The Nuclear Option

We have posted features on nuclear power – reader comments aren’t yet possible on our features – and we’ve received several emails reacting to these stories. Two of these features were “Nuclear Power – Cleanest & Coolest Choice?” and “India’s Nuclear Power.” Here is an email just received from a reader in France:

Three Mile Island (photo: EPA)
Table of World’s Nuclear Reactors
List of “Nuclear Club” Nations

“Dear Editor: To me it is amazing somebody promoting an “EcoWorld” should have the gall to pretend “the US desperately needs to become more like France” meaning they should produce more nuclear electricity as this (but maybe you don’t know it) bypasses two major issues :

1. France as only a tiny country on a world map, is the third producer in the whole world of death weapons, of which nuclear weapons represent a rising percentage, nuclear weapons produced from the enriched uranium and plutonium produced by France’s oh so wonderful and civil nuclear power plants!!! (not even to mention the dictatorial system which keeps all nuclear related information top secret under defense policy, just to show how very harmless and civil it is!!!)

2. Not a single person, be they laymen or specialists, have a clue as yet of how to manage the waste generated by the numerous nuclear plants in France of which many are already obsolete and therefore even more dangerous (aside from the risks linked to accidents, earthquakes and terrorist attacks) and not a single politician has the faintest idea where they’ll find the money for the horrendously high cost of dismantling the old, i.e. obsolete plants.

I take it that you have the solution so would you please make it available to French Government Officials? This will allow many French citizens to, at last, feel safe and thrilled about their nuclear program!

Maybe someone editing for Ecoworld should at least go to the trouble of finding out what ecology is about! If you truly and sincerely believe that consuming more and more, jumping at every new fad, presenting cursory and fallacious solutions to the world energy problem is it, then we can all rest assured: the Planet Earth IS already lost. ”

And here is our response:

“First of all, I probably will not change your mind. You have the tone of someone who passionately believes their position. Second, I didn’t say “the US desperately needs to become more like France,” referring to nuclear power. One of our contributing writers, Dr. Ed Wheeler wrote that. Sometimes Dr. Wheeler can be a bit sure of himself. My apologies for that. We encourage all credible viewpoints, and Dr. Wheeler’s arguments are well reasoned.

In any event, I totally agree with your comments regarding the French nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific. Thankfully they are no longer blowing up the Moorea atoll. That was a terrible mistake.

Where we disagree, I regret, is regarding the overall future of nuclear power. I do think there are safer technologies available now, and I think the new upgraded plants can be built on the same sites as the old plants. I think the waste can be safely stored in caves. In the US we have constructed the Yucca Mountain complex, and I think it is plenty safe in there. Please bear in mind in the years to come we’ll learn all kinds of even better ways to process waste, and if there are problems, we can go in and clean it up.

Before you are so certain nuclear is the worst energy choice possible, consider what we have done to the rainforests to grow biofuel. This is well documented, and it is an utter catastrophe. The loss of what is now 60% of our planet’s tropical forests may be a bigger factor in climate change than CO2. I would rather have nuclear power than biofuel from rainforests.

Please accept this one statement: I am very concerned about the environment of our planet. I just don’t automatically believe everything I’m told. I do my own research. You know, in one way, we might be experiencing very similar emotions. You are upset, probably, because the concern about global warming is leading people – thoughtlessly you may feel – to take another look at nuclear power. I am upset because the concern about global warming has overridden concern for the rainforests – in the name of biofuel.

Thank you for your email. I respect your opinions.”

9 Responses to “The Nuclear Option”
  1. Demesure says:

    The reader’s conspiracy tone about “the dictatorial system [in France] which keeps all nuclear related information top secret under defense policy” is false and misleading. In France, inspection commissions of nuclear power plants is composed of civilians, among them various environmentalist members.

    The purported confusion between civil and military nuclear is unacceptable but well too common to powerdowners. This kind of outright misinformation and extremism are the reasons why the Green party in France had just 1.5% votes at last May presidential elections. The shrinking anti-nuclear party is more vociferous than ever because it feels cornered by nuclear lobbies in the “struggle to save the planet”. How ironic.

  2. Ken says:

    Nuclear power is by far the best source means of producing electrical power, which we are all addicted to in the industrial world. When compared to coal, oil, and natural gas, nuclear power plants produce less waste by mass. They also release less radioactivity into the environment than coal fired plants. Solar collection cells and bio fuels cost energy to produce that drives down their net effect on fuel-cost savings to the environment. Technology to produce energy from nuclear power is also becoming more efficient and safer as the generation of reactor designs proceed. Finally, there are emerging technologies that hold the promise to dramatically reduce the waste stream from nuclear power plants including reprocessing technologies and transmutation technologies such as those being developed by Thorium Power Ltd and those being funded by the DOE in it’s latest budget that will hopefully improve MOX technology. Once we obtain a proliferation resistant closed nuclear fuel cycle I would hope that this sector could put a dent in our reliance on fossil fuels, which I believe constitutes the real danger to both our security and the environment.

