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> Nuclear Energy, Should we expand production?
Eeyore
post Jun 29 2005, 06:33 AM
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Should the United States expand its supply of nuclear generated energy? Why or why not?
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Victoria Silverw...
post Jun 29 2005, 09:26 AM
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This is an extremely important topic for debate.

It's hard to get good, balanced information about the costs and benefits of nuclear power. Almost all sources of information are either strongly anti-nuclear or strongly pro-nuclear. Here are some examples:

Anti

Pro

The best we can do is try to judge the information that is presented to us.

Overall, I think that properly regulated nuclear power can have an important role to play in national energy policy. It's not a cure-all, by any means. Here is my list of priorities:

1. Conservation and reduction of waste. If we don't do this, nothing else matters.

2. Development of "alternative" sources of energy. This should include solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, and so on. I'm optimistic enough to believe that nuclear fusion, which will be much safer than nuclear fission, will someday become a practical source of energy.

3. Carefully regulated development of nuclear fission power production. Nuclear fission can be safe and effective. The example usually given is the experience of France. Here's an editorial from Le Figaro (from 2001) which gives some good background on French nuclear power production:

French Nuclear Power and Its Alternatives

4. Reduction of fossil fuel consumption. I think the reduction of the release of greenhouse gases into the Earth's atmosphere is a worthy goal. There is no need to panic over global warming, but it is a genuine concern.

I'm not trying to say that nuclear power is entirely benign. The biggest problem with it, I think, is long-term storage of radioactive waste.

Link

QUOTE
Because "long term" refers to a period of thousands of years, security of the radioactive waste must be assured over geologic time periods.


This is simply not humanly possible. Nothing remotely resembling our modern civilization will exist tens of thousands of years in the future. There are ways to minimize this problem:

Transmutation (click the two links at the end of this brief paragraph for more information.)

I consider myself an environmentalist, and I believe that nuclear power can play a role in a Green world.

This post has been edited by Victoria Silverwolf: Jun 29 2005, 09:31 AM
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logophage
post Jun 29 2005, 06:22 PM
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Should the United States expand its supply of nuclear generated energy? Why or why not?

Yes, the US ought to invest more in fission power plants. There are technologies that minimize radioactive waste (such as 3rd generation breeder reactors). There is a tremendous amount of regulation -- over-regulation in my opinion -- premised upon older nuclear power generation technologies. This should be revised.

The French have a really good technique for storing radioactive waste. Basically, they put it in very tightly sealed barrels and then drop them into stable parts of the ocean. Now, before we get into a discussion about irradiating the oceans. Think about where radioactive material (neutron emitter) is currently "temporarily" stored at a nuclear reactor site. That's right... it's stored under water. The reason is because water is a very good neutron & gamma ray absorber that doesn't react too strongly with neutrons (or high energy photons). Thus, the French solution is pretty viable from that perspective.

Keep in mind though that the newer fission plant technologies have a fraction of the waste that the older designs have. The design of these newer reactors have built-in recycling. Thus, we're talking significantly reduced waste anyway. Also, the worst radioactive emitter we have is through coal combustion. That's right. Coal! Apparently, significant amounts of radioactive cobalt (among other elements) have been saturating our atmosphere for about 200 years. This is bad 'cause we're breathing this stuff in.

My belief is the greenest energy source we have (apart from tidal power generators) is nuclear power.
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TedN5
post Jun 29 2005, 07:32 PM
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I basically agree with Victoria. In a warming world nuclear power is better than new coal plants that don't sequester CO2. LNG plants are another possibility with their own set of problems. Ideally, all electrical generation and efficiency improvements in the use of electricity need to be put on an equal footing economically so that their real costs to society are reflected in the price of generated electricity and least cost solutions can be utilized first. If they were, there is little doubt in my mind that improvement in the the end use efficiency of electricity would negate the need for any new generation plants until fuel cells and alternatives are sufficiently mature to provide any needed additional electricity together with replacement energy as old plants are taken out of service.

Our real energy crisis is not one of scarce electricity but one of transportation fuels. We would do better in debating what to do about oil exceeding $60 a barrel on the spot market and the prospect of reaching peak oil production between now and 2020 when prices will sky rocket even more.
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logophage
post Jun 29 2005, 08:23 PM
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QUOTE(TedN5 @ Jun 29 2005, 12:32 PM)
If they were, there is little doubt in my mind that improvement in the the end use efficiency of electricity would negate the need for any new generation plants until fuel cells and alternatives are sufficiently mature to provide any needed additional electricity together with replacement energy as old plants are taken out of service.

Just to debunk a myth about fuel cells. Fuel cells consume fuel. The fuel must be created, that is, it takes energy to create a fuel. Thus, fuel cells do not generate energy. A fuel cell like any engine converts one type of energy to another type of energy, specifically, it converts the potential energy in the fuel via chemical reaction to electrons and waste (where the waste could be pure H2O).

Petroleum, coal and uranium are fuels which already exist (but at some point in history it took energy to create them). We can use those fuels to generate useful energy, however we are consuming the fuels. Pure hydrogen which most fuel cells use to produce electricity must be created in the first place. You can create hydrogen via electrolysis, photocatalyzation or reforming another fuel (like petroleum). All these techniques require energy to produce the hydrogen fuel. Now, if you can produce hydrogen in sufficient quantities using renewable energy (like the Sun), then you're essentially converting the energy from the Sun to a hydrogen fuel which can be used later for electricity.

Ultimately, we have three renewable sources of energy: lunar gravity, solar photons and heat (geothermal & solar). All other sources of energy are not renewable. However, the energy output of nuclear fission power is so large that it is, for all intents and purposes, renewable. As far as chemical fuel reactions go, it's hard to beat petroleum. You can get a lot of energy simply by combusting it. But, of course, the problem with using the fossil fuel form of petroleum is that all the CO2 sequestered in the fossil fuel (from millions of years ago) is being released back into the atmosphere. But anyway...
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TedN5
post Jun 29 2005, 09:17 PM
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logophage
QUOTE
Just to debunk a myth about fuel cells. Fuel cells consume fuel. The fuel must be created, that is, it takes energy to create a fuel. Thus, fuel cells do not generate energy. A fuel cell like any engine converts one type of energy to another type of energy, specifically, it converts the potential energy in the fuel via chemical reaction to electrons and waste (where the waste could be pure H2O).


I'm well aware of what a fuel cell is. However, they could be very important in the roll out of alternative energy sources. Wind and solar are intermittent sources of electricity requiring over-building of supply to manage base loads. If fuel cells become competitive, wind (and later solar) excessess capacity for normal and light loads could be used to generate hydrogen and stored on site to run fuel cells at peak load conditions. There is also the possibility of using the generated hydrogen as a transportation fuel, particularly if end use efficiencies are increased to the point that reasonable range per fill up of hydrogen can be achieved.
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Bill55AZ
post Jun 29 2005, 10:49 PM
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QUOTE(Victoria Silverwolf @ Jun 29 2005, 09:26 AM)



Overall, I think that properly regulated nuclear power can have an important role to play in national energy policy.  It's not a cure-all, by any means.  Here is my list of priorities:

1.  Conservation and reduction of waste.  If we don't do this, nothing else matters.

I consider myself an environmentalist, and I believe that nuclear power can play a role in a Green world.
*



Amen, Sister Silverwolf!!!
I love it when someone lists conservation as the first priority in an energy policy.
Much of my working life was spent in Nuclear Power, as an operator, technician, and even a short stint in an engineering group studying failure modes in instrumentation and control systems. Nuclear is the best current answer to our power needs, and is the best alternative to dirt burners (coal). Fossil fuels that can be used to power our vehicles should not be used at all in power plants.

Gotta wonder, tho, what would we do with all that coal if we ever get to the point of not needing it?

And, I have to wonder what it will take to move us into the direction of becoming a less wasteful society?

I think the main obstacle we face is overcoming the inertia of our current lazy lifestyle.
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A left Handed pe...
post Jul 3 2005, 11:36 PM
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Should the United States expand its supply of nuclear generated energy? Why or why not?

No. Nuclear power means nuclear explosions. It is merely a question of when rather then if, and when they happen, the resulting nuclear fallout can make a huge area unhabitable for thousands years. The more plants we build, the higher the accident occurence rate will become, and quite frankly we cant even afford one accident.

