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Monday, May 28, 2012

Why not nukes?

By Jamie Lutton

I read online that a local nuclear power plant had been licensed to run another 20 years.  The reactor, located in the Hanford reservation, is called the  Columbia Generating Station   It has been licensed to operate through 2023.  And it supplies about 10% of the electricity used in Washington State.

This news item inspired me to write about atomic energy.

I don't think I can change any minds here. but with the advent of global warming there is a new urgency to bring up atomic energy use, and promote it. .

I used to keep my mouth shut about nuclear power. Openly supporting nuclear power is like belonging to a small and unpopular religion, with an unsavory reputation. There is a great similarity in the shocked looks and dead silence  that follows any  remark supporting 'the faith'. This often results in being dropped as an acquaintance.

As I am only one person, I was resigned to hearing considerations of about nuclear power being distorted, dismissed and demonized around me.  Preferring to retain my friends, I would avoid the subject entirely.
I  did read books about on nuclear power, both pro and con, and could not find enough evidence to change my mind. The risks and likelihood of deaths and damage to the environment are much smaller with atomic energy than with burning coal and oil. And I will try to make the case for atomic power, (briefly), here.

About a decade ago news reports started saying that global temperatures were inching up, year by year. This was traced to atmospheric CO2 levels rising due to hydrocarbon burning worldwide.

Also, the ocean worldwide is becoming slowly more acidic, from absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. This condition of the ocean slowly kills off shellfish, coral, and other sea going animals and plants. 

So, I expected the environmentalists world wide would rapidly change their minds about, and embrace the use of nuclear power. It has been stated over and over in all the news outlets that the Earth's biosphere is in the grip of an emergency.

Nuclear power plants, though not cheap, could be put online fairly quickly, and if enough were built, coal fired power plants and natural gas plants could be shut down permanently all over the world,  since they are directly linked to the heating of the Earth and the damage to the biosphere.
Car design and production could be switched to building electric cars  This could easily be accomplished, if all nations turned their intellectual power and will to the project.

But there was a strange disconnect here.  Everything I have read says any further  heating of the atmosphere will lead to disaster. 
But the powers that be  exhibit a strange reluctance to act.  From the mouths of the scientists who have studied global warming there is not call for this one action that could actually reduce our 'carbon footprint' on the Earth.  Instead I hear that in many countries, such as France, people are calling to shut down the nuclear power plants that are running, rather than build new ones in other locations.
I say, follow the money. There is too much money involved in the production of energy. We send a trillion dollars a year to Saudi Arabia alone, to buy oil from them.

The car companies in this country are indirectly owned by the oil companies.
Like cell phones that are sold cheap so that the company who owns the cell phone service makes money on the two year contracts,  automobiles  are being built, not for the markup on the manufacturer of the vehicle,, but for the gas that the owner of the car must buy.
And people have been sold a bill of goods as far as the safety record of atomic power and nuclear reactors. I surmise that perhaps a few journalists could have been bought off. this is scandalous surmise, but there is at least one president in history for this, in John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash, written in 1954, It was found that business journalists then were paid off to write articles in newspapers and magazines the market was sound, right up to and including the time of the big crash of September 1929. 

So I distrust breathless journalism when real money is involved and giant corporations are threatened by a rival technology.
The accidents that have happened, including the Tsunami flooding of the Japanese reactors, are minor compared to the damage that oil and coal burning does to the Earth's biosphere every year, let alone the damage due to global warming to come.

But these deaths do not seem to count, when compared to nuclear power.  There is the worry that nuclear waste would have to be stored for 100,000 years, when it could easily be encased in glass, and dropped into a deep trench in the ocean, where it could do no harm. Or buried in an inert salt mine  Or in the case of a breeder reactor, the fuel can be treated and reused.
But all over the world, people are dropping dead because of bad air. Now, not in the future.  According to Google, the World Health Organization reports that 2.4 million people die every year world wide from bad air. 14 people die every day in this country alone from asthma, and those deaths are usually triggered by air pollution.
So, the supposed risks of nuclear power plants dim in the light of deaths that occur all around us, by the millions every year, let alone  the deaths that will come as ocean levels rise and the ice at the poles an in Greenland  melt, and raise the ocean levels everywhere.
If we want safer nuclear power plants, or plants that do not use radioactive fuel, such plants are within our reach, if we spent the money on researching and developing them.  That would take a huge outlay of money, but the will is not there.
There are many people who think global warming is a scam, they don't think it even exists.  They think it was all made up. The skeptics think that some of the experts just want to make a dime off an invented crisis.
They argue in the press and online with those supporters of the evidence that global warming isn't even ''real'' Perhaps they see experts avoid real solutions, so they figure there is no problem at all.   This is an unfortunate reaction, but understandable that some people would doubt the motives of those who say there is disaster on the horizon.
As Karl Marx said 'old technology is the natural enemy of new technology'.  There are other great historical examples of entrenched interests  fighting change. Thomas Edison himself favored direct current rather than alternating current, and tried to block development of the later, as he had invested the direct current.

The nuclear power debate is the most stark reminder of Marx's therom. The evidence clear that  Climate change is a world wide emergency, right now, not tomorrow,  and that we could easily kill off the oceans and  induce a runaway greenhouse effect.  But logic has not been brought to play, only knee jerk responses to perceived risk.

Talking about or writing about nuclear energy use, in a positive way, draws the same level of derision and disbelief as talking about the proofs for evolution with a different sort of audience. Using Google again, only 40% or so of the American people *believe*, or accept that evolution is real. About the same percentage think the same way about the usefulness and ultimate safely of nuclear energy. In both cases, it is a case of poor education and misunderstanding,
A few years ago, I phoned my dad and said "Dad, Dad, some of the Green party has come out in favor of nuclear power!." This, of course, was a joke. A black one.

He is gone now, but maybe public opinion is changing. My business partner sent me two links to articles about how nuclear power is being 'considered'  in the fight against global warming. But he is still not convinced. Neither are most of my other friends. My friends are very smart, so I despair that anyone in power will do the math, and act to prevent disaster.  I am no scientist, only a reader of science, and don't have the much influence. But in the name of the 14 people who will drop dead of asthma today in America, I ask you to look at global warming, atomic power, and think about what kind choices we are making for future generations.

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