Mar 14, 2011

The Japanese meltdown

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor, post-explosion.

Cooper has what is probably a common fear about nuclear power plants:
6. Drill Baby Drill - What’s happening with the Japanese nuclear reactors scares the shit out me. This crisis alone is enough to convince me that nuclear energy is a bad idea. I’ll take global warming over a nuclear meltdown any day.
I don't think this is a good reason to oppose nuclear power.  For better or worse, the environmental trade-off is that whatever disasters happen, they will be confined to a relatively small area, while global warming by definition will affect the entire planet.  (I'll take 10 Chernobyls over a 20-foot rise in sea levels any day.)

On a side note, I think the only reason that Republicans are huge supporters of nuclear power is because the DFHs were and are against it.

The French seem to have a handle on the nuclear issue and provide a good overview of what a nearly all-nuclear power system would look like.  Basically, it's very expensive and not particularly efficient (because nuclear is bad for on-demand power).  The waste is not nearly as big of a problem as in the USA (due to their nuclear reprocessing), but it still exists.  And, of course, there is always the security problem.  But they have among the lowest per capita CO2 emissions in the world, about two tons to the US's twenty-four.

I think nuclear can and should be part of the end of fossil fuels, but there are a lot of reasons (apart from fear of Teh Radiation) it will never be enough, laid out here by Joe Romm:
* Prohibitively high, and escalating, capital costs
* Production bottlenecks in key components needed to build plants
* Very long construction times
* Concerns about uranium supplies and importation issues
* Unresolved problems with the availability and security of waste storage
* Large-scale water use amid shortages
* High electricity prices from new plants
Basically there are a lot cheaper and less dangerous places to start. See here for more.

UPDATE: here is a captivating essay on Chernobyl (via one bloc east).

UPDATE II: Josh Marshall has some similar thoughts:
We saw a catastrophic accident with fossil fuels in the Gulf last year. What seems more relevant to me is that the proper and planned use of fossil fuels -- in other words, when everything goes just according to plan -- is creating what appears to be catastrophic damage on a planetary scale. What's more, setting aside global warming, there is a detailed scientific literature showing the number of deaths and chronic illnesses tied to the release of fossil fuel pollution into the air -- lung diseases, asthma, cancer, etc. Again, when all goes just according to plan.

None of these are facts we don't know. But even for those who are fairly versed in the details about global warming, it's still sort of long-term and invisible and thus somehow less threatening. Whereas 'radiation', for all sorts of reasons, is just scary. It's invisible and we know it can kill people quickly. Or create diseases like cancer that our medical sciences are still largely helpless to control.

If we imagine a hundred years into the future of fossil fuels and a hundred of nuclear power, at the end of a century, how much damage do we imagine each will have caused? I suspect that if it's really an either/or, the nuclear route is likely much safer.
That's a good reminder of the BP oil spill. Fossil fuels are not without their own horrifying accidents.

UPDATE III: Yglesias and Kevin Drum agree.