On the otherhand oil and coal are finite resources, so we are going to have to switch to something sooner or later. The possible replacements are: Solar, Fusion, and Fission.

I have expressed doubts about Fusion and Solar before, but now i'm starting to doubt my doubts. wink.gif

http://www.solarelectricpower.org/power/what_are_pvs.cfm

I initially thought solar power wouldn't work, because my dad told me that it was hopelessly inefficient...however I think his opinion may be somewhat outdated (technological advances have been made).

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1050704/asp/...ory_4945359.asp

Fusion power also looks like it may be making some headway, but this isn't the first time its looked that wat..so basically, ill believe it when I see it. Frankly, i'm not sure if I want it to work. If a fision accident is bad, then just imagine what a fusion one could do. Assuming solar powers up to the task, we don't really need it anyways.
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Bill55AZ
post Jul 4 2005, 03:50 AM
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QUOTE(A left Handed person @ Jul 3 2005, 11:36 PM)
Should the United States expand its supply of nuclear generated energy? Why or why not?

No.  Nuclear power means nuclear explosions.  It is merely a question of when rather then if, and when they happen, the resulting nuclear fallout can make a huge area unhabitable for thousands years.  The more plants we build, the higher the accident occurence rate will become, and quite frankly we cant even afford one accident. 


*



There has never been a nuclear explosion in an American made nuclear power plant, and the one in Russia was more a major meltdown than an explosion. The explosion they had was more steam than nuclear. If it had been nuclear, there would have been a big hole in the ground. The illnesses and deaths were from contamination that should have been contained on site.
If they had built a solid containment like we use, the damage would have been mostly contained. But their containment structure was little more than a tin shed.

Nuclear power plants have a negative temperature coefficient, by design. They tend to shut themselves down if temperatures increase beyond design specs, even without operator action. 3 Mile Island was a result of operator interference, if they had not shut down the safety systems, it would not have been a disaster. As it was, no one was killed or even hurt.

Nuclear is safer and cleaner than dirt burners. They have to be, as everyone is watching them. Hardly anyone is watching the dirt burners.
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A left Handed pe...
post Jul 4 2005, 12:36 PM
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There has never been a nuclear explosion in an American made nuclear power plant,

There almost was at three mile island.

and the one in Russia was more a major meltdown than an explosion. The explosion they had was more steam than nuclear. If it had been nuclear, there would have been a big hole in the ground. The illnesses and deaths were from contamination that should have been contained on site.

Should've, could've..didn't..Also, while an explosion may kill lot of people in the short term, its the radiation that sticks around for thousands of years, and consequently the radiation is the most damaging side effect of a nuclear accident.

If they had built a solid containment like we use, the damage would have been mostly contained. But their containment structure was little more than a tin shed.

When the reactor goes out of control, it creates enough heat to melt through anything. There is no such thing as a safe container.

Nuclear power plants have a negative temperature coefficient, by design. They tend to shut themselves down if temperatures increase beyond design specs, even without operator action.

Computers have bugs and break down, and humans aren't perfect.

3 Mile Island was a result of operator interference, if they had not shut down the safety systems, it would not have been a disaster. As it was, no one was killed or even hurt.

3 mile island may not have hurt anyone, but it proved that our systems are not infallible.

Nuclear is safer and cleaner than dirt burners. They have to be, as everyone is watching them. Hardly anyone is watching the dirt burners.

I don't know what a dirt burner is, but smog is a lot less dangerous then radiation.

Basically my point is that there is no such thing as a fail safe nuclear power plant. Accidents are inevitable, and unaffordable.
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Bill55AZ
post Jul 4 2005, 02:36 PM
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QUOTE(A left Handed person @ Jul 4 2005, 12:36 PM)
There has never been a nuclear explosion in an American made nuclear power plant,

There almost was at three mile island. 

When the reactor goes out of control, it creates enough heat to melt through anything.   There is no such thing as a safe container.  

Computers have bugs and break down, and humans aren't perfect.

I don't know what a dirt burner is, but smog is a lot less dangerous then radiation. 

Basically my point is that there is no such thing as a fail safe nuclear power plant.  Accidents are inevitable, and unaffordable.
*



There was NOT "almost a nuclear explosion" at 3 Mile Island.

