suggest 50-60% efficiency may ultimately be possible, and prototype panels are extremely thin and require very little in the way of materials, as well as give at least 30% efficiency. 200 billion, if the future resembles the past 30 years, would advance microchip technology several generations, buying the R&D to make dramatically faster integrated circuits and new fabrication plants to make them. "Moores law" is approximately the value it is mainly because that is the rate that profitable businesses can afford to create new generations of parts - were profits and budget not a concern, obviously faster progress could be made, including venturing in new directions that may not be profitable for some time. There are hundreds of superior, exotic approaches R&D labs have found over the years that have not been pursued because the initial investment is too high for a corporation. The same applies to solar manufacture.
  • Nothing personal (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 16K Ram Pack (690082) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `dnomla.mit'> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @03:14AM (#9301371) Homepage
    No source of energy is without risk/cost. Most people (outside the US?) now realise that the cost of fossil fuels is too high and would support governmental action to reduce CO2 emissions (as long as they don't have to do anything personally)

    That's the problem. Most people don't want to change their lifestyle one iota to save the planet. Even when there are grants (like those for cavity wall), people won't do it because there's still an outlay (takes about 10 years to pay for). Lots of people still drive 20mpg SUVs to get them and their fat ass to work. I know some people who drive to work - 1 mile.

    I wonder if there's a big difference between chernobyl and the UK and the USA. Chernobyl existed in a country with virtually no press freedom. Exposing the risks would have been difficult.

  • by ttfkam (37064) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @03:55AM (#9301470) Homepage Journal
    As of May 31, 2002, there are 104 commercial nuclear generating units that are licensed to operate in the United States. (Note: the Brown's Ferry unit 1 has been shut down since 1985 but retains a license). The U.S. reactors are of two basic types: 69 units are pressurized water reactors (PWRs) totaling 65,100 net megawatts (electric) and 35 units are boiling water reactors (BWR) totaling 32,300 net megatwatts (electric). - Energy Information Administration [doe.gov] (Department of Energy)
    104...err...103 units (Brown's Ferry is still down) supply 20% of all electricity in this country. 20% from 103 plants.

    So let's say $2 billion per 1,000MW reactor ($2,000 per kilowatt is a high estimate if plants were rolled out in greater frequency and used a common cookie cutter design instead of the custom work current ones require, but it'll do for now). About 200 plants would replace all of the coal plants. That's $400B. What was the cost of the war in Iraq again?

    300 more plants than we have today (at an average of 1,000MW per plant) would handle the current US demand for electricity. $600B. Mind you, this doesn't have to be purchased all at once. The costs can be amortized over several years.

    Expensive? Certainly. An easy solution. Not really. Possible? Yes.

    Cheaper than solar cells when you figure that 200 square meters (size of a house) of solar panels cost about $30,000? Hell... Let's work on the economy of scale. We'll say $10,000 per house-sized set of panels. Let's see... 294,313,298,879.85 square meters in Arizona... Divide by 200... 1,471,566,494.39925 house-sized panel clusters... Multiply by $10,000 per cluster... Hmmm... $14.7 trillion dollars. Even if you cut production costs for solar panels to 10% of its current cost, you're still looking at $4.4 trillion. And completely covering Arizona still isn't enough power to cover even a quarter of US demand.

    It ain't a question of easy solutions. Easy solutions went out the door long before we were born. At this point, it's about running the numbers and seeing which adds up. Nuclear ain't cheap and easy, but it's cheaper, easier, and much more realistic than the alternatives.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:22AM (#9301538)
    I fact we are already ready to re-use the nuclear fuel...

    but in europe the "green" have managed to stop the use of this fuel.

    We URGENTLY need to invest in new nuclear plants. We should use the nuclear fuel to the last dust. It is nearly possible: today it is theoricaly possible to 'burn' up to 97% of the Uranium... and of the different nuclear materials produiced in the process (plutonium, ...)
  • by columbus (444812) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:06AM (#9301952)
    France derives almost 80% of its electricity from nuclear power.

    Glad someone brought this up. Other countries have also gotten rid of fossil fuel as their main electricity source. Switzerland [cia.gov] and Sweden [cia.gov] have cut their fossil fuel energy prodction rates to next to nothing with a combination of Nuclear and Hydroelectric power. Finland [cia.gov] and Austria [cia.gov] have done the same with Hydro-electric alone. (source CIA World Factbook). Of course most countries can't go all hydro-electric; they just don't have the geography for it. However, it does serve to demonstrate that we have realistic alternatives to Fossil Fuel based electricity production.

    There is something else that hasn't been brought up yet that I think is pertainent to this discussion. Lovelock says that it is a question of time, that renewable energy is all well and good, but that we don't have time to set it up as a main source of energy. He contends that we have time (just barely) to go nuclear and diminish the consequences of global warming.

    My question is, assuming that we decided that it was the right course of action, just how fast could we go nuclear?
  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:11PM (#9304277)

    you have not been in europe when chernobyl happened. 300 million people were staying inside for a week, just because one (1) reactor failed.

    I wasn't? How odd, I could have sworn that I was. 300,000,000 people stayed inside for a week. But to what extend was it NECESSARY that they do so? Did mail service stop? police stay home? firefighters? No, didn't think so. People were advised to stay inside so as to limit their exposure to contamination to the "allowable" level. If you were exposed to ten times the "allowable" level, you MIGHT notice, if you know what to look for - it's pretty subtle at such low exposure levels.

    and nuclear plants will leak radiation despite our best efforts.

    And coal plants emit radiation in large amounts by design. Your point is? Even worse, your body is radioactive! Horrors!

    chances are that a single catastrophic failure in a nuclear power plant _will_ affect me.

    Affect you? well, I suppose that seeing it in the news will cause you to panic. It is unlikely that it will endanger you, unless you are in the habit of camping out inside a reactor building.

    Interestingly, you mentioned airplanes. Did you know that airline pilots typically suffer higher occupational radiation exposure than nuclear power plant workers?

  • by Christopher Thomas (11717) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @09:22PM (#9310770)
    Also, nuclear plants don't take up the *enormous* amount of space that wind or solar generation would require (a factor conveniently ignored by anti-nuclear activists).

    Actually, solar isn't that bad. Energy density at this distance from the sun is high enough that the solar plant area required to power a given population is much less than the farmland area required to feed them, even with relatively low generation efficiencies.

    The real problems are cost (even concentrating mirrors aren't free), and power storage and transport (you need to either hold a week's worth of power in reserve in case of bad weather, or hold a night's worth but always be able to draw power from somewhere with good weather). Concentrator-based heat plants area already cheap enough that they're being built as pilot projects. Thin-film photovoltaics continue to approach economic usefulness (and will probably surpass heat-engine based systems, due to conversion losses going from heat to electrical energy). Fuel cell technology is already mature enough that we could build power storage plants, but it requires enough of an outlay that we won't until we have to (or until voters force a tax break for reformer-based fuel cell plants that can generate power from fossil fuels before being switched over for power storage).

    In summary, I think that solar power is the most practical of the renewable power source options, and will eventually be adopted as the price of fossil fuels creeps up (it's unlikely to run out overnight - we'll just move to less accessible/costlier sources until alternatives gain marketshare). Fission power, in North America at least, has political problems that will likely make it unattractive.

What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying. -- Nikita Khruschev

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