Facing South

Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington

little_mermaid_radiation.jpgThe nuclear power industry's efforts to promote new reactors as a solution to climate change is inspiring creative protests by environmentalists.

At the U.N. Climate Summit in Copenhagen yesterday, members of environmental groups that are part of the international Don't Nuke the Climate campaign placed a radiation-protection mask on the city's iconic Little Mermaid statue.

The protests are leading up to tomorrow's international "Don't Nuke the Climate!" action day, with more than 200 actions planned in a dozen countries.

Here in the United States, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) -- a nuclear power watchdog group with offices in Asheville, N.C. -- has several actions planned for today and tomorrow. Also involved are Public Citizen, Beyond Nuclear, Friends of the Earth and the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition.

On Friday morning, activists with those groups will gather at the Department of Energy for Christmas-themed street theater to protest the already-proposed $18.5 billion in taxpayer loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear reactors, including projects underway in South Carolina and Georgia. That will be followed at noon with a debate between Michael Mariotte of NIRS and Alex Flint of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry advocacy group. While the debate is being held primarily for the benefit of congressional staff, the public is invited to attend.

NIRS is also organizing congressional call-in days on Dec. 11 and 12. The callers will be asking their Senators to keep nuclear power subsidies out of the climate bill now being considered.

Yesterday the three Senators who are taking the lead in crafting the climate bill -- John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) -- released a broad outline of the measure in a letter to President Obama [pdf]. Aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "in the range" of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, it calls for increased incentives for offshore oil and gas drilling and for so-called "clean coal" technology -- as well as for new nuclear reactor construction:

American has lost its nuclear technology manufacturing base, and we must rebuilt it in order to compete in the global marketplace. Our legislation will encourage the construction of new nuclear power plants and provide funding to train the next generation of nuclear workers. We will make it easier to finance the construction of new nuclear power plants and improve the efficiency of the licensing process for traditional as well as small modular reactors, while fully respecting safety and environmental concerns. In addition, we support the research and development of new, safe ways to minimize nuclear waste.

Two moderate Senators -- Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) -- plan to release a competing proposal today that would reportedly set a price on carbon emissions and return most of the revenue to consumers who will face higher fuel costs. The average household would receive a tax-free refund of about $1,100 a year, the New York Times reports.

The protesters say that new nuclear plants do not offer a real solution to climate change because it takes about 10 years to build a single reactor -- longer than we can wait to start making carbon reductions -- and because those reactors are enormously expensive, sucking up investments that could be spent on more efficient technologies.

In addition, the protesters point out that nuclear power does in fact produce greenhouse gases -- when reactors are constructed and in the mining, transport and reprocessing of fuel. At the same time, global warming puts nuclear plants at risk, with a growing number of reactors being shut down due to summer heat waves and droughts that impact their cooling systems.

To date, more than 850 organizations worldwide have signed a statement that says, "We do not support construction of new nuclear reactors as a means of addressing the climate crisis. Available renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions than nuclear power." More than 50,000 people in 112 countries have signed a similar petition in the past two months.

(Photo from Don't Nuke the Climate campaign website.)


People Referenced:


re: Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington

Anyone who is not willing to contemplate the use of nuclear energy on the largest scale is not taking global warming seriously.

Nuclear power now accounts for 20% of US electrical production, and the entire world electrical output (about 1.4 terawatts) can be satisfied with about four tons of actinide metals (thorium or uranium) (about a 2-foot cube) per day, which can probably be considerably reduced with advanced reactor technologies. Ironically, trace actinides in coal contain much more energy than the coal itself does.

In the Second World War, the US, among other things, went from green fields to nuclear bombs in three years, and built ~5,500 cargo ships, with a much smaller economy and population. Replacement of all carbon-based electrical generation should not be substantially more difficult or expensive.

Comprehensive conversion to nuclear power would eliminate CO2 generation, eliminate coal mining, eliminate foreign oil dependence, and create a major new industry.

The nuclear waste "problem" is a self-inflicted wound, because we have decided not to recycle the actinides in nuclear waste.

Nuclear reactor construction costs are another self-inflicted wound; huge, pricy custom-built reactors can be replaced with batteries of smaller factory-built reactors. Further, advanced high temperature reactors could directly replace the boilers at present coal-fired plants.

Nuclear engineers have been busy; just about everything you think you know about nuclear power has been superseded.

re: Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington

The economy is a heat engine, with CO2 as a side effect.

This recent paper is relevant. Summary here:


"Is global warming unstoppable?

"In a provocative new study, a Univ. of Utah scientist argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions,­ the major cause of global warming ­cannot be stabilized unless the world's economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.