I spent a lot of years training and working in the nuclear industry, starting in 1966.

What is your educational/working experience that gives you credibility?

Discount the Jane Fonda type movies where you get hysteria type hype.
When a core does melt down, it goes down, not out or up. Concrete containments and back-up cooling systems will contain the damage. That has been proven.

A dirt burner is a plant that burns coal, and a coal fired plant emits MORE radioactive contamination into the air than does a Nuclear plant. Coal is not pure, and whatever naturally radioactive elements existing in the coal get spewed out the stack. Literally thousands of people have died as a result of coal fired power plants, and millions have suffered long term illnesses. The worst events have been when inversion layers trap the resulting smog against the earth. It happened in London, and somewhere in the USA, don't remember where right now. Coal has been around as a power source for 200 years, and all the bad news about it is well known by now. Only the hardest coal, that has the minimum sulphur content, should be burned, if any coal is to be burned. Nuclear Power has killed zero except in the Soviet Union.
The few deaths elsewhere that can be attributable to nuclear has been in research and weapons facilities.

There are no perfect solutions to the power problem, but even the environmentalists are now convinced that nuclear is the best option.

And to repeat myself, the best first thing we can do right now is to learn to live with less power, to conserve the power that we have.

This post has been edited by Bill55AZ: Jul 4 2005, 02:38 PM
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A left Handed pe...
post Jul 5 2005, 03:46 PM
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There was NOT "almost a nuclear explosion" at 3 Mile Island.

Then what was all the fuss about (note meltdown is probably a better word for this then explosion, I misphrased it)?

And wheres your refutation to the rest of my post...?

A dirt burner is a plant that burns coal, and a coal fired plant emits MORE radioactive contamination into the air than does a Nuclear plant. Coal is not pure, and whatever naturally radioactive elements existing in the coal get spewed out the stack. Literally thousands of people have died as a result of coal fired power plants, and millions have suffered long term illnesses. The worst events have been when inversion layers trap the resulting smog against the earth. It happened in London, and somewhere in the USA, don't remember where right now. Coal has been around as a power source for 200 years, and all the bad news about it is well known by now. Only the hardest coal, that has the minimum sulphur content, should be burned, if any coal is to be burned. Nuclear Power has killed zero except in the Soviet Union.
The few deaths elsewhere that can be attributable to nuclear has been in research and weapons facilities.


It creates smog, but it does not contaminate huge plots of land for thousands of years.

And to repeat myself, the best first thing we can do right now is to learn to live with less power, to conserve the power that we have.

That is the exact enemy of progress. Everywhere you look in science, you see processes that could significantly improve our lives, but which take to much energy to mass produce. We need more energy, not less, because limited energy is holding us back. Of course, the only way I can think of getting it (without risking accidents) is solar power.

Your assertion that plants are safer now then they used to be, does not prove that they are infallible. If something can go wrong, it will.

What is your educational/working experience that gives you credibility?

If you know more about this then me, then be satisfied with the prospect that you will have an advantage in debating something to which to have superior experience to then me. However, the fact of having the knowledge to begin with, does not win you the debate in itself.

According to rule 2 of prohibited items, saying that other forum members are unqualified to post their opinions, is against server rules.
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Bill55AZ
post Jul 5 2005, 05:23 PM
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QUOTE(A left Handed person @ Jul 5 2005, 03:46 PM)
And wheres your refutation to the rest of my post...?

It creates smog, but it does not contaminate huge plots of land for thousands of years. 

And to repeat myself, the best first thing we can do right now is to learn to live with less power, to conserve the power that we have.

That is the exact enemy of progress.  Everywhere you look in science, you see processes that could significantly improve our lives, but which take to much energy to mass produce.  We need more energy, not less, because limited energy is holding us back.   Of course, the only way I can think of getting it (without risking accidents) is solar power.      

Your assertion that plants are safer now then they used to be, does not prove that they are infallible.  If something can go wrong, it will.

What is your educational/working experience that gives you credibility?

If you know more about this then me, then be satisfied with the prospect that you will have an advantage in debating something to which to have superior experience to then me.   However, the fact of having the knowledge to begin with, does not win you the debate in itself.

