Monday, April 14, 2008

Re-terming Nuke

As a final message from the nuclear professional world, NRC executive director Luis Reyes gave students at this year’s ANS national student conference a tool for rethinking how we represent the changes in our field. Essentially, by changing the words used to describe ideas we often take for granted, we can both arrive more rapidly to the point in conversations with the public and convey a more positive image of nuclear.

Reyes noted that we should use “used fuel” in place of “spent fuel” as a means to rid from the concept of nuclear fuel its oft associated stigma; moreover, instead of “reprocessing” such spent fuel, we should “recycle” it.

The idiom shift does two things. First, the ideas of a “used” item and “recycling” are rather familiar for most people; contrarily, trying to understand exactly what “spent” or “reprocessing” means can leave many people befuddled. Second, and worse yet, putting “spent fuel” and “reprocessing” together leaves for some people the bitter taste of proliferation and other concerns, which are often outside the conversation’s context.

With that, we might all follow Reyes’ suggestion. By doing so and by continually looking for other better, more effective ways of communicating our positive message, we can facilitate the exciting future we all know nuclear has to offer.

(by: Jeremy Roberts)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Nuclear Power: Facts Not Fears

Nuclear energy's role in Wisconsin is the subject of heated debate. With respect to safety and disposal, many opponents use arguments high on rhetoric but lacking in facts.

For instance, nuclear plants are not "disasters waiting to happen". Historically, no deaths in the public are attributable to US commercial nuclear power. Our worst accident, Three Mile Island, resulted in no injury. Analysis of current designs (vetted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) shows a reactor would meltdown at a rate of about once every million years and even then likely have no consequence for anyone off-site. You are about as likely to be struck by a meteor as being harmed by nuclear power.

Those that point to Chernobyl are using a strawman. The plant was a poor design, poorly managed, and unregulated. Such a plant could not be licensed here in Wisconsin. Chernobyl is to nuclear power like the Ford Pinto is to the automotive industry, a mistaken and extinct design.

But what of the byproducts? The perceptions overshadow the reality. Used fuel from all US reactors over 40 years could fit in Camp Randall up to the goal posts. It is solid, compact, and insoluble, not a green ooze that can leak.

Nuclear is the only power source that accounts for and has plans to dispose of all its byproducts. The industry has already funded Yucca Mountain and a working repository for defense nuclear waste is already operational near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Further, techniques exist to recycle and significantly reduce its volume and toxicity. The solutions are technologically available.

At the end of the day, all technologies have risks -- wind can have blade ejection accidents and solar-PV plants can leak toxins. While concerns are real and caution justified, we need a proper assessment of risk, to objectively weigh costs and benefits, and not appeal to fear when making judgments.

(by: Brian Kiedrowski)