Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Changing Minds, but is it Enough?

When I started this blog two years ago, it was out of a combination of frustration and anger at how quickly people dismissed nuclear energy like it was some sort of arcane and unholy type of technology. Even though the facts were otherwise, many people still opposed it tooth and nail as they either ignored the benefits or thought that the data itself was part of some sort of conspiracy promoted by "Big Nuclear". I was never against nuclear power at all, even when I was relatively misinformed about it but I did have some reservations about what to do with the spent fuel as I like many other people thought that it was dangerous and difficult to deal with. However, I still thought that was magnitudes better when compared to coal and natural gas. As these fuel sources were very dirty indeed and as it was the late 20th, early 21st century I thought that it was ridiculous that we were still depending on fossil fuels as our main source of energy. Yet I also knew that wind and solar power lacked the energy density and reliability to be able to produce the amount of electricity on a regular basis that a developed country like the US needed.

Then my eyes caught an article in Scientific American around 2005 talking about nuclear energy and what sorts of reactors could be built and the pros and cons of the different designs. I was fascinated as I read about designs that could be used to breed more fuel or greatly reduce the quantity and half-life of existing stockpiles of spent fuel as well as close the nuclear fuel cycle to ensure a virtually infinite and environmentally friendly source of energy. I also began to grow very angry, as the only thing holding nuclear technology back seemed to be a combination of NIMBYism, fossil fuel interests, and just the overall lack of will that would be needed to restructure our energy producing infrastructure.

I began to research nuclear power online as a hobby in addition to reading whatever I could find on it in various books and publications. My amazement was underlined by seething anger at how the US had let coal and natural gas expand and entrench themselves over the decades as we had not built a new nuclear reactor in this country since the 1970s. Our back was turned on nuclear power out of a combination of fear, pointless bureaucratic redtape, and the canceling of many planned reactor projects after the oil crisis thirty-seven years ago. This was all due to politics and scaremongering rather than a legitimate reason to condemn nuclear power.

This was a direct reversal of the attitude that characterized the previous two decades as nuclear powerplants were being built at a rapid pace and nuclear reactors were quickly adapted to be used for naval use. The cold war and a feeling of optimism towards nuclear science and technology spurred rapid development in this field and it also threatened to put coal power out of business. However, the nuclear industry was practically moribund by the early eighties through a misinformed but successful campaign against nuclear energy that had grown out of the fear of nuclear warfare and was helped along by fossil fuel lobbyists and their paid off politicians. Ironically, nuclear power has had the best safety record of any energy sector in the US and even across the world yet it had been rejected in favor of coal which kills thousands of people worldwide through its normal operation.

After seeing the ridiculous comments and hysterical fears surrounding nuclear power being touted by various "environmentalists" I decided to create this blog in the hopes of taking an honest look at nuclear power. This was part of an effort to help people realize the environmental benefits of an infrastructure largely based on nuclear energy as well as the fact that nuclear power is the only clean form of energy that can be used practically anywhere on earth and deliver a constant supply of energy regardless of weather conditions. Scaling back production and energy usage would never be the answer because as we increase our technological development, the demand for energy increases. However, it is through more technology, not less that we can hope to make a better world for everyone. The past is gone, but trying to revisit the past by rejecting technological progress would be foolish because the "past" presented by various primitivist and neoluddite groups is based on a highly idealized and impractical vision of what previous generations of humanity really faced. Ironically, the popularity of these movements has been aided by the technology brought to them by the internet and computer revolution. I would very much doubt that humanity would want to go back to the days before running water, electricity, heating, cooling, hygiene, sanitation, and modern medicine. We can thank all of these previous comforts for our greatly improved lifespans. A few hundred years earlier, a middle-aged man or woman of 40 would be considered elderly.

As I look around, I see that people are slowly starting to realize that nuclear energy is not nearly as bad as various sources portray it as being. There is a lot of misinformation and outright lies regarding nuclear technology as there are many organizations that have made it their business to vehemently oppose nuclear power on all fronts, especially when they have or are allied with entrenched fossil fuel interests. I have a cautious degree of optimism as I watch people starting to push back against this tide of nonsense and hope that we can start looking forwards to a clean, energy rich future again as nuclear power is the only option that we have that can deliver on this promise. We need to get the liquid fluoride thorium reactor development path up and running again after its cancellation during the early 1970's as this design shows a stunning degree of versatility and efficiency at practically little to no cost to the environment.


DV8 2XL said...

Nuclear energy still has its enemies, and they are not going to go gently into the night.

At the moment we have them back on their heals, because the routine shibboleths that they would drag out over proliferation and waste, and so on are getting stale, and the public isn't swallowing them without question any more. But that doesn't mean that they will not regroup and develop a fresh set of criticisms. A great deal of money is at stake here and Big Carbon has deep pockets.

The point I am trying to make is that while the battles seems to be going well for us on several fronts, we by no means have won any of them, or are even guaranteed a victory. And we are a long way from winning the war.

To paraphrase a famous WWII leader: We are not at the beginning of the end - however we might be at the end of the begging.

Neurovore said...

Well, yes...I will continue to be skeptical of the "Nuclear Renaissance" until I actually see a fleet of new reactors built. The only way I could see that happening is streamlining the NRC which is going to be a monumental task and one that I am not sure that our country will be up to. The organization has become so ossified and entrenched over the years and it almost seems like it actively discourages innovation as well as the construction of new reactors.

Reinvesting in the manufacturing of the parts needed to maintain a nuclear infrastructure would help as well.

Old School Runescape Gold said...

The point I am trying to make is that while the battles seems to be going well for us on several fronts, we by no means have won any of them, or are even guaranteed a victory. So we are quite a distance from winning the war.
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