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A warning against fetishizing nuclear power so it’s part of every solution

the enthusiasm overlooks some ugly truths about nuclear power.

Many alternative reactor designs are pitched as if they’re novel. They’re not. A good example is the Natrium reactor

The drawbacks of sodium technology should resonate especially loudly for Californians.

The 1959 explosion of a sodium-cooled test reactor at the government’s secretive Santa Susana Field Laboratory outside Simi Valley remains the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history

Today’s younger environmental activists may be more inclined to accept these promises today because their thinking wasn’t forged in the anti-nuclear protests of the 1960s and 1970s, as was that of their older colleagues.

The danger is that they, and society, may have to learn the harsh lessons of nuclear power’s past all over again. 

Nuclear energy backers say it’s vital for the fight against global warming. Don’t be so sure, Los Angeles Times,  BY MICHAEL HILTZIKBUSINESS COLUMNIST , JAN. 6, 2022  

No one would have believed this possible only a few years ago, but nuclear energy has been creeping up in public estimation, despite its long record of unfulfilled promise and cataclysmic missteps.

The impetus has come from government and big business, among other sources.

Billions of dollars in incentives to keep existing nuclear plants operating and to get new nuclear technologies off the drawing board were enacted as part of the $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill signed late last year by President Biden.

You don’t compromise safety to keep a nuclear plant open so you can meet a carbon target—you need to have minimum, stringent safety standards. – EDWIN LYMAN, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS……………

Some celebrity entrepreneurs have weighed in, without demonstrating that they have given the issue the thorough consideration it deserves. Elon Musk last month tweeted that “unless susceptible to extreme natural disasters, nuclear power plants should not be shut down.”Musk didn’t, however, define “extreme natural disasters” or mention the myriad other reasons that a plant might need to be shuttered, such as advanced age, upside-down economics or dangers in its own design or operation……………..

the enthusiasm overlooks some ugly truths about nuclear power.

The history of nuclear power in America is one of rushed and slipshod engineering, unwarranted assurances of public safety, political influence and financial chicanery, inept and duplicitous regulators, and mismanagement on a grand scale.

Many of the problems originated in the government’s decision to place the technology in the hands of the utility industry, which was ill-equipped to handle anything so complicated.

This record accounts for the technology’s deplorable public reputation, which has made it almost impossible to build a new nuclear plant in the U.S. for decades. Forgetting the history threatens to stage the same drama over again.

The debate over the nuclear power future is really two separate debates.

First, there are the optimistic expectations raised by alternatives to the design of the 93 reactors currently in operation in the U.S. — reactors in which a radioactive core heats water, producing steam to drive electricity-generating turbines.

Then there’s the question of what to do with the existing reactors, many of which have lasted well beyond their design lives. Only 28 of these have remained “competitive” — that is, economically viable — according to energy expert Amory Lovins.

That existing fleet includes Diablo Canyon, whose owner, PG&E, said the plant was facing an unprofitable future when it made the decision to abandon plans to seek a permit renewal from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Many alternative reactor designs are pitched as if they’re novel. They’re not. A good example is the Natrium reactor, which is cooled not by water but liquid sodium and is being promoted by TerraPower, a firm founded by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.

Far from an advanced new technology, sodium-cooled reactors date from the very dawn of the nuclear power age. They were considered as an alternative to water-cooled reactors for submarine power plants, for example, by Adm. Hyman Rickover, the founder of America’s nuclear navy.

Rickover, whose rigorous standards for technology and crew training made the nuclear navy a success, ordered a prototype sodium reactor for the submarine Seawolf. Almost instantly, the technology demonstrated its flaws.

While the Seawolf was still at the dock, the reactor sprung a leak. “It took us three months, working 24 hours a day, to locate and correct” the leak, Rickover told a congressional committee in 1957.

Rickover abandoned any thought of using the reactors in his submarines, finding them “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shut down as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair,” as he advised his Navy superiors and technical experts at the Atomic Energy Commission in late 1956 and early 1957.

The drawbacks of sodium technology should resonate especially loudly for Californians.

The 1959 explosion of a sodium-cooled test reactor at the government’s secretive Santa Susana Field Laboratory outside Simi Valley remains the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, venting an immense amount of radioactivity into the air and creating what former California EPA Director Jared Blumenfeld called “one of the most toxic sites in the United States by any kind of definition.”

The three entities controlling portions of the site — Boeing Co., the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA — reached agreements with the state in 2007 and 2010 binding them to restore the site to “background” standards. Much of the work still hasn’t begun.

“There’s been a kind of cult that’s been trying to keep this technology alive for decades” despite persistent evidence of its inadequate reliability or sustainability, says Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists and the author of a report challenging safety and efficiency claims made for Natrium, among other alternative technologies.

“Pretty effective lobbyists” push the idea that “this is somehow a breakthrough technology that’s going to transform nuclear power,” Lyman said of sodium-cooled reactors.

“History tells us that it’s not a very reliable source of power and has a number of safety and security disadvantages that make one wonder why there’s such enthusiasm for it,” he said. None of the other alternatives, he adds, solve the most pressing problem of nuclear power: what to do with the radioactive waste produced by every plant.

………. TerraPower’s utility partner, PacifiCorp, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway (the conglomerate controlled by Warren Buffett), which is to take over the project once it’s operational, has no experience running a nuclear plant.

In any case, the Natrium reactor won’t become operational until 2028 at the earliest. That’s a deadline imposed by the government’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, which is providing some of the funding…….

He cautions against “fetishizing nuclear power so it’s part of every solution.” His view is “you don’t compromise safety to keep a nuclear plant open so you can meet a carbon target — you need to have minimum, stringent safety standards.”

By that measure, there’s hardly any doubt that Diablo Canyon should be shut down, and the sooner the better.

The plant’s history makes that case…………………………………………….

 The danger is that claims for the future of nuclear energy — that it will be a cheap and efficient path to a carbon-free future — will be as illusory as those of the past, when nuclear power was also promoted as safe and “too cheap to meter.”

Today’s younger environmental activists may be more inclined to accept these promises today because their thinking wasn’t forged in the anti-nuclear protests of the 1960s and 1970s, as was that of their older colleagues. The danger is that they, and society, may have to learn the harsh lessons of nuclear power’s past all over again. https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2022-01-06/column-nuclear-energy-backers-say-its-vital-for-the-fight-against-global-warming-dont-believe-them?fbclid=IwAR015ej03ZDoUA2kcNoc_mAqJS3D2N8T

January 8, 2022 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, spinbuster

1 Comment »

  1. Worship all things bright and beautiful. Is is true that a nuclear bomb that could produce 20 tons of cobalt90 fallout would be the end most life on Earth? Probably so

    Comment by Terry southards | January 9, 2022 | Reply


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