Greens and nuclear power

The Telegraph

Tom Chivers attempts and fails to understand greens opposition to nuclear power:

I don’t like the idea of being “fundamentally opposed” to one of the most obvious available options for keeping our lights on. If it is shown to be safe and economic, then we should use it. It’s not a moral issue; it’s just one more tool, which we can use well or badly, safely or unsafely. Also: how can an energy technology be “elitist”? I literally don’t know what that means. Is it elitist because it’s hi-tech and third-world countries can’t easily make their own? Well, so are iPads, then, and Toyota Priuses. Or does the word “elitist” just mean “bad” in Green-land, in the same way that “natural” means “good”? [Edit: I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on “undemocratic” as well. Since when are power stations democratic institutions?]

As for it not being renewable: well, neither is sunlight or the wind, if you’re taking a sufficiently long view. Eventually the Sun will consume the last of its hydrogen and expand into a red giant, probably blasting the Earth to its constituent atoms as it does so. But that’s quite a long way off, so we don’t worry about that. In the shorter but still decently long term, even if no more uranium deposits are found (although they will be) and no more efficient ways of using it developed (although they will be), “total identified resources are sufficient for over 100 years of supply”, according to the IAEA. That ain’t nothing.

“Carbon neutral” is a bit of a red herring as well in this case. It’s true, nuclear power is not carbon neutral. But it’s much less carbon positive, if that makes sense, than fossil fuels. The perfect is the enemy of the good, as the saying goes: just because something isn’t the best possible, doesn’t mean you should ignore it if it’s an improvement over what is available. Furthermore, there is potential to improve the carbon emissions of nuclear; if it is made economically attractive to do so, companies will do it themselves. Targeted carbon taxes, or an auction of carbon credits, would work; certainly the latter did for industrial sulphur dioxide emissions.

Of course once rpesented with all that the Green types fall back on the “safety” issue. But that too is a fatuous argument:

It’s about safety. Nuclear power is unsafe. Look at Chernobyl, look at Three Mile Island, look at Fukushima. It’s dangerous, as the Greens say, and its cost, dangers and waste will be “passed on to future generations”.

But as Prof Paddy Regan says in our paper today, that’s false. Chernobyl killed about 50 people (28 people in the immediate weeks after; an estimated 19, according to the WHO, died of radiation-induced cancers in the following 20 years). Three Mile Island killed, and indeed harmed, precisely nobody. And Fukushima was the most ridiculous of all: as a vast earthquake and tsunami killed 15,000 people, the world’s attention was focused on a meltdown in a 40-year-old reactor which, again, killed no one at all.

How many have died from other energy sources?

Meanwhile, in the last 40 years, tens of thousands of people have been killed by failures at hydroelectric dams; hundreds more have died in coal mines, and of course thousands every year in the US alone from respiratory problems caused by fossil fuels. But the fear of “radiation”, evident in the nonsense scares about “electrosmog”, trump the very real dangers of other energy sources.

Right so how about we get ourselves some nuclear plants and have cheap abundant energy, please.


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  • 4077th

    Nuclear energy is the only way forward. Yes it has to be safe or at least safer than current technology. The tree huggers as usual, have failed to do any research on the future technology of nuclear fission for energy production. The current system of fission is a critical reaction process under control and generally remains critical from the moment the chain reaction is started. There are obvious hazards in current technology demonstrated by Chernobyl and Fukushima along with shutdown programs that last decades. There is a current research program underway and has been for some time but with the advent of Fukushima it has gained further funding and resources to prove the technology. ADS (accelerator driven subcritical fast reactor) is a viable and safe alternative. Primarily, ADS uses spent fuel rods from legacy fission reactors as fuel. A high power particle accelerator is used to fire highly charged protons at the target (spent fuel rod) thus releasing the same neutrons as a conventional system but ADS is able to control the number of neutrons released unlike conventional that remains critical at all times. The difference is the reaction is subcritical so there is no delay if shutdown is necessary. In simple terms the accelerator is able to be turned off at will and the reaction will cease. The spent fuel rods are only one of many fuel sources that include Thorium as one of the most common radioactive elements on earth. I have mentioned before, the benefits of this technology is far more specific in terms of safety. If there was no need for Uranium enrichment for fuel then there is no excuse for rogue nations using this as a disguise for WMD production. ADS irradiates and incinerates spent fuel rods leaving very little left and what is left has a very short half life of a couple of decades as apposed to centuries and millennia in some cases.

    • tarkwin

      Is that any relation to a pebble bed reactor?

      • 4077th

        No not the same or even similar. PBR is intrinsically safe by nature but it is not able to produce enough “online” energy for commercial use. The concept is more siuted to small scale power requirements in mobile military applications.

  • Cobolt

    Alas cheap does not describe nuclear power, the cost of building these plants is phenomenal compared to a damn or geothermal plant. Several billion vs several hundred million.

    • I guess the cost would relate to whether you get the US or the Russians to do the build?

