Friday, August 5, 2022

What about Nuclear Energy?

Tomorrow, August 6, is the 77th anniversary of the first time a nuclear weapon was used in warfare. That morning at approximately 8:15 a.m. (local time), a U.S. Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

As I have made several posts regarding the bombings of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki three days later (see here, for example), this article is mostly about the later use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. 

President Eisenhower made a significant “Atoms for Peace” address to the United Nations in December 1953, eight years after the nuclear destruction of the two Japanese cities. That began a period of high hope that nuclear energy could be used for the great benefit of the human race.**

From the beginning, however, the U.S. President’s proposal was partly propaganda and an excuse for building additional nuclear weapons for national security. That led to the Cold War era, and during Eisenhower’s time in office, the number of U.S. nuclear weapons rose from 1,005 to 20,000.

But Eisenhower’s seminal speech also led to the establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957, which was set up as the world’s “Atoms for Peace” organization within the United Nations—and as their website shows, it is still quite active.

There have been three major reasons for widespread opposition to the development of nuclear energy.

1) The fear of nuclear weapons being used again in warfare, perhaps by a rogue nation or by terrorists. This was long my main reason for opposing the further development of nuclear energy. I wrote an anti-nuclear article 30~40 years ago for a local publication in Japan.

2) The possibility of accidents. Indeed, there have been three major nuclear accidents: Three Mile Island (Penn.) in March 1979, Chernobyl (Ukraine) in April 1986 (the world’s biggest nuclear accident), and Fukushima (Japan) in March 2011.

The first of those caused a dramatic shift in the enthusiasm for the development of nuclear power in the U.S. Large anti-nuclear demonstrations were held in Washington, D.C., in May 1979, and then in New York City that December.

This is an issue that must be carefully considered, and, indeed, in Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters (2022), Serhii Plokhy, a Ukrainian historian at Harvard,

holds that the inevitability of accidents is one of several reasons to encourage nuclear power to drift into disuse, rather than give it a new role in the fight against climate change (from the June 25 issue of The Economist).

3) The high cost of building nuclear reactors and disposing of waste materials. According to this website, “the minimum cost per megawatt hour to build a new nuclear plant is $112, compared to $46 for utility-scale solar . . . and $30 for wind.”

And then, disposal of nuclear waste is a major challenge, both in terms of methods and cost.

So, what about now? In recent years, because of increased awareness of the seriousness of global warming, there has again been a growing movement favoring the use of nuclear energy.

The Russian war on Ukraine this year has also once again increased the appeal of the development and use of nuclear power, especially in Europe. Countries that were phasing out nuclear reactors are now postponing those plans.

In Japan, twenty-one nuclear reactors were decommissioned after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, but now ten of those reactors have been restarted and plans are in place for more restarts in the years ahead.

It seems to me that in spite of the risks (and the cost), the industrial countries of the world must make plans immediately for the increased construction of nuclear reactors for the energy needs of the world.

True, destructive nuclear accidents are possible, but more widespread destruction of the world as we know it is quite certain if global warming is not controlled. Nuclear energy is one of our best hopes for significantly slowing the crisis of global warming.

What do you think?

_____

** “How The Atom Changed The World” is an informative 55-minute video (available here on YouTube) regarding the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes; it begins with Eisenhower’s emphasis on Atoms for Peace and deals with the pros and cons of nuclear energy up through 2021.

++ Some of you may be interested in exploring this link to “Nuclear Prayer Day” tomorrow (Aug. 6); it is especially to pray for a world free of nuclear weapons. 

16 comments:

  1. What terrible choices humankind faces! Your blog today reminds me of a series The Christian Century used to publish, “How I’ve Changed My Mind.” —Anton

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    1. I guess I don’t have a firm position on this issue right now. I’m the past, like you, I was opposed to nuclear power for all the obvious reasons. Hm… —Anton

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    2. Thanks for your comments, Anton -- and I remember the "How I've Changed My Mind" articles in The Christian Century. But I used to wonder when is change really change as opposed to just growth and development.

      But my position on nuclear energy has definitely changed. I was once opposed to the continued development of such energy, but I am now definitely an advocate of the expansion of nuclear power to take the place of fossil fuel. That is certainly a change, and a good and necessary one, I believe.

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  2. Here are comments sent by email early this morning by Thinking Friend Jerry Jumper from southwest Missouri:

    "There are submarines, and probably other ships, powered by nuclear energy and to my knowledge there are no serious safety concerns with those applications. I don't understand why smaller, and apparently safer, nuclear powered generators cannot be utilized more widely."

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    1. Thanks, Jerry, for mentioning nuclear submarines, which I hadn't thought about. I find that the first nuclear submarine was commissioned the USS Nautilus in September 1954, and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower broke the traditional bottle of champagne on Nautilus' bow. This was less than a year after Pres. Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" speech. There have been several accidents, mostly of subs built by the former Soviet Union, but all those were minor compared to the three major land-based accidents mentioned in my article.

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  3. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky shares these comments:

    "I agree with you, Leroy, despite having continuing fear about the rogue uses of nuclear power (as Putin illustrates). But climate change is real and not imaginary. We must act in haste to eliminate use of fossil fuels, or we will have no future on this planet. I fear that we may already be too late.

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    1. Thanks for your significant comments, Dr. Hinson. If old men such as you and I can agree that we must "act in haste to eliminate use of fossil fuels," why can't more younger men and women realize that and work harder toward that end?

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  4. I heard that All Good things come from the Lord and there are bad things that can come out of Good things, but we need to guard ourselves from the bad and focus on the Good.
    So, I think that since GOD allows us New inventions, we should find ways to utilize them for Good.

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    1. Thanks, John Tim, for your comments. I think you are right: God has given us humans the intelligence to create new things and the freedom to use those things for good or for bad. We have seen the terrible destructive power of nuclear weapons, but I think Pres. Eisenhower was right in his emphasis on "Atoms for Peace." After all these years, though, I am afraid we humans have not made adequate use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes--but there is still time to greatly increase the use of nