Sunday, January 2, 2011

Shut-up Stupid Sunday: Going Nuclear

The energy crisis is going to be making a come back this year and naturally politicians will be calling for more Nuclear power stations to be built. Most of the anti-nuke talking heads will protest this citing safety reasons, the safety issue is a straw man argument that can easily be knocked down and obscures the real problem with nuclear power plants in this country.

The Safety Issue.

The worst nuclear disaster in this country was Three Mile Island in 1979. It was a disaster in which no one died, the increase in radiation in the surrounding community was so low it was hard to detect over the normal background radiation, and of the people exposed there hasn't been a measurable increase in cancer of other deaths that exposure might cause. As far as Disasters go it was less harmful to human life than most car accidents.

What the Three Mile Island Disaster did show is that poor safety control design, bad training, and badly written instructions can turn a minor problem into a major one. New regulations have dealt with a lot of these problems.

The Real Problem with Nuclear Power.

There are two types of Nuclear Power Plants, Closed Systems and Open Systems. The differences are in how they use water to cool the reactor.

In a closed system water is heated in the reactor core to 375 degrees turning it into steam that drives a turbine and then cooled down and used again. The water used to cool the water went through the reactor is then cooled in the huge cooling towers that are the iconic symbol of the nuclear power industry.

Open systems use surrounding bodies of water to cool the plant or at least the water that cooled the water that went through the core.

In a nuclear power plant two thirds of the heat generated by the core is wasted and has to be released into the environment. This isn't a global warming problem as the amount of heat released is a tiny fraction of what the Earth receives from the Sun. What is a problem is the effect the heat has on the local environment.

Some nuclear power plants use local lakes to shed this excess heat and over time they make the lake water rise by a few degrees. Although that doesn't sound like much it has a devastating effect on the lake ecosystem.

Global Warming problems that some are pushing as reason for nuclear power actually spell disaster for using nuclear power. One of the effects of Global Warming is more severe weather patterns including droughts. Open system Nuclear Power need huge amounts of water to shed the excess heat. So any power plants that rely on local river and lakes face major problems as those water sources dry up in the summer. Already we've had situations where major cities like Atlanta have had to go on water restrictions so nuclear power plants could continue to operate and this is only going to get worse.

The Solution

If we are going to use nuclear as a way to combat the energy crisis two things will have to be done. Only allow open or partially open systems on the coastlines where they can shed the excess heat into the ocean (or the great lakes). We also need to improve the efficiency of closed system Nuclear power plants so they don't need all the available water in the case of a drought.

So to everyone saying that the solution to the energy crisis is nuclear power and that less regulation is the way to get more power plants built, I say, “Shut-up Stupid, because of the water issue that Nuclear Plants face we need more regulations as to how the plants deal with this issue so we aren't making people die of thirst so the lights can stay on.”

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Alien Thoughts


Stephanie Barr said...

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss safety concerns either (and that's important for regulation). Given the destructive power of a nuclear reactor, learning by a attrition is not the way to go.

3 mile island was the worst US accident, though not the worst worldwide by far. The number of near misses that were avoided by mostly good luck didn't become horrific fatal accidents is much larger. Heat releases are nowhere near as bad as radiactive material releases, which have happened repeatedly without making much impact on the news.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. No accidents (so far) does not equate with no danger.

Project Savior said...

I wasn't dismissing the safety issue, although a lot of people do, I've known people that worked at Nuclear Plants and safety is and should continue to be the number 1 concern.
The water issue is something that can't be overcome in current Nuclear Plants if they don't get water they can't work, places not on the coasts that have enough water for a nuke to run can meet there energy needs through hydro.