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No, Mr President, we can’t ‘restart’ the nuclear industry

A “commercial” nuclear reactor would cost upwards of 15 billion dollars to build in America today and require massive government subsidies which could be invested in, for example, offshore wind power and transmission lines instead.

A response to President Obama on nuclear industry, Media With Conscience , By Ace Hoffman, 8 Nov 10, During a press conference after the elections this week, President Obama made a short reference in vague support of nuclear energy. He said:”There’s been discussion about how we can restart our nuclear industry as a means of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gases.  Is that an area where we can move forward?”

Mr. President, the answer is no: There isn’t any way to move forward with nuclear power.  There isn’t any reason to.  Nuclear power is incredibly expensive, highly polluting, it risks unstoppable catastrophe every day, and it’s a hazard to nuclear industry workers and to the public.

A “commercial” nuclear reactor would cost upwards of 15 billion dollars to build in America today and require massive government subsidies which could be invested in, for example, offshore wind power and transmission lines instead.

Some people want to develop thousands of “small” nuclear power plants for elite communities of perhaps 20,000 homes each.  Supposedly they will run for several decades and “only” need their fuel replaced maybe once.  But from the moment ANY reactor reaches criticality, lethal quantities of fission products are created:  Every atom of radioactive uranium which is split with a neutron to release energy (heat, which is turned into steam, which, a few steps later, turns a turbine to generate electricity) becomes approximately TWO radioactive fission atoms.

Fission products are especially dangerous because many of them have half-lives that are measured in human generations, which gives them time to get into a human being somewhere if they are released to the environment.  When the fission products decay, they usually transmute into something which is ALSO radioactive.  Each of those isotopes then decays into something which is ALSO radioactive… this decay chain goes on for twenty or more steps.  When one uranium atom is split, the result is dozens of separate radioactive events before all the products of that original fission event become something stable (for example, lead).  The entire process is very unpredictable but usually takes hundreds of thousands of years, so nuclear accidents last a long time in the environment.  Radioactive fallout from atmospheric weapons testing continues today, as does fallout from Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Mayak, Sellafield, and thousands of other so-called “accidents”.

ALL nuclear power plants are simply accidents waiting to happen…….

Luckily, the brash attitude of the British Petroleum workers and their subcontractors in the Gulf of Mexico this year “only” resulted in a blowout of an oil well, not a meltdown of a reactor.  But brash attitudes abound at our nuclear facilities, and arrogance does, too.

Also consider this:  Currently many of our nuclear reactor control rooms are being “modernized” and computerized.

As a technologist with more than 30 years in the computer industry, you might think I would welcome this.  And perhaps I might, if software bugs weren’t so often blamed for rockets exploding or flying themselves into various moons and planets they were supposed to circle, and if airplanes didn’t occasionally fly themselves into mountains or dive themselves into the ground, and if nearly every banking mistake made in the past 50 years wasn’t blamed on computers.   (Ahem!  Public Disclosure:  I used to program computers for a bank…)  No, I’m NOT happy to hear that our nuclear reactors are being “modernized.”  The new components are vulnerable to hack attacks (such as what’s been happening in Iran recently — and all over the world — including in the U.S. — with the Stuxnet worm) as well as “random” failures.

Computer-controlled nuclear reactor control rooms sound great.  But they are vastly more complex than the old control rooms, and can suddenly “reboot” themselves just when the reactors need them to “think fast” and SCRAM the reactor.

There is no way to guarantee this won’t happen.

A response to President Obama on nuclear industry

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November 8, 2010 - Posted by | general | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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