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Posted
18 April 2006

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Verisimilitude

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You Can Hug Your Children With Nuclear Power

Picture of Montgomery Burns, from the Simpsons TV showGlobal warming is a depressing problem. Not just because there are large numbers of clueless "skeptics" who refuse to even acknowledge the problem, but mostly because there doesn't seem to be any sustainable solutions even on the horizon.

The more we delay action on global warming, the more desperate we become. Any solution, even a temporary one, becomes attractive. So I've been wondering recently whether nuclear power might be a great way to buy us some time in order to put our greenhouse in order, if not a sustainable solution for the long term.

The recent WaPo op-ed by Greenpeace co-founder nuclear industry shill Robert Moore makes the case for nuclear (via Deltoid). Notwithstanding his background, I agree with his points although I would still prefer to see nuclear power as a stop-gap (or stop-gas, groan) solution.

[One additional advantage that Moore didn't mention was that nuclear fuel can be mostly found in a country that is far more stable, politically, than most of the current energy providing nations. Coincidentally I live in this country. And as an unavoidable side-effect of widespread nuclear power adoption I expect to be made fantastically wealthy. C'est la vie.]

This is not to say that we should stop researching wind power, tidal power, hamster treadmills, cold fusion, perpetual motion machines, etc etc etc. And we've got to stop burning fossil fuels, reducing our overall energy consumption, blah blah blah. None of this is precluded by the adoption of nuclear power as a means of reducing GHG emissions.

And while we're laying down the caveats, let me also acknowledge the huge political, economic, social and other challenges in ramping up and ramping down a nuclear power infrastructure in accordance with long term ecological sustainability. And any of these could turn out to be deal-breakers. I acknowledge, I am not an expert in this area. (Is anyone though?)

In reading briefly the responses to Moore's article, I've come across some arguments against the idea (such as here and here).

  • Too many reactors would be needed, we can't build that many. Fair enough I guess, but this doesn't seem to be an argument against nuclear power, rather an argument that we should have used it sooner. Other than this I don't really have a good response, except to hope that what we can build would be sufficient to have some sort of worthwhile impact.

  • Not much of the planet's GHG emissions come from electrical power. Again fair enough, but this will have to change in any event. And the likely non-GHG alternative for fossil fuels is electricity.

  • We should be reducing our energy usage anyway. Well, duh.

  • Nuclear is more expensive than equivalent renewable energy, especially once you factor in huge government subsidies (in the US, if not elsewhere). Ok, that sounds reasonable, so let's build as many non-nuclear non-GHG plants as we can, but really how many places in the world are suitable for off-shore wind farms?

  • Nuclear power is dangerous, and produces yucky waste. Yes, but we're weighing up the risk of (hopefully) isolated radiation contamination against the certainty of global temperature rise. Which would you rather: another Chernobyl, or worldwide environmental collapse as a result of global warning? OK, a false dilemma, but you see my point.

Just to be clear: I am not a fan of nuclear power. I see it as a last-resort solution. But because of a far bigger problem, and few alternatives, I think it is time to resort to it. Before the gangs take over the highways.

1 Comments

Posted by
Sunny Kalsi
2006-04-18 21:10:44 -0500
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Tim Lambert was a lecturer of mine.