    • Johnbronkhorst

      And when you run out of rivers to dam??and the flow of water stops? Nuclear, can be BUILT as large as you like!

  • Andy

     Thorium is most promising in my view
    Google “LFTR in 5 mins”

  • Boggy

    Can anyone find a nuclear power plant which claims for be genuinely impervious to earthquakes.

    I don’t think that’s possible but I’m happy to be corrected.

    • pidge

      First thing you do is not build an plant too close to a (known) fault line.  Then you set the specifications as to the conditions underwhich the plant may operate, and set in place systems to safely shutdown the reactor in the event of an earthquake that threatens the integrity of a plant.

      • Populuxe1

        First find any part of New Zealand that isn’t too close to a (known) fault line… Mind you, no one really knew about all of those fault lines near Christchurch either…. And if your core fracture, it matters sweet FA if the reactor is shut down – it’s still going to leak radiation.

    • Rick Rowling

       Also, can anyone find a hydroelectric dam which claims to be genuinely impervious to earthquakes (given the catastrophic effects downstream of a failure)?

      • 4077th

        You beat me to it RR. There are equal arguments for and against in both cases. A plant failure would cause some casualties but minimal and some long lasting but a dam on the other hand would cause swift but catastrophic loss of human life hundreds if not thousands lost in an hour. 

    • Beans

      Believe it or not – Fukushima! The reactor survived an 8 richter earthquake and a direct hit by a tsunami. If the backup systems were on the roof instead of in the basement, the Greens and the media wouldn’t have had so much to scaremonger over for the last 15 months.

      Here’s an excellent mea culpa by a journalist regretting his industry’s ignoring of the wider disaster for a few hydrogen blasts – It’s a refreshing read. I’d like to call it a good start but I doubt the dozens who should apologise ever will.

      • jay cee

        ok you nuke lovers time to stop talking and go and set up camp right beside one of the above mentioned shut down nuclear power plants if you think they’re so safe.

  • James Jenkins

    A modern reactor, small and mobile,can be towed by barge to Auckland and run down at the docks piece of piss. Tech has moved on…the greens and the left are way out of date.

    • Where is there one of these already located to use as an example please?

      • Loco Smoko

        Have a look at any modern nuclear powered warship.
        If push came to shove we could park one in the harbour and have Auckland humming for a very long time indeed.

      • 4077th

        A quick scan of the night sky (satellites) submarines, warships. very few if any in commercial use but the technology is available and currently under consideration but (and that is a very BIG but) there is always a risk this technology could be used to bring harm. It is very unlikely it will ever be commercialized. Further advances move well beyond standard fission technology. The ultimate is fusion of course but that is still some way off due to the lag in accelerator technology and power systems to drive them. As an example, the LHC power requirement allows use of the accelerator complex and storage rings for a short time during the northern summer. Use outside of those months is prohibitive due to the load on the EU power grid..that is a staggering amount of energy. 

    • USS Ronald Reagan, USS Constellation, USS Enterprise, USS Kittyhawk….there’s 4 for you

      • Johnbronkhorst

        tch tch tch….surely you are not suggesting a return to ANZUS ship visits, rending the fat lange’s political bullshit campaign an irrelevant nonsence. (as it was surely an election campaign, not an antinuclear stand).

      • ChrisH4

        USS Constellation and USS Kittyhawk were both conventional powered CV’s… USS Ronald Regan has 9 other Nimitz Class sisters that are CVN’s though, plus 2 more USS Gerald R Ford class being built. (Plus 71 SSN and SSBN nuke boats). :)

  • Andy

     The proposed Liquid Flouride Thorium reactor is very small compared with a conventional uranium reactor. I think we will eventually see “plug and play” reactors as suggested by James above.

  • Andy

    This is on the reading list:

    “A groundbreaking account of an energy revolution in the making, SuperFuel tells the story of thorium,
    a naturally-occurring element that is so safe you can hold it in your
    bare hand, that’s four times more abundant than uranium, and that’s so
    dense and highly efficient, a ball bearing-sized amount could provide
    all the power an average person will consume in their lifetime.”

    • 4077th

      For those of you including Andy that are interested take a look at ITER.

      This project has been running for many years and still has a while to run yet but is a very promising alternative and is also very green (for the sandal wearers). KEK in japan and KBSI in Korea have tested a small scale Tokamak fusion reactor and results were very successful. It would help the Green cause if they bothered to look into what is going on outside of their cosy little blanket. they might actually be surprised at what lengths people are going to.

  • Salacious T Crumb

    The Greens and green movement have demonstrated that any empirical evidence that disproves or counters any of their claims is to be ignored or discredited.

    I recall during the power outage issues of the mid 90’s the interesting stat that a then modern American Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carrier could have carried the entire national grid.

    Probably not quite the same now though I note that outputs of modern smaller turbines is staggering as James Jenkins suggests.

