Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What about renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy conservation?

The proposed legislation keeps energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy as our state’s highest energy priorities.   Wherever they are technically feasible and cost effective, they are given top priority.  

The legislation is written to open the door to advanced nuclear energy, not to close the door on energy efficiency, conservation or renewable energy.   It locates advanced nuclear power behind energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewables in our state’s priority listing.  In addition, it requires nuclear power to meet technical and cost criteria that prevent it from being chosen for an identified energy need that can be fulfilled cost effectively by renewables and efficiency.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Is there environmentalist support for nuclear energy?

Here are some prominent environmentalists who support nuclear energy:

John Williams, director of the of the Nelson Insitute's Center for Climatic Research and Professor of Geography at the UW-Madison.  Mr. Williams co-authored an opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on December 4, 2015, which noted that  “With its well-educated labor force, strong manufacturing and engineering expertise, and geological stability, Wisconsin is well positioned in the US to develop and deploy the next generation of safe nuclear technology and lead the way on business-friendly and climate-safe energy solutions for the 21st century.”

Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force, who started his career as an anti-nuclear environmental activist.  In the linked video Mr. Cohen explains why he has shifted from being an anti-nuclear activist to someone who now argues that we can't afford to dismiss nuclear power.

James Lovelock, developer of the Gaia hypothesis.

Barry Brook, sponsor of the Brave New Climate website (“Although many environmentalists consider nuclear power to be somehow anti-environment, it’s my firm belief that nuclear energy actually offers a viable low-carbon, low-impact alternative that cannot be matched by other low-carbon solutions.”)

Mark Lynas, former Greenpeace campaigner (UK), Author, The God Species - Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans, Six Degrees Could Change The World, High Tide-News From A Warming World, Why A Green Future Needs Nuclear Power. 

James Hansen, and other prominent scientists who study climate (see here).  Some of these same scientists authored an opinion piece in the Guardian on December 3 2015, titled Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change. The opinion piece was published as part of their efforts to focus attention on nuclear energy at the Paris conference on climate change.  They have repeatedly called on environmentalists who still maintain opposition to nuclear energy to change their position.

75 conservation scientists who signed an open letter in late 2014 asking institutional environmental organizations to reconsider nuclear energy.

George Monbiot, Guardian columnist, who changed his mind to become an active supporter of nuclear power after reviewing Fukushima, stating: “Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.

Gwyneth Cravens, science writer, journalist, novelist and author of Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy.

Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalog.

Jeffrey Sachs, economist, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, special advisor to the U.N. General Secretary.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Truth about nuclear waste

Nuclear energy is the only source of electricity that comprehensively takes responsibility for its associated waste.  The nuclear fuel cycle, from the power plant forward, is designed to continually shield, and isolate, used fuel from the ambient environment.  This characteristic separates nuclear from all fossil, and even renewable, energy resources.  Virtually every industrial activity in an advanced civilization creates potentially toxic substances.  This includes non-combustion renewable energy, such as wind and solar. We can, and should, responsibly manage all such residues.   

Used nuclear fuel is first stored in a pool of water to allow the fastest decaying isotopes including many of the heat-generating byproducts, to decay and cool down.    
While used fuel is in storage, radiation is attenuated to very low levels by a few inches of barrier, be it water, steel, or concrete. When used fuel has decayed to about 75% to 85% of its original level, it is moved from pools into dry casks. 
Casks are inspected and tested in accordance with stringent federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”) regulations to assure they consistently contain radiation.  Spent fuel containers of the same general type used in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S. were present at the Fukushima tsunami site, and came through unscathed. The casks will easily last for 100 years and probably much longer.  A NRC Environmental Impact Statement recently concluded that used nuclear fuel can be safely managed in dry casks indefinitely.'
Although there may well be better uses for used nuclear fuel (please see the Q & A on what “advanced nuclear” means), the consensus of scientists who have studied the question is that, if we choose to treat spent fuel as a “waste” instead of a resource, it can be isolated from the biosphere by putting it into the earth’s crust in zones that have been stable and dry for millions of years, and will be stable and dry for millions more.  Such disposal is already being pursued across the world. 

Scientifically, it is reasonable to be confident about this kind of disposal because natural nuclear reactors operated on earth for hundreds of thousands of years while life was evolving, and the associated byproducts, although they developed in a water saturated zone, have moved only about 10 feet in the ensuing billion + years.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Truth about radiation

A 1991 study by the National Cancer Institute, "Cancer in Populations Living Near Nuclear Facilities," concluded no increased risk of death from cancer for people living in counties adjacent to U.S. nuclear facilities.   Nuclear power plant operations contribute less than one one-hundredth of one-percent of the average American's total radiation exposure.  This contribution is dwarfed by differences in background radiation.  The background radiation exposure for someone living on the Colorado Plateau, for example, is about twice that of someone living in the Midwest.

Everyone is continually exposed to radiation. Very little of the exposure comes from any manmade source, unless we are using nuclear medicine, such as radiation therapy for cancer, or for diagnostic procedures. Natural sources - principally radon created as a result of ongoing radioactive decay of materials that are common in the earth’s crust, and gamma rays from space - are far more significant sources of radiation exposure. Our bodies have, and continuously take in, traces of naturally occurring radioactive materials, mostly from naturally occurring radioactive nuclides present in the food we eat and in the air we breathe. For example, potassium 40, a mineral that transmits electrical signals within bodies, comes from bananas and brazil nuts.  That potassium contributes to about 4,000 - 5000 radioactive decays of individual nuclei every second in a person’s body (assumes 175 lb. person).

Brick and stone houses higher natural radiation levels than wood houses. Our state Capitol probably contains higher levels of natural radiation than most homes because the building incorporates a lot of granite. Full time workers in Grand Central Station in New York, with its massive granite walls, are exposed to radiation levels higher than those experienced, on average, by workers in a nuclear power plant.