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Obama’s Nominee for Secretary of Energy Is an MIT Professor Who Said It Would Be a Mistake to Abandon Nuclear Power Because of #Fukushima Accident

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


It sort of rhymes with the Jiji’s interview with Dr. Antonino Zichichi, the 83-year-old Italian particle nuclear physicist who extolled the virtue of safe and cheap nuclear power, dismissing the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident as caused “human errors” committed by lowly non-specialist workers.

President Obama’s pick for the next Secretary of Energy is an MIT theoretical nuclear physicist who wrote in 2011 that it was a grave mistake for governments in the world to abandon nuclear power just because the Fukushima accident happened.

Why? Because nuclear energy is carbon-free energy! (Uggghhh…)

And because Chinese, Indians, Russians, and South Koreans haven’t stopped pursuing nuclear energy even after the Fukushima accident. So why should you?

To address safety of nuclear power plants, he advocates the Small Modular Reactors (SMR), for which Babcock & Wilcox backed by Microsoft’s Bill Gates won the federal government funding for half the cost of its 5-year project to design and commercialize small, modular reactors.

And nuke waste? From what I’ve skimmed through he doesn’t propose anything new. He simply says it has to be addressed.

From his featured essay in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2011 (November/December 2011 issue):

Why We Still Need Nuclear Power
Making Clean Energy Safe and Affordable

By Ernest Moniz

In the years following the major accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, nuclear power fell out of favor, and some countries applied the brakes to their nuclear programs. In the last decade, however, it began experiencing something of a renaissance. Concerns about climate change and air pollution, as well as growing demand for electricity, led many governments to reconsider their aversion to nuclear power, which emits little carbon dioxide and had built up an impressive safety and reliability record. Some countries reversed their phaseouts of nuclear power, some extended the lifetimes of existing reactors, and many developed plans for new ones. Today, roughly 60 nuclear plants are under construction worldwide, which will add about 60,000 megawatts of generating capacity — equivalent to a sixth of the world’s current nuclear power capacity.

But the movement lost momentum in March, when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the massive tsunami it triggered devastated Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. Three reactors were severely damaged, suffering at least partial fuel meltdowns and releasing radiation at a level only a few times less than Chernobyl. The event caused widespread public doubts about the safety of nuclear power to resurface. Germany announced an accelerated shutdown of its nuclear reactors, with broad public support, and Japan made a similar declaration, perhaps with less conviction. Their decisions were made easier thanks to the fact that electricity demand has flagged during the worldwide economic slowdown and the fact that global regulation to limit climate change seems less imminent now than it did a decade ago. In the United States, an already slow approach to new nuclear plants slowed even further in the face of an unanticipated abundance of natural gas.

It would be a mistake, however, to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits. Electricity generation emits more carbon dioxide in the United States than does transportation or industry, and nuclear power is the largest source of carbon-free electricity in the country. Nuclear power generation is also relatively cheap, costing less than two cents per kilowatt-hour for operations, maintenance, and fuel. Even after the Fukushima disaster, China, which accounts for about 40 percent of current nuclear power plant construction, and India, Russia, and South Korea, which together account for another 40 percent, show no signs of backing away from their pushes for nuclear power.


(Full article at the link)


At least partial meltdowns? I think at the time of the publication it had been already fully admitted by TEPCO and the Japanese government that they were total meltdowns and partial melt-throughs (out of Reactor Pressure Vessels).

  The concluding part of the essay, Dr. Moniz says “the public needs to be convinced that nuclear power is safe“. Have we seen this before? Yes, in the past 50 years or so in Japan, and particularly in the past 2. This is a political essay urging politicians to do “now or never” to save the planet from global warming, and telling them he is there to help:

The concluding part of the same essay above (emphasis is mine):


As greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, finding ways to generate power cleanly, affordably, and reliably is becoming an even more pressing imperative. Nuclear power is not a silver bullet, but it is a partial solution that has proved workable on a large scale. Countries will need to pursue a combination of strategies to cut emissions, including reining in energy demand, replacing coal power plants with cleaner natural gas plants, and investing in new technologies such as renewable energy and carbon capture and sequestration. The government’s role should be to help provide the private sector with a well-understood set of options, including nuclear power — not to prescribe a desired market share for any specific technology.

The United States must take a number of decisions to maintain and advance the option of nuclear energy. The NRC’s initial reaction to the safety lessons of Fukushima must be translated into action; the public needs to be convinced that nuclear power is safe. Washington should stick to its plan of offering limited assistance for building several new nuclear reactors in this decade, sharing the lessons learned across the industry. It should step up its support for new technology, such as SMRs and advanced computer-modeling tools. And when it comes to waste management, the government needs to overhaul the current system and get serious about long-term storage. Local concerns about nuclear waste facilities are not going to magically disappear; they need to be addressed with a more adaptive, collaborative, and transparent waste program.

These are not easy steps, and none of them will happen overnight. But each is needed to reduce uncertainty for the public, the energy companies, and investors. A more productive approach to developing nuclear power — and confronting the mounting risks of climate change — is long overdue. Further delay will only raise the stakes.


March 8, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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