Tuesday, October 02, 2007
A Good Question
As a result of my last post, Sage asked the following question;
"Did you work in the nuclear industry? Do you think nuclear really cost effective, if it is done both safely and all cost are accounted for?"
Sage is one of those bloggers that seems very straight forward but whether he intends it so or not, I often find additional layers to his posts. I originally answered his question but in hind sight I feel it needs more elaboration, especially as regards my background and motivations.
Did I work in the Nuclear industry?
No, I worked in the petroleum industry for a number of years. I know that industry all too well and fully understand the disaster we are heading towards with depleting reserves. It is insane for us to be using such an amazing raw material for fuel. Adding to foolishness is the potential impact on our environment now that we have reopened the carbon loop. The environmental problems from the Exxon Valdez grounding and the Union Alpha blow out are minor in comparison.
I personally became acquainted with the power industry through my involvement with the Omar Hill project for the Kern River Cogeneration company.
I also know a number of engineers who worked on power plant design in the 70's and 80's for SCE, PG&E, Fluor and Babcock. All of them were concerned with the long term safety issues related to the then current breed of light water reactors. Failure mode in those plants was "ON" which was what created the problems at Chernobyl and TMI. During one of the energy crises of the 70's, the DOE initiated a project to perfect Breeder reactor technology. Scale up tests of breeder technology has proven the technology to be more efficient, safer and generate less waste than current designs in service. The safest designs are a "fail off" mode and will shut down if there is an incident. I view the main stumbling block to breeders being political, not engineering.
"Do you think Nuclear really cost effective if done both safely and all costs are accounted for?"
The question though has several facets. As currently accounted for, if Nuclear has a cost of $1.00, the same amount of energy from coal is about $1.33. Oil and Gas are significantly higher still. Green sources such as Solar and Wind are even higher still. Hydroelectric is limited in its availability so I have excluded it from discussion.
Costs though are never completely accounted for. Nuclear still has the waste disposal issue. Coal and other fossil fuels have a HUGE pollution cost that will not become completely clear for several decades yet. Recent accidents in the coal industry prove that it is still not as safe as one would hope.
Finally, on the topic of radioactive release I think it is worth while to consider how much radiation the typical coal plant releases in the environment every year. It is much more than is generally recognized and is ignored because of its dilution among the rest of the exhaust.
Sage, thanks for the great question.
Posted by mal at 5:54 AM