Technical stuff

Peter - St. Johnsbury, Vermont
Entered on August 26, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: science

The concerns voiced in This I Believe essays almost always are about values or community or families: that kind of stuff. My deepest concerns and beliefs are technical and scientific. I have been reading about some very technical scientific stuff. It’s about nuclear power.

My introduction to nuclear power began back in 1976 when I first met my future father-in-law who was the chief engineer for the very first nuclear power plant built in this country. Much to my surprise he casually told me that he was opposed to using nuclear power to generate electricity. He said the problem of nuclear waste would never be solved. I read a little bit about the technology and for some years afterwards I was actively opposed to nuclear power.

About a year ago I read that some people were promoting nuclear power as the solution to global warming. I decided to look into it. I started reading again. I read a lot of the anti-nuclear stuff. And I also read a lot of the pro nuclear stuff. What I learned was surprising.

Have I changed my mind about nuclear power? Absolutely not. Here’s why:

First, whether you like nuclear power or not, it is simply not a viable solution to global warming. It’s true that nuclear power emits less greenhouse gas than electricity made by burning coal. But this fact misses a very important point. We have a very limited window of opportunity to control global warming. We don’t have much time. Steps have been taken recently to shorten the time it takes to build a nuclear power plant. Licensing regulations have been streamlined and plant designs have supposedly been standardized. But it still takes a very long time to build a nuclear power plant. It will be virtually impossible to build enough nuclear power plants quickly enough to make any difference in the effort to curb global warming. For example a new nuclear power plant being built in Finland is two years behind schedule and nowhere near complete.

Second. Nuclear power is very expensive. Since its inception in 1952 it has been the most heavily subsidized form of electrical power generation. By far. More recently, the Florida Power and Light Co. is planning to build four new nuclear power plants. The total cost is 50 billion dollars. Every dollar spent on nuclear power is a dollar that could be better spent on energy conservation or other low greenhouse gas emitting technology such as wind power.

Third. What are we supposed to do when the wind is not blowing? It’s called the “distributed grid.“ It’s not rocket science. Just look it up in Google .

Fourth. The expansion of nuclear power will lead innexhorably to the expansion of nuclear weapons. It’s impossible even to summarize why this is true in this brief essay. But I’ll try: Iran. North Korea.

I encourage everyone to do your own reading and see what you think. It’s all very technical stuff.