  • Bawaugh

    No problem with nuclear energy.

    Except that New Zealand is too small for nuclear energy. Our nuclear reactor would be nice and powerful but would have two settings on and off. When it was off it would not generate energy we would have a major issue replacing that power. Perhaps when we have 10 million people. 

    • 4077th

      Nuclear fission reactors are scaleable. You would not use a warship reactor in the same way you would not use a Tokyo prefecture reactor. Another important point, you don’t build power stations when all your others are at capacity. You build them in anticipation of future use. Lastly, fission reactor physics 101..there is no off switch! (that IS a problem for me)!

      • WayneO

        You are both wrong. There is an off switch. It’s simply separating the critical mass of radioactive material so a chain reaction cannot occur.

        Nuclear power stations can be fully moderated usually by inserting or removing a graphite core. This adjusts the speed of the reaction therefore the heat generated and ultimately the peak power output of the turbine. There are also alternatives but there is the ability to have a “volume switch.” If there weren’t, under light load conditions nuclear reactors would blow their top with the excess heat. 

        It is without doubt that New Zealand would benefit from several small scale nuclear reactors in strategic places. Then all this wind farm bullshit can stop.

  • thor42

    IIRC, world reserves of *thorium* are sufficient for at least *one thousand* years (at current nuclear power usage rates). 
    Thorium has the advantage that it is almost impossible to use to produce a nuclear weapon, so it is pretty much useless for terrorists.

    I think that when people think of nuclear power stations, they still think of massive installations with cooling-towers all over the place. That no longer needs to be the case. There are now plants available that can be set up (or dismantled) in a matter of weeks, and they come in a few container-loads.
    Even so, these small plants can still pump out a decent amount of power – 500 megawatts or so. 

    Check out this excellent article on “small modular reactors” – well worth a read –

  • Jerry Adams

    Have to disagree here, Nuclear Power Plants are extremely inefficient
    This graph helps highlight the key issue, which is they don’t actually run very long and at the end of the day leave a really big mess.
    What need to happen, and this will never happen at the moment because our goverment does not have the balls to do so; is to make a huge huge huge huge huge huge huge huge huge huge huge huge hole in the ground, a really good deep big hole that can stand up to the test of time, then we would actually have somewhere to dump waste in a manner that meant the half life of the waste would hopefully not effect the ‘future’ too much (this whole would need to be out of the way also) then it is actually viable to build one.

    The rest of you who say this is the only way forward; one thing to say.
    Actually read, not blogs, not opinions just facts because science unlike politics, is a truth with and answer, people smarter than me (smarter than you) have already thought of these things, and written them down, but the way they have figured it out is logic, pure logic using empirically found data.
    This above statement contradicts my first however, I know this, But I also quiet sure that you the reader will never follow my advice just as I’m sure you wont believe me, to be frank I don’t really care cause I am  about 85% sure I am right

    Also I call bull shit that whaleoils kid is at all preforming as well as he is under home school, so I want some proof, actual proof as well not just post 

    • Arranh

      The USA built such a huge hole storage facility in the middle of nowhere. Last I heard it still wasn’t being used due to greens making complaints, asking the government to prove a negative.

      I’m not sure how a link to show the lifespan of power plants helps your argument. They last decades. They produce a lot of power. If we expected a power plant to last any longer we would not be utilising newer technologies as they develop. 

      Myself, I have read many articles in science periodicals, have a fairly good understanding of the ins and outs. So I do actually read, and my degree in science helps me know what I’m reading.

      And the accredited studies all say much the same thing. Nuclear power is the cheapest energy. Compared to coal/gas it is also extremely clean with only a fraction of the pollution which can be easily stored away.

      And the ‘I am quite sure that you the reader will never follow my advice’ crap is ridiculous. Firstly, how about some advice with evidence, use some of that logic and show us that empirically found data. You’re posting on a rightwing blog site. We are all about logic and not basing things on emotion.

      If you throw in the phrase ‘it might hurt kids and whales’ in to your post then I can see you writing post of the week at the Standard, or even article of the week at the Herald.

      • Euan Rt

        We must nearly be at the point where we can aim our junk at Jupiter or the Sun or Venus ? Especially if we will be mining asteroids in the future. The cargo ships will be able to backload, making them more economical. There, problem solved.

      • Jerry Adams

        All this comment did is reaffirm my view that Scientists are the only one who should make these decisions… sigh what are people like you going to do to the world with your silly political agenda 

  • Arranh

    Euan, the problem with launching waste fuel in to space is if it explodes during launch you are basically setting off a dirty bomb. Nuclear waste is surprisingly, or unsurprisingly if you know the science, small and fairly easy to store, way underground where it can be easily monitored and kept out of bad hands.

    Unfortunately, the simultaenous creation of nuclear weapons have spoiled people against nuclear power for any real, non-emotional or logical reason. I’m ok with NZ being nuclear free if that means nuclear weapon free, but not nuclear power.