According to rule 2 of prohibited items, saying that other forum members are unqualified to post their opinions, is against server rules.
*



Sorry, but coal DOES contaminate thousands of acres of land, with Acid Rain. And the only large amounts of land that have been contaminated with nuclear fallout from a power plant are in Russia. There are the "down-winders" in southern Utah that have reason to complain, as they suffered increased cancer rates due to nuclear weapons testing, not nuclear power plants. There are other places in the USA that are contaminated, but again, due to weapons program, not power plants.
BTW, Chernobyl was doubling as a research plant, and it was the testing group that initiated their problem.
The expectation of an infallibly safe source of power is not realistic. If you insist on waiting for perfection, there is none of the progress you call for. It isn't that we have a lack of energy to mass produce things that is the problem, it is the value of energy consumed compared to the benefit derived. Why spend a dollars worth of electrical energy to produce hydrogen that has ten cents worth of comparable energy? If the electricity used to make hydrogen was from a coal fired plant, you have gained absolutely nothing, not even a savings in pollution.
I say conserve because we are an incredibly wasteful society. Most of us have way too much mass produced junk on hand, and we have it because the advertising agencies on Madison Ave. have convinced us we must have it.
I asked your background so I can know who I am dealing with, and gave you mine so you can know I have more than a passing knowledge of the subject at hand. I also have some knowledge of solar, and other forms of alternative energy. Solar does not pollute in use, but the mining, refining, processing of the materials used to make them are very polluting. And altho solar cells have long life, they do eventually have to be properly disposed of, and again the pollution problem will have to be addressed. In the distant future, these problems may well be solved, but that is not helping much now. Hydrogen is another source that some hold out in front of us as the answer to many of our energy problems, but again, that is not in our near future.
Currently, Nuclear is the only option that can produce substantial amounts of electricity at anywhere near a reasonable benefit to expense ratio.

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A left Handed pe...
post Jul 5 2005, 08:33 PM
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My background is more or less that of an indolent high school student going into my junior senior year. I'm an intellectual, and I have a fairly broad, but not very detailed knowledge of science. In my freshman year I took and Biology and in my sophomore year I took chemistry. Both of these classes have taught me things that have been useful in these forums.

I think it more or less obvious that the amount of pollution created by the construction of a solar panel once every few decades, cannot be anywhere near the amount of pollution created by a coal plant over a similar amount of time, so I would consider construction pollution negligble. Also, radiation is a much more potent, and a much longer term form contamination then smog is.

On the otherhand, despite the fact that nuclear power has been constantly expanding, we haven't had a nuclear accident in over 15 years. Obviously nuclear power plants are much safer then they used to be, but my worry is that if nuclear plants replace all other forms of power, then accidents will occur again due to the fact that having plants all over the globe will give them a huge number of opportunitys to do so.
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Bill55AZ
post Jul 5 2005, 10:03 PM
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QUOTE(A left Handed person @ Jul 5 2005, 08:33 PM)
My background is more or less that of an indolent high school student going into my junior senior year.  I'm an intellectual, and I have a fairly broad, but not very detailed knowledge of science.  In my freshman year I took and Biology and in my sophomore year I took chemistry.  Both of these classes have taught me things that have been useful in these forums. 

I think it more or less obvious that the amount of pollution created by the construction of a solar panel once every few decades, cannot be anywhere near the amount of pollution created by a coal plant over a similar amount of time, so I would consider construction pollution negligble.  Also, radiation is a much more potent, and a much longer term form contamination then smog is.

On the otherhand, despite the fact that nuclear power has been constantly expanding, we haven't had a nuclear accident in over 15 years.  Obviously nuclear power plants are much safer then they used to be, but my worry is that if nuclear plants replace all other forms of power, then accidents will occur again due to the fact that having plants all over the globe will give them a huge number of opportunitys to do so.
*



Well, take all the science you can get, and you will have a better chance of knowing when politicians, who usually have no science background, are talking out of their posterior. I did that in high school, US Navy, and college night classes that lasted 8 years (using up GI Education bill payments).
Your last paragraph is absolutely true. From my experience, the weakest link is the human operator and technician. Casual attitudes toward nuclear anything is as dangerous as a pilot of a big airliner having little respect for what can happen if he isn't paying attention to what he is doing.
The common joke when I was operating goes like this...
Operating a nuclear power plant is like flying an airplane, hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.
A good operator, or pilot, knows what to do immediately to regain control. Once that is accomplished, you can take a bit more time to get back to normal. Several of the operators and technicians that I worked with were far too casual about their jobs considering the potential consequences. And the ultimate cause for their attitudes? Poor management. People need to be fired for screwing up at this kind of job, but too many managers are too lazy to do the paperwork.
THAT is the fear that I have concerning nuclear power.
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post Jul 6 2005, 12:52 AM
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Absolutely.

