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Going Green! or Not, Part II – Nuclear Energy

This is Part II of the on going segment called Going Green! or Not series deals largely with renewable energy.  Mainly I take a stab at all the myths associated with nuclear power.  It’s awesome because a lot of people don’t know anything about nuclear power, where as I know quite a lot.  If you missed part I of the series, fear not, it’s just a click away. Otherwise, step right up, and read on my friend.

Now I’m gonna move on from the Planet Green channel, and attack the industry in general.  No where is the idea of green technology more prevalent then the community of Stumble Upon.  I can’t stumble a day without getting 3 advertisements for solar power.  (Before you tell me I can adjust my SU interests, don’t, I know that, and I accept it cause I like to read them, and then give thumbs down and real world reviews, it makes me happy, I’m an evil person).

Solar power is one of the biggest things I see, with wind coming in second.  I prefer wind power simply because in the event of a nuclear winter (or something similar), wind generators will still work.  Anyway, back to the matter at hand yet again.  It’s not the efficiency of one or the other that matters, (both hover around 20%), it’s the writing style that is used to introduce them.  It’s full of hopes, and dreams, and love, and sometimes kittens.  Take this story from Clean Technia: MIT Energy Storage Discovery Could Lead to ‘Unlimited’ Solar Power.  It’s a very uplifting story that links to a source story, and provides almost no original content of themselves (an underlying problem of the blogosphere itself (something I’ve contributed to no doubt as well)), and a video, I couldn’t find the video they said on MIT’s page, so that leads me to believe it really didn’t exist, they just wanted to look like they were doing research.   Anyway, the the last paragraph is this:

No news has yet been released of a predicted timescale to commericial development or mainstream adoption.  However, Nocera has said that he’s hopeful that within 10 years homes will no longer be powered using electricity-by-wire from a central source. Instead, homeowners will be able to harness solar power during daylight hours and use this new energy storage method for electricity at night.

If you read between the lines of that you can find out what it really means: This is just a theory, it will never get made into production because it’s not practical, we’re just telling you this for good publicity, give us more money please.  They claim that within 10 years everyone will use one of these.  Well, pretend for a minute that you have a time traveling DeLorean, and you go back in time to 1955, you would hear this quote:

Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within ten years.

Well, it’s been nearly 55 years, and we’re lucky to build a nuclear powered power plant now a days, (more on that next).  My point being, the above theory sounds great, and awesome, and revolutionary, but, in practice, the likelihood of it coming true is 0%.  So take that nugget of information with a grain of salt.

So, about nuclear power.  What do you know about it?  Or, more importantly, what do you think you know about it?  Is it dangerous to the environment?  Is it deadly?  How many accidents have there been since it was put in use?  How many at civilian controlled power plants?

Did you know that there have been 8 partial meltdowns, one total meltdown, and one partial core meltdown over the 50 years since nuclear power plants have been in use (this is not taking into account military ships, of any nation).  Did you know that on the International Nuclear Event Scale there is only one event in the highest spot – Chernobyl, and that by it’s standards, Three Mile Island only rates a 5?  (From a country that was always one upping the soviets, they sure got us beat in terms of nuclear problems).  Did you know that when a nuclear reactor has a meltdown, it doesn’t explode like Ivy-Mike above, it just releases a cloud of radioactive gas into the atmosphere letting nature decide who lives and dies.  Anyway, I’m not going to dabble in terms of destructive nature of nuclear energy, for I could do that forever.

Nuclear reactors are closed circuit systems.  That means the water that is in direct contact with the control rods is sealed, and never leaves the system (assuming no breach, or meltdown).  Nuclear reactors are built around bodies of water such as the sea, and rivers so that they can use that cold water to cool the pipes containing the super heated steam.  This water leaves perfectly safe if not a little warmer.  And those cooling towers, guess what, they release nothing but steam into the atmosphere, guess what steam turns into, rain!

