Blame It on the Rain, Rain, Rain…

28Mar11

Hey, remember those old hippie protesters who used to say “We ALL Live Downwind”? OK, can we please stop manufacturing our own slow, painful deaths now?

I just want to scream and scream and scream when people say that nuclear power plants produce “clean energy”. That is true, but only in the same sense that poisoning someone is “cleaner” than shooting them in the head. My sister has cancer. Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, to be specific, and although she is mostly indestructible I bet she would be the first to tell you that there is nothing “clean” about cancer.

Nuclear power plants produce death juice, is what, and nuclear proponents have some nerve standing out front pointing at the ozone layer while they’re carting barrels out the back for the fantastic poison-control method of BURYING them.

A recent NPR interview with Dr. Michael Levi (senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of their program on energy security and climate change) and Dr. Frank Zeman (professor in the School of Engineering and Computing Science at the New York Institute of Technology and an expert in carbon management, energy management and environmental engineering) yielded the following interesting little factoids:

1. Dr. LEVI: If we phase out nuclear for the United States over an extended period of time, we would be replacing it with generation that’s not any more expensive. Now, nuclear that is already established and already out there is relatively cheap. What costs money is building the plants. The fuel is relatively inexpensive…. if we wiped out the U.S. nuclear capacity overnight, yes, rates would go way up, in particular in order to cut demand. That’s not the kind of thing that any policy maker is considering. So when we look at nuclear, electricity prices are not the are not the crux on which we should be basing our decisions.

2. Dr. LEVI: Nuclear energy supplies roughly 20 percent of U.S. electricity, so that’s a big share. It’s roughly equivalent to the amount supplied by natural gas and about half of the amount supplied by coal. Their balance is made up mostly by hydro-electricity and also by renewables like wind and solar. The one part of the economy where nuclear isn’t a player is, of course, in transportation, which makes up a huge fraction of our energy demands.

3. Interviewer: But if 20 percent of our electricity no longer came from nuclear power, how would that impact carbon emissions?

Dr. ZEMAN: Well, depends what you replace it with. Right now we have a huge excess of natural gas generating capacity. In fact, the capacity factor, which is really how much a natural gas plant is used, on average in the States is somewhere around 22 percent. So that means we have this large amount of excess capacity – more than enough to make up for the current production of nuclear power. So the emissions would go up somewhere between five to six percent for the U.S. economy as a whole if we replaced all of nuclear with natural gas. So it wouldn’t be a big emissions increase…. any emission impacts climate change. But when the U.S. is producing roughly six billion metric tons a year, adding, you know, 322 more isn’t going to really make a big deal.

DR. LEVI: If we move along our current course when it comes to greenhouse gas generation, frankly, this change on the margin with nuclear would be quite inconsequential.

 
A few years ago, I edited a set of speeches on energy issues. One of the most interesting points, made by Anthony Cordesman, was that if we’re REALLY interested in cutting down carbon emissions, we should be working with India and China to help them establish cleaner energy generation as they industrialize. Hm.

Dr. Zeman also said “The question is, can you find that gas and how much do you have to pay for it?” And that’s definitely a problem. But the big fat deal of the energy demand in this country is transportation. If we had lower energy demand for transportation, we could use those saved energy resources to cover the gradual drop in nuclear energy as we phase out these accident-waiting-to-happen nuclear power plants. Duh.

This is ridiculous, people: the power went out at a nuclear power plant on the other side of the world (in a Tsunami-ridden region, by the way, and no one thought of this?) and now, raining down on our heads, is one of a group of poisons that can have HALF-lives of THOUSANDS of years. Is this a rational way to conduct our business? We’re talking about 20% of our energy needs — surely we can find a saner fix for that.

So I hereby volunteer to be inconvenienced. I volunteer to pay more for gas. I volunteer to bike where I can (unless we’ve got four feet of snow) to work at home and use Skype and JoinMe instead of traveling to meetings (OK, I’m already doing those), to grow my own vegetables so they don’t have to be shipped from Chile, would spinning my own cloth help? I don’t know, but I hereby volunteer to find out.

Is my personal inconvenience going to help very much? No, not much. But what it WILL do is give me a leg to stand on when I scream and scream and scream.

</rant>

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2 Responses to “Blame It on the Rain, Rain, Rain…”

  1. We never should have trifled with nuclear energy. It just causes nothing but scares and headaches.

  2. 2 Deborah Bancroft

    And CANCER. Don’t forget about the CANCER!

    But you’re right about the trifling. It’s sort of like Everest, why do people climb Everest? Has anything good ever happened?

    “Hey, let’s climb Everest!”
    “That’s a terrible idea.”
    “Naw — it’ll be great!”
    “You know, you can’t breathe up there. That’s sort of Mother Nature’s way of saying ‘don’t come up here, you will hate it.”
    “That’s ok, we’ll bring oxygen tanks!”
    “Seriously? That’s your answer? OK, what about all the dead climbers stacked like cordwood? They just leave them up there, you know.”
    “We’ll step over them!”
    “Okaaaay… how about the long-term damage from oxygen deprivation and frostbite?”
    “A correlation has never been proven. I’ve been up there myself and phloofly bloo gee bloogh! Here, I’ll show you these photos… damn, can’t get the book… sorry, my stumps have palsy… geh blehbloo blaaaaagh… (drool)”
    “Ok, I’m going to stick with ‘terrible idea’. I’ll call your nurse.”


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