White Lightning Axiom: Redux: nukes

Thursday, September 27, 2007




About damn time ...
While continuing to play brazenly on public fears (NRDC's latest position paper has the word "Radioactive" emblazoned across the top), environmental groups have also become more circumspect in their arguments. Rather than conjuring up "silent bombs" and nuclear holocausts, they now make the following arguments:

1. Nuclear is too expensive. Investors will never go for it.

2. The money would be much better invested in conservation and solar energy.

3. Nuclear power is not carbon-free. The mining, processing and transportation of uranium consume vast amounts of energy supplied by fossil fuels.

Nuclear reactors are indeed expensive to construct. NRG is projecting $3 to $5 billion with cost overruns likely. But coal plants currently cost $1 billion and that's without the least effort at controlling carbon emissions. If "carbon sequestration" -- essentially digging a hole a few miles deep and pumping the exhaust into it -- becomes a reality, coal plants will become equally if not more expensive. (The technology is completely unproven anyway.) In any case, when did environmental groups become so frugal about protecting the environment?

Energy conservation, on the other hand, has great potential that is just being fathomed. Last May, Progress Energy of North Carolina announced it would delay the projected opening of two proposed reactors from 2016 to 2018 because of more success than anticipated in conservation efforts. Yet even the best conservation scenarios only stabilizing current consumption. (California has been able to do this.) That still leaves us producing for 50 percent of our electricity with coal -- a billion tons a year that put three billions tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. That's 40 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases and 20 percent of the world's. "When it comes to providing our baseload electricity, the only choice is between coal and nuclear," says David Crane, of NRG. "You simply can't be serious about global warming and against nuclear power."

Finally, the argument that nuclear is not completely carbon-free is puerile. Nothing is completely carbon-free, not windmills, not solar collectors, not even conservation devices. All involve capital investment that consumes energy. If the uranium enrichment plant in Portsmouth, Ohio, consumes the output of two large, polluting coal plants (a favorite environmental citation), then the solution is to replace those coal plants with nuclear reactors.
Nuff' said.

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