Sunday, August 12, 2007

More Atomic Power, But Maybe Not In California

As has been said, enacting legislation, like sausage making, probably should not be watched by the squeamish or morally sensitive. That comes to mind when we see, in the New York Times, that a one-sentence provision sneaked into the U.S. Senate's recently passed energy bill would facilitate building new nuclear power plants by making the builders eligible for tens of billions of dollars in government loan guarantees.

The loan guarantees would be necessary in order for private builders to obtain financing they need, since private investors are often concerned about the safety of such plants and the prospect that their loans could go into default, if another Chernoybal disaster were to strike anywhere in the world.

The House of Representatives has not cleared such a bill, but it's obvious that a major lobbying effort is under way to restart nuclear power development in the U.S., and lobbyists frequently end up getting their way. The New York Times speculates that such a bill could emerge from a House-Senate conference committee that would then be signed by President Bush, despite the fact that the Administration thus far has opposed the loan guarantees.

The July 31 Times story also contains a map showing where proposals are pending to build as many as 28 new nuclear plants at 19 separate locations. All are in the East, Midwest and, especially, the South. None are in earthquake-prone California.

The L.A. Times recently had an editorial opposing the building of such plants which cited the cost, waste storage and safety problems with nuclear power. It is easy to see why a California publication would take that position, because of the special quake dangers in the state, and the fact that the Diablo nuclear plant near San Luis Obispo was built and operating before scientists discovered an earthquake fault right there. Another nuclear plant was closed in Humboldt County, in part for similar reasons.

But, still, with global warming a more and more obvious threat, it is very hard to see how all future nuclear power development can be ruled out. Some c0untries, such as France and quake-threatened Japan, have had generally good experiences with nuclear plants, and not all of them have proved all that more costly or subject to disruption than other kinds of plants.

The attraction of nuclear power is that it does not produce the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. It seems a little hypocritical to stop nuclear power plants from being built when this is one of the prime alternative power sources that does not entail global warming.

Using the sun, or windmills, to generate power cannot, at least in the short run, really substitute for oil, gas and coal-power nuclear plants.

So, it seems to me, we may not choose to go forward with nuclear power in California. But we have to consider it elsewhere.

The development of human civilization probably just cannot avoid use of this source in its future.


The decision of the New York Times and NBC News to share coverage of some stories is another desirable step by a major newspaper to build its fortunes at a time of languishing business prospects. As part of the arrangement, NBC's MSNBC cable operation would use New York Times poltical coverage on its Web site, and Times reporters would appear frequently to be interviewed on NBC and MSNBC news shows. In return, the New York Times Web site would use NBC stories.

Such arrangements are necessary, as newspapers strive to keep themselves viable. The L.A. Times, under Tribune Co. control, unfortunately has been going in the opposite direction, dropping such ties.



Anonymous KenG said...

There are more important issues to the nuclear investors than the remote chance of an accident. The real financial risk are regulatory based. If the federal licensing reform does not prove effective and a federal judge ties up a completed plant for several years the cost is huge. Also, it is possible that coal will get increased subsidies when electricity prices start to increase, damaging nuclear competitiveness.

Also, California is not uniformly seismic. Surely there are locations in the state suitable for new nuclear plants.

8/13/2007 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the aspects of more recent research on future reactors is the feasibility of designing safe high temperature reactors. This is salient to the power capacity issues of the western US because high temperature reactors can be air cooled without significant loss of thermal efficiency and therefore be situated in dry unpopulated and unseismic areas.

One of these high temperature reactor technologies is the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR), which eventually should be able to run as hot as 900C, with multiple passive and inherent safety features built into its design. If one adds to this the fact that its thorium fuel cycle is both proliferation resistant and produces relatively short lived nuclear waste, the MSR might indeed be the answer to California's energy needs in the mid-21st century.

(A good resource for this technology may be found at )

8/13/2007 5:12 PM  

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