  3. John Busby says:

    The lights will soon be going out in France as uranium mining production in Canada and Australia declines fast. The French are 78% dependent on nuclear power and their mines are exhausted. Half the US nuclear stations rely on Russian ex-weapons HEU/LEU imports as uranium hexafluoride which end in 5 years time, so some of the lights will go out in the US pretty soon.

    Nuclear power is not a secure option and will be progressively shut down as fuel supplies run down. Unfortunately the waste remains without nuclear energy to deal with it.

  4. Therese Delfel says:

    About secrecy:
    Why don’t you ak the French Government to disclose its figures about plutonium production and use ? Or simpler, ask dates and routes of next nuclear transport convoys. If you get a repy, post it on this blog.

    About safety:

    Three days ago, two members of the Italian Mafia were arrested with nuclear material (waste and fuel) in their possesion. Will this material be deemed “civil”? And if used, will its effects be deemed “civil”?

    About responsibility:
    “Addicted to electrical power”: and is it better to dump whatever waste and after-effects may come with this addiction onto future generations or to get a grip on the addiction?

    About “energetic independence”:
    true John, the uranium mines will close, the source being as limited as coal or crude oil and it is non-renewable (see home page for more on
    this). So much for independence vs dependence!

  5. Ed Ring says:

    Therese, ahha, your commenting posts are landing here without technical difficulties! Very good.

    But see here, the French government is unlikely to release information like that, nor should they. Nuclear stockpiles and especially their transportation routes are not necessarily better disclosed. It would be akin to a bank making public the route of their gold shipments. The materials are simply too valuable – as well as dangerous of course – for their routes to be overly public. Or so I might argue. I don’t understand your question “will this material be deemed “civil?” so I can’t comment to that.

    Civilization is addicted to power. That is a harsh characterization, but accurate enough. The question is does the planet need more power to grow economically, and I think we do. Energy intensity is the ratio between a civilizations economic output and one unit of energy input. The higher the ratio the better. For India, for example, in order for their per capita economic output to be just half that of the European Union, their energy production will have to quadruple. And the Europeans use energy very efficiently.

    Rather than saying civilization is addicted to power, I would say technology requires energy production. I think solar energy is the best solution. But as transitional fuels, I put nuclear power ahead of rainforest destruction. Do you prefer coal, gas and oil to nuclear power? Is hydroelectric power ok? Because 99% of all power is from these five sources. Where should we get our power?

  6. ed wheeler says:

    All the posters here need to go back and re-read my article on the nuclear option. For example, waste re-cycling and Yucca Mt. in Nevada. “Nuclear Power – Cleanest & Coolest Choice? ” by Dr. Edward Wheeler

  7. Barry Bigelow says:

    Seems to me no one has workrd in or visited a nuclear station, I have worked in the vault on a nuclear reactor, its safer than driving the 401. As for the waste the plan is to drill into the bedrock in the oceans and put it in and seal it, lots of room for waste. Also we have an abundance of uranium not sure were some of you get your info, I am only a tradesman, and know where the uranium is, I live in what was once the uranium capital of the world, and now a new mine is going to probably open. Also in Saskatchewan when they finish pumping their mine out from a flood which will be another 2 years they have high grade and lots of it. Sorry but I am all for nuclear power I understand it, worked with it and lived on it so lets stop killing our planet and make some right choices or there won’t be a future.

  8. JamesG says:

    Nobody has yet mentioned that the proliferation problem comes from enriched Uranium. But natural Uranium can be used – crucially, not in current US, or European designs but in the Canadian CANDU design. Originally nuclear power was steered towards weapons productions, so US, Russia, UK, France went that route. However it wasn’t necessary and Canada chose Heavy Water designs which used natural Uranium. It is possible to produce plutonium by this design but it is incredibly difficult. Another nice side effect is that they can burn nuclear waste. Lastly, as someone touched upon, they can be adapted to burn Thorium, which is abundant, non-radioactive (until bombarded with neutrons) and produces no radioactive waste. If you haven’t heard of any of this it’s because the US wants to continue enriching Uranium using it’s existing light water designs. You may well ask why.

  9. Cyril R. says:

    New nuclear projects in the US have been costed at about 5 to 8 bucks per Watt. That’s not cheap.


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