ADDED (19 January 2024): Greenpeace 10 favourite myths about nuclear debunked. Zion Lights
The prompt for this post was discussion with an Australian Green Activist (GA) friend, anti-nuclear, who said she would be interested in reading my best argument in favour of nuclear. This is my attempt, as at December 2022, which I’ll update from time to time.
According to the Greens we have a “climate emergency”. Yet the option of nuclear energy is not on the table. Weird. (A Thing I don’t get).
That strikes me as similar to saying “we have a pandemic, but we won’t use vaccines". It is possible to control the “climate emergency” without nuclear. But it is less efficient and will take a lot longer.
When I asked my GA friend what her objections to nuclear were, she said:
- Waste: how to deal with it? There has been no suitable solution so far (she says).
- Safety: what about Chernobyl? What about Fukushima? (she asks).
1. History: we’ve been going for 70+ years generating electricity with nuclear power. We have had no issue with handling waste. In fact, nuclear is the only source of power which cleans up its own wast. Consider coal and oil, for example. Their wast simply vents to the atmosphere. Even solar and wind, when their equipment is worn out, it’s simply dumped. Nuclear, by contrast, handles its waste extremely carefully and does away with it in ways that are safe and reliable.
- We solved the waste issue decades ago, says Science reporter, Kyle Hill.
- A waste alarmist vid, for balance, from Wendover, who worries that aliens might be harmed from nuclear waste in 200,000 years.
- Sabine Hossenfelder, a physicist, concludes that “Nuclear waste is not the problem you’ve been made to believe it is”.
- The tunnels designed for 100,000 years, from Tom Scott.
- Nuclear physicist Elina Charatsidou explains the long-term solution of deep geological storage
- ADDED (22/12): A terrific video from nuclear, plasma, radiology physicist David Ruzic. He breaks it all down in clear, concise terms, with discussion of Waste starting here.
2. Waste is stored in glassified (aka “vitrified”) vats called “Dry Cask Storage". These have been destruction-tested by crashing semi-trailer trucks and diesel locomotives into them, and they have survived. This is the medium to long-term solution, and it’s working fine.
The very long-term solution -- over 100,000 years -- is described by Elina Charatsidou’s video above: high-grade waste inside thick steel containers, inside thick copper containers, buried 500m below ground, encased in bentonite clay and back-filled by cement. They are doing this in Finland already.
3. In some places Nuclear Waste is being kept accessible as it can be used as feedstock in Gen4 reactors.
4. 96% of nuclear spent fuel is recyclable.
You have to be determined to find a problem with nuclear power to believe the waste issue is a major impediment.
What do Greens and GA mean by “safety”? If they mean that any energy generation must be100% safe, then no method is safe. There is simply no way of generating electricity that is 100% safe.
Therefore “Safety” must mean “relative safety”. How safe is nuclear, relative to other means of generating electricity? And the answer is:
Nuclear is amongst the very safest ways to generate electricity (and the cleanest):
What about Chernobyl and Fukushima? First, they were both ancient technology. Designed in the 60s, with slide rules and pencils. These days nuclear power stations are designed differently so that the events that struck Chernobyl and the natural disaster that struck Fukushima, cannot happen. The shortcomings of both Chernobyl and Fukushima have now been designed out. Even in the dying days of the Soviet Union, Moscow learned lessons from Chernobyl and retrofitted their remaining nuclear stations so that a similar event could not happen (as with so much in the world, the original design flaw that led to the partial melt-down was due to money: they were trying to save costs...).
Despite both Chernobyl and Fukushima being ancient designs, the number of people killed initially or who later died from the radioactive effects, was remarkably low (100 in Chernobyl and 1 at Fukushima. While Nuclear has saved 2 million lives vs coal). Our World in Data has an essay on the topic. OWiD is a non-partisan site, based at the University of Oxford. It is widely recognised as one of the best sources of global data.
ADDED (July 2023): “Chernobyl should make you scared of everything except nuclear energy"
CostsWhat of costs? “Nuclear is just too expensive”, say many Greens. But:
1. You need to look at the “Levelised cost of electricity”. That is, you can’t just look at the cost of building. You need to look at the building costs plus the ongoing costs over the life of the project. On that basis, nuclear power production is amongst the lowest cost producers of electricity.
|Nuclear power costs are $0.10/kWh, the same as Onshore wind,
Geothermal and Hydro; less than Offshore wind and Concentrating Solar
and far less than PV Solar
2. Up-front Costs have been inflated by the demands of Green pressure groups to make far more safety demands on nuclear than on any other means of producing energy. Green groups, and in particular Greenpeace, have made the upfront cost of building nuclear very expensive by these over-extensive safety demands, and then concentrated on the upfront costs to make it appear that nuclear is very expensive.
3. Small Modular Reactors are much cheaper than large nuclear power stations. Nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers have been nuclear, without accident, for 70 years. SMRs are being rolled out across the world and will both reduce the upfront costs and provide more flexible energy for smaller populations.
“By the most optimistic scenarios from the government itself, there’s no way they are going to have new nuclear come on stream until 2021, 2022. So it’s just not even an answer.”
“There is a small group of scientists that have proposed replacing 100% of the world’s fossil fuel power plants with nuclear reactors as a way to solve climate change”
One nuclear power plant takes on average about 14-1/2 years to build, from the planning phase all the way to operation. According to the World Health Organization, about 7.1 million people die from air pollution each year, with more than 90% of these deaths from energy-related combustion. So switching out our energy system to nuclear would result in about 93 million people dying, as we wait for all the new nuclear plants to be built in the all-nuclear scenario. [my emphasis]