I'm in agreement with the desire for conservation as job #1, but this will not happen without higher energy prices. I tend to think that those higher energy prices should come from higher taxes on (imported fuel / carbon / take your pick) so that we could (balance the budget / reduce income taxes / reduce corporate taxes / fund energy improvements) rather than waiting to allow (totalitarian regimes who hate us / multinational corporations) have us over the oil barrel.

Our energy goes to three places in roughly equal amounts: residential, transportation, and commercial/industrial.

Almost all of these depend on real estate, either in buildings or distance for transport. Incremental improvements can be made in existing buildings, but for large improvements, new buildings must be made, AND they must be made in prime locations: namely increasing density in cities and reducing sprawl, such that exurban areas can be used for local agriculture (and carbon-sink forested wilderness). I've made no secret that I feel that shifting taxes off of buildings (and wages and income) and onto land values will do this. Currently, property taxes add 10-40% to the built price of construction while relatively low land property taxes allow speculators to maintain prime lots un- or underbuilt.

Conservation aside, no renewable power sources offer anywhere near the scale of energy available from fission. I think that residential solar (esp. for water heating) offers a viable fraction of energy requirements, as does wind, in the proper locations. Of course neither of these are without tradeoffs.

Gen III and Gen IV nuclear plants offer efficiencies (power to 'waste') an order of magnitude better than currently operated (designed in the 50's & 60's) plants. Additionally, these plants offer a significant amount of thermal energy that could be used for industrial processes, such as hydrogen processing. The soviets used waste heat from reactors to heat homes, though I suppose we're several generations away from trusting nuclear power that much. Additionally, many of these designs are 'passively safe' in that they do not require the activation of valves or switches to dampen the reaction and safe the reactor.

A nuclear detonation is impossible with uranium enriched to less than 20% U235. Most reactors use fuel enriched to 2-3%. Some Gen III and IV reactors can use unenriched uranium.

Note that the Chernobyl plant did not have a containment dome. All commercial reactors in the US have a containment dome.

As for nuclear 'waste': if it's still radioactive, it's still potentially useful as fuel. Unfortunately, its generally more expensive to refine than it is to mine new U (or Th).

For conversation, the background radiation in Washington, DC is 25-50 uR/h. Last month, I stood on the edge of a crater dug by a nuclear detonation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Sedan_Plowshare_Crater.jpg), where the local radiation was approximately 60 uR/h.

While I do not generally approve of government operated industries, I tend to like Hyman Rickover's idea that commercial nuclear plants should be operate by the US Navy, with such plants being standard duty stations for nuclear officers, in rotation with shipboard assignements.

This post has been edited by SWM28WDC: Jul 6 2005, 12:55 AM
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logophage
post Jul 6 2005, 01:18 AM
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I'm going to agree with Bill55AZ and SWM28WDC about the need for both nuclear power AND conservation. In particular, Bill55AZ makes an important point that absolutely no power generation technology exists without environmental costs. I also agree that THE most environmentally costly power generation tech we currently use is coal-fired power generation.

Solar power generation does have an environmental cost for both cell production and recycling, but it is also important to consider that vast farms of solar cells would have a detrimental effect on the local ecology too. Specifically, there would be an ecological effect due to the ground no longer receiving sunlight. Not that this is a bad thing necessarily but it should be a factor when considering it as an option. Of course, solar cells are truly effective as "augmentation" or co-generation systems on buildings. But, this is diverging from the topic at hand....

Nuclear power is, of course, not without environmental costs. But, these costs do not compute to the doomsday scenarios we read about in popular mythology. Technology has progressed significantly since the 50s and 60s for power plant designs both in terms of safety and efficiency (including built-in fuel recycling).
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