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Bright Green v. Glowing Green
Alex Steffen, 15 Feb 05

There's been an effort, of late, most notably in Wired to convince Americans (and others) that the answer to climate change is nuclear power.

Clean energy advocates argue nuclear power presents the wrong answer for a bunch of reasons: it spews out radioactive waste which will be with us for a longer time than human beings have been farming; with the need to mine uranium, build the plants themselves and build storage facilities, there are questions as to both how much nuclear power can be brought online how quickly and how much CO2 will actually be saved; nuclear is actually already more expensive that windpower, when subsidies are removed; the nuclear industry is, based on its record, one of the least trustworthy business groups around; and nuclear power -- as we're seeing with concerns in Iran -- is tied at the hip to nuclear weapons.

But the most compelling reason to put this debate to rest is, as Patrick C. Doherty argues, nuclear power is actually a step backwards in terms of science and innovation:

"This preservation of the [nuclear] status quo denies America the opportunity of a century: A chance to build an “innovation economy” that delivers not only energy independence but a booming era of growth—growth in large part made possible by transforming our energy infrastructure.

"Economists and business leaders are increasingly talking about the next economic boom being based on innovation, on the application of knowledge to solve problems and deliver higher-quality services and products. To the extent that America can exploit our scientific and technological advantage to produce the energy and resource efficient products and services the developing world needs, we will be able to dig our way out of the insecurity, indebtedness and inequity that defines today’s consumer economy. The outlines of that “innovation economy” are emerging slowly, but distinctly. Information technology is driving revolutions in biotech, nanotech and materials science. Combining those technological innovations with innovations in the housing market known as ‘smart growth’ —ending sprawl by integrating efficient transportation and healthier communities—America is poised to enter a new economic boom period."
(via Dave Roberts)

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Nuclear power is *too*damn*expensive* to function without massive government subsidies. The whole idea is basically a non-starter for financial, never mind other, reasons.

At least, that's the Rocky Mountain Institute take, as I understand it.

Posted by: Vinay on 15 Feb 05

If nukes are such a good deal, why have no plants been built in the US in over 20 years, and now the industry wants the Feds to pick up over half the costs of proposed new construction? This, mind you, doesn't include the security costs of protecting plants from terrorist attacks.

Personally I find discussion of the topic completely bordering on insane - we can't begin to understand the consequences of what we're doing with that technology.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 15 Feb 05

Remember "Smoky and the Bandit", made about 1978? It seems to me that such a movie's production could not have occurred a few years earlier. It could not occur until everyone on a public payroll was one of the oil interests, and collectively the publically funded were the biggest oil interest. Before that, when fossil fuel use really was subsidized, speeding was just wrong; afterwards, it was heroic.

Enforcing speed limits became, from the tax man's view, counterproductive. And so did allowing nuclear energy to continue taking over from fossil fuels.

It did in fact continue to take over from fossil fuel, but worldwide, between 1978 and 2003, nuclear electricity production increased only by a factor of 3.6. That may sound fairly healthy, but it's only ~5.25 percent a year. The next 25 years will see a 16-fold increase, ~11.75 percent per year. This will require substantially increasing unit sizes, but that ties in logically with production of motor fuel rather than electricity.

Posted by: Graham Cowan on 15 Feb 05

Nuclear power is centralized. Centralized sources of power are very susceptible to terrorism and widespread outages.

Our focus should be on decentralized power. Ideally, each home and building should create its own power, preferably from efficient solar cells.

Posted by: Myke on 16 Feb 05

I thought it was a swell article. So do readers in China and India. Why, becasue their energy demands are only going to increase. If you want them adding more carbon to the atmosphere then you really are clueless.

Posted by: bartb on 17 Feb 05

The reason the big guys go for nuke and coal is they are supposedly climate immune. In this case that basicaly means no matter what the climate changes to the power plant will still run and produce the same output.

If say you make 30% of your power wind... what happens WHEN wind patterns change with the climate change? Climate is after all about such things as winds sun rain wavepatterns. Alot of these renewbale energy sources are also fragile to climate change ironic concidering they are what many are changing to to help WITH climate change...

What would happen to cal if it depended heavily on solar in 2035 and in 2045 it turned from the sunshine state to the mudslide state?

What happens to a country if the entire span of that country goes from sunny to cloudy from perfect winds to unstable winds?

More subtly what happens if you build all your wind farms and solar farms before climate change and then it does? Will we be packing up farms left and right and moving em around like musical chairs following the climates dance of doom?

And that doesnt even take into account what happens if severe storms start taking out solar and wind farms left and right. Do we build the buggers strung enough to handle weather that will come? How sturdy is a wind farm? Does anyone know? Has one been hit by a hurricane yet? What happens when a few square miles of glass covered solar cells and mirrors and what not gets caught by an f5 tornado? Talk about bad luck.

For that matter are any big nuke plants in danger of being in a new climates hurricane/tornado alley? Can a nuke plant take a get together with a full hurricane or tornado? Does anyone know what the chances of that happening with climate change are?

Posted by: wintermane on 20 Feb 05



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