Nuclear Energy should go back on the alternative list

A friend of mine just posted a pretty great rant about “True Conservatism” of natural resources.

I was doing some research about nuclear power to provide a counterpoint to his call to change our driving habits and “go green” in our buying habits and found this fabulous Opinion piece in the Rochester Post-Bulletin from Phil Araoz.

Here are the highlights:

Winter is coming! Heating bills are rising! Oh if only there were safe, efficient ways to generate electricity without creating all those horrible greenhouse gases like coal plants do.

Wait a minute. There is one. Nuclear energy.

That’s right. Nuclear energy produces no greenhouse gases. It does produce waste, but the waste is low volume and can be contained, not spewed out into the atmosphere. In fact, in the United States, electricity production, mostly from coal, is the No. 1 producer of greenhouse gases. That’s right, our electrical production produces more greenhouse gases than cars, trucks and all our transportation.

And nuclear energy is working right now. In France, nuclear energy accounts for 78 percent of electricity produced, and France has the cleanest air of any industrialized country. Here in Minnesota, 20 percent of our electrical power is now generated from nuclear power. We should be generating more.

But to date we’ve been having trouble even maintaining what we have, mainly because of concern about the plants’ waste products. Here in Minnesota, we have two nuclear power plants (Prairie Island and Monticello), and not since 2003 (and even then after a long struggle) has the Minnesota Legislature approved expanded waste storage for either plant. Waste storage must be increased if these plants are going to meet growing electricity needs.

And if we really want to keep up with energy demands, we should be building more nuclear power plants. Our two plants were built in the 1970s. Think what we could do with a few more plants, built with modern designs and ready for our 21st century needs. Unfortunately, the state has banned construction of new plants since 1994. That ban should be lifted.

The reason for these bans and restrictions is concern. Concern about the waste. Concern about radiation leaks. It’s OK to be concerned. But concern shouldn’t turn into paranoia.

Our two Minnesota power plants have been operating for more than 30 years. Both have excellent safety records. Neither has ever had a major incident….

Yes there is a very small risk from nuclear energy. But what is that weighed against? How does the small risk from a nuclear power plant compare to the “true planetary emergency” of global warming? How does the small risk from nuclear energy compare to real risk that high energy prices will make some people choose between paying heating bills and buying groceries?

Nuclear energy is a real-life, present-day, emission-free technology. Unfortunately, too many politicians (especially liberal ones) like to only talk about “alternative sources” of energy that are years and years away from working. We’ve got a safe, clean energy source right here, right now. Let’s use it.

Other alternatives should be pursued too, of course. But have you see the windmill farms in northern Iowa? Not only are they an eyesore, I will testify they disrupt radio and cell reception every time we drive down 35W. And how many windmills would it really take to replace a coal plant?

Why is it that Minnesotans are so afraid of nuclear power? Educate me, please.

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11 Comments so far

  1. Erica M (ericam) on October 28th, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

    I’m not really sure what the opposition to nuclear energy is. All I can figure is (somewhat) irrational fear of the absolute worst case scenario. And perhaps a lack of knowledge about the storage situation.

  2. gerg (g3rg) on October 28th, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

    My jury is still out on nuclear… there is much to be said for it (clean, renewable, efficient) but I just don’t like the idea of leaving radioactive waste around for my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandkids, ya know?

    Also, um, because you asked… ("Why is it that Minnesotans are so afraid of nuclear power? Educate me, please.")

  3. amake on October 28th, 2008 @ 6:14 pm

    gerg > If you’re worried about radiation then you should be even more worried about coal, since it spews radiation directly into the atmosphere (coal has a small amount of radioactive impurities; we burn so much of it that that small amount adds up very quickly). Nuclear waste, on the other hand, is tightly contained.

  4. kevinfromminneapolis on October 28th, 2008 @ 7:45 pm

    I think the windfarms are not eyesores.

  5. gerg (g3rg) on October 28th, 2008 @ 8:54 pm

    amake – interesting! I did not know that. nonetheless, that’s a bit like saying that we shouldn’t worry about cholesterol in our food because there’s also sodium, you know? two wrongs don’t make a right? something like that. additionally, and i’m not sure how this works out, it seems like dense deposits of radioactive material (i.e., nuclear waste) are more of a threat to future generations than that dispersed by coal.

    again, i’m not a diehard opponent of nuclear, but it seems to me that solar and wind are two naturally-occurring sources of energy. the sun rather is energy in our galaxy. i’d rather work with existing forms of energy than twist nature to our submission…

    (lastly, I read somewhere that it would take about 230 windmills to replace one average coal plant.)

  6. Erica M (ericam) on October 29th, 2008 @ 8:51 am

    The first time I saw a windfarm I was driving through some hills in southern California. Creeped me right the hell out. Reminded me of something I’d read about in some sci-fi book in grade school.

    Really, the prudent thing to do is to explore all our options. Solar seems to be the most actually continuously renewable resource, but our technology for capturing that obviously needs more development.

    Nuclear is clearly a viable option, though, and would give us the most bang for our buck in a timely fashion.

  7. David (jacc) on October 29th, 2008 @ 4:26 pm

    I’m a fan of Nuke, but I admit to being totally NIMBA about the waste storage.

    Solar is an unlimited energy source it seems we just need to find better ways to harness it.

  8. tipper on October 30th, 2008 @ 10:31 am

    Erica, I thought I was alone with my creeped-outedness! They look like armies of long-armed aliens marching over the plain. (Much like tract housing. Not long-armed, but creepy and army-like.)

    I’m not opposed to nuclear energy, and it sort of baffles me how folks are all gung-ho to do everything they do in Europe here – except use nuclear energy.

  9. shadoweyes on October 30th, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

    The author does not seem to know much about nuclear. It is not the people of Minnesota that are preventing new plants from being built – nuclear was taken off the table as an option by wall street decades ago when it became apparent that they could not be built without major cost overruns.

    Additionally, these plants can only be built with significant government involvement in the private sector – which I am fine with – but it does not jive with the philosophy of most who promote them. Government has to deal with the long term waste problem (and it is not doing that, which is annoying) and provide insurance in the case of total disaster.

    Nuclear is presented by some as this great solution without downfall if only a bunch of people weren’t so afraid of glowing in the dark. It is much more complicated and even an ambitious program will take a decade to bring new reactors online.

    "not since 2003 (and even then after a long struggle) has the Minnesota Legislature approved expanded waste storage for either plant."

    I don’t think Xcel has requested expanding storage at either site since then. So of course we haven’t approved more storage. And I think the Legislature should absolutely bargain for something in return to increased risk in MN. I’m not afraid of them blowing up – but the waste is a major concern.

  10. jamezicarius on October 30th, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

    Wow. Wind power is "creepy", but nuclear is o.k.? Three Mile Island. Chernobyl. Ah… that was then this is now. Let’s fire up some more nukes! Yee-Haw, Billy Bob! C’mon Cletus! Let’s go cow-tippin’.

  11. David (jacc) on October 30th, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

    I’m am quite sure this is the first Internet time nuclear power has been equated to cow tipping. Seriously.

    I actually expect balloons and confetti to fall.

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