"It looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in carbon dioxide emission rates," says the new paper by Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences.

The actual paper is here


re: Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington

The answer is a paradigm shift in the way we produce power from nuclear reactions. One of the most attractive ways to do so is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. The Japanese are working on a model that could be commercialized within the decade called Fuji II. The US actually invented this technology and ran several successful prototypes, but the derailing of nuclear power from its once promising position in this country has not only allowed billions of tons of CO2, many tons of Mercury, Arsenic, Chromium, Uranium and Thorium to be dumped into the environment (Toxic heavy metal pollution almost as deadly as nuclear waste which is contained when produced by nuclear power plants) but also forestalled the development of new nuclear technologies. People who are afraid of nuclear waste contained within spent ceramic fuel pellets, contained in Zirconium alloy sheaths in intact assemblies inside of overly engineered containment casks, inside concrete barriers have ensured that we now live in a coating of heavy metal-laden ash and our top marine predators are full of mercury. Nuclear power is safer than all the alternatives, its not like we don't have to produce hundreds of megawatts of electricity at a constant clip, except that we do. Thanks guys.

re: Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington

The Energy Fair group (www.nonukes.org.uk) has produced a report, "Nuclear Subsidies", about subsidies for nuclear power which may be downloaded via a link from their website.

There is also information about the (huge) potential of renewables and about how nuclear power is a mis-allocation of resources in the fight against climate change.

re: Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington

Sue: We can indeed "start" making carbon reductions faster if we use conservation, solar, wind and/or geothermal instead of working to build new nuclear power plants. However, that is roughly analogous to saying I can "start" going to China faster by pulling on my hiking boots and starting to walk than I can if I take the time to go actually plan the trip, purchase airline tickets, and make arrangements for pet care first.

In both cases, starting the journey is not the goal - actually arriving in a reasonable period of time and in good condition is far more important. We have about as much chance of solving our energy challenges without nuclear energy as I do in getting to China without any form of transportation outside of good old shoe leather.

Fortunately, there are several new nuclear projects that are already quite a ways down the "10 year" path; I fully expect new plants to be operating in the US within the next 8 years. Within the next 20 years, there could be hundreds, especially if we build some modular plants in factories and if we take advantage of more than 50 years worth of experience in building ship propulsion engines that run on uranium.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast

re: Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington

Why not stop wasting so much electricity to light buildings inside and out? Light fixtures that focus the light on the road instead of spilling light into the sky. Less Light Pollution.

More nuclear power means more nuclear weapons, dui, terrorist/government terror, and all the rest.

The west has enough nuclear submarines to power the nation, park them in the harbour, run their output into the grid.

Nuclear power is a financial quagmire, mining the ore is dangerous and requires fossil fuels.
The more exposure to people have to radioactive materials or the ever-present chance (i dont care how safe they think they can be) of a meltdown/accident, the more damage we do to our genetics and the environment. We have enough new illness from nuclear warhead tests, the Sun gives us an abundance of energy, more than we'll ever need, but it's somehow "impossible" to tweak our economic systems to use Sun-energy technology on a mass scale? Greed. Who wants a world with hundreds of nuclear plants dotting the landscape, overseen by groups which may not always remain competent nor in-corruptible?

re: Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington

Don't waste your time trying to justify nuclear dreams, the technology has repeatedly failed in it's "advanced" states like breeders and reprocessing. Also as a climate fix both the economics and timeline for conventional power reactors are pathetic. See www.tinyurl.com/forgetnuclear

re: Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington


You are either being deliberately misleading or lack a basic understanding of the nuclear "recycling" process. Recycling nuclear fuels involves dissolving spent fuel rods with acids, extracting the useable radioactive isotopes chemically and then with centrifuges, and then trying desperately to figure out what do to with the waste. It actually increases the volume of wastes by a factor of 10! Plus the waste now becomes highly acidic and chemically dangerous as well as radioactively dangerous. Everywhere it's been tried, Japan, West Valley, New York, France, it's lead to accidents, contamination, and virtually no useable fuel rods.

re: Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington

Using nukes to combat climate change would be trading a 200 year problem for a 20,000 year problem. It takes about 200 years for CO2 to cycle out of the atmosphere, but nuclear waste stays dangerous for 20,000 years or more.

There is no effective way to isolate nuclear wastes from the environment for that long. Those wastes will be killing, maiming, and genetically damaging our descendants for thousands of years. For their sakes we must stop generating nuclear wastes.

Study after study has shown that wind, solar and geothermal energy can meet all our energy generation needs. We just have to stop the nukes from sucking up all our energy investment money as they have been for the past 50 years. The Europeans are doing it and they are kicking our American butts.

re: Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington

Great work buddy, continue the good work.