Now, I won’t fool you, nuclear reactors do have some waste, and it’s in the form of super irradiated fuel rods that stay that way for tens of thousands of years.  There are three main concerns with this waste:

  • What to do with it
  • How to deal with transport
  • What happens if terrorist get a hold of it

Well, the first two are rather simple to answer, and they come in multi-part answers, isn’t life peachy?!  So let’s get to them:

The current plan for spent nuclear fuel is to ship it off to underground caves and keep it there until the robots take over and use it as their fuel source, the sun goes nova, or we forget about it.  That’s a great solution because the granite mountains that hold them are some of the strongest natural materials on Earth.  In order for the mountain to erode away to nothing, millions of years would have to pass by.  But what if an earthquake comes?  Well my friend, that’s the advantage of having millions of years of geological data on hand,  the locations chosen were chosen because of their low level of seismic activity.  Which means that if there were a major earthquake to happen, leaked radiation would be the least of our worries, trust me.

Now comes the question of transporting it to these mountain fortresses.  Wouldn’t you know it, they have a system for that.  The transports must follow a strict set of guidelines that includes:

  • A 9 meter (30 ft) free fall on to an unyielding surface
  • A puncture test allowing the container to free-fall 1 meter (about 37 inches) onto a steel rod 15 centimeters (about 6 inches) in diameter
  • A 30-minute, all-engulfing fire at 800 degrees Celsius (1475 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • An 8-hour immersion under 0.9 meter (3 ft) of water.
  • Further, an undamaged package must be subjected to a one-hour immersion under 200 meters (655 ft) of water.

If those don’t sound like much, here’s a video demonstrating it for you, go on, watch it, I’ll wait:

You see, these casks are designed to go to hell and back, and still not leak their deadly cargo.  If that’s not enough for you, in the 40+ years of them being in use, there has never been an accident that released radioactive material into the environment.  I bet no one ever told you that.  In fact, if you read over that site you’ll find a bunch of anti-nuclear information, just like a good propaganda website should have.  Anyway, the point is, the forces required to sabotage one of these shipments are far to great (it would be cheaper to just buy the material illegally somewhere) and for a true accident to cause a issue, you would need:

  • an earthquake
  • a lightning storm
  • a gas leak
  • a plane crash
  • a meteor strike
  • flying pigs

All to happen in a single, 50 square foot at the same time.  I’m not C3-P0, so I can’t calculate the odds of that for you, but let me assure you, they’re fucking ridiculously high.  And were one of those to all happen, it’s important to know that spent fuel is not flammable, and cannot cause a nuclear explosion.

The first two points are taken care of, now it’s onto the third, and probably most feared one, terrorists.  Frankly, I’m tired of that word, it’s evolved from a descriptive word of a group of people, into a meaningless fear mongering term of the media.  But regardless, it’s the best word we have to describe those groups of people.  Anyway, what would happen if some anti-human fanatic got their hands on all this spent fuel while it’s in transit (not likely), or after it’s in storage?  Well, it all depends on the type of waste they get their hands on.  Some of the spent fuel is weapons grade, and can be made to produce those sweet explosions like Ivy-Mike, but not much of it, and the process of getting it is not worth the rewards, meaning it’s cheaper and easier to just buy a nuclear bomb pre-made on the black market.

There are much more items to go into, I was going to try and get all the nuclear information into one post, but I surprised myself (ok, not really).  This post has reached the limits of what I think is long enough, so I’m gonna split it here, and you’ll get the rest of it before the week is up, don’t worry.  There’s plenty more for me to tell you on the benefits, and hazards (you see, I’m giving you both sides of the story) to nuclear power.  So come back for part III of the  Going Green! or Not series.  It’s sure to be an eye opener!

7 replies on “Going Green! or Not, Part II – Nuclear Energy”

I feel the need to point out that I agree that nuclear power is some of the cleanest energy we’re capable of producing right now, the rise in temperature of the discharge water can be as much as 10C, which is enough to impact local plant and animal life. Would it be better to somehow cool the dischage water to surrounding water temps? I doubt it. Nuclear power plants are still forcing local life to adapt and/or move entirely, which I don’t think is a good thing. Better than polluting to the point of mutations, yes.

those are valid points chris, and i was going to reply to them here, but i choose to include them in part III of the series instead, cause i just kept on adding stuff to it here.

For instance, the 10 degree C increase in temp is alot, i agree, that’s the worst impact they have on the environment, displacing wildlife though, that’s a bit of a stretch because of the nature of humans themselves.

You’re right, if you’re hinting at humans displacing animals no matter what we do. Aren’t most built in or near animal sanctuaries? At least the one in Connecticut is.

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