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Good science underlies case for nuclear power

With proper oversight and operation, nuclear plants have been as safe as any other, and are infinitely cleaner and less polluting.

I write in response to Dan Haines's remarks on energy options (Monitor"My turn," May 15). His call for conservation, efficiency and such good options as wind power is commendable. His other, flawed comments are not. Some are misinformation, disinformation or factual error. It's regrettable that a paper with the Monitor's stature and circulation has featured, and thereby endorsed, such misleading opinions.

Haines rightly says that uranium is a finite resource, although experts extend the availability much longer than his 20 years. The breeder reactor cycle can actually produce more fissionable fuel - plutonium - than the uranium it consumes. It can convert all the natural uranium, not just the trace of U-235. Do the math - up to a thousand years.

The breeder process has been in use worldwide for decades. Unhappily some nations use it to produce plutonium for military purposes. Happily, though, some of this plutonium is even today being removed from bombs and re-fabricated into reactor fuel for peaceful power production. Swords into plowshares!

Pray for more of this. Emissions of truly vast amounts of carbon and sulfur atmospheric pollutants have been averted by... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
I write in response to Dan Haines's remarks on energy options (Monitor"My turn," May 15). His call for conservation, efficiency and such good options as wind power is commendable. His other, flawed comments are not. Some are misinformation, disinformation or factual error. It's regrettable that a paper with the Monitor's stature and circulation has featured, and thereby endorsed, such misleading opinions.
 
Haines rightly says that uranium is a finite resource, although experts extend the availability much longer than his 20 years. The breeder reactor cycle can actually produce more fissionable fuel - plutonium - than the uranium it consumes. It can convert all the natural uranium, not just the trace of U-235. Do the math - up to a thousand years.
 
The breeder process has been in use worldwide for decades. Unhappily some nations use it to produce plutonium for military purposes. Happily, though, some of this plutonium is even today being removed from bombs and re-fabricated into reactor fuel for peaceful power production. Swords into plowshares!
 
Pray for more of this. Emissions of truly vast amounts of carbon and sulfur atmospheric pollutants have been averted by nuclear power generation, which produces neither of them.
 
By far the greatest damage to the environment and to health comes from the gases emitted when fossil fuels are burned. Carbon dioxide is the chief cause of greenhouse global warming, and sulfur dioxide quickly morphs into acid rain. Their tonnages are colossal, and emissions are continuous, 24-7-365.
 
Let's get it straight: It is not the nuclear power cycle but the burning of conventional fossil fuels that continues to be the most damaging to Earth and its peoples. Even in terms of the release of radionuclides, coal-fired power stations have a much greater downwind radioactivity impact than any nuclear power plant does. This stems from the geologic fact that both uranium and thorium are relatively concentrated in coals, and so are present in the ashes and stack emissions.
 
Haines's allusion to reactor cooling waters as a greenhouse gas is disingenuous. Atmospheric moisture is constantly in equilibrium with the oceans via the solar hydrologic cycle, and any human contributions have no effect. And "freon" as a nuclear cycle pollutant? Not an issue.
 
There are serious matters connected with the production of nuclear power. Safety concerns ultimately depend on proper regulation, management and design of the reactors and spent fuel repositories.
 
The Chernobyl disaster grew from lax management, gross operator misbehavior and a plant design that omitted a containment structure. The human element was at fault.
 
Well, once burned, twice shy, and we must learn and progress in spite of it. With proper oversight and operation, nuclear plants have been as safe as any other, and are infinitely cleaner and less polluting.
 
The second major concern is also a problem of human nature rather than science. The technology for final containment, the design of repositories for spent fuels, already exists, and in several valid modes worldwide. The structural integrity of the pyramids of ancient Egypt, still dry after almost 5,000 years, shows us that long-term confinement is indeed attainable. So far, social and political selfishness ("not in my backyard") has delayed and blocked implementation, which must come, and will come.
 
As a scientist who has participated in both of the end phases of the nuclear power cycle, I claim some professional understanding and appreciation of the science, the challenges and the social responsibilities. I am a strong enemy of nuclear weaponry but a cautious and optimistic proponent for development of nuclear power - and I am a green environmentalist.
 
The safe resolution of the concerns about nuclear energy depends on open, informed minds, good science, stewardship of the environment, social and political commitment and, above all, accurate information. 
 
 


 


Source: http://www.concordmonitor....

MAY 23 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/2768-good-science-underlies-case-for-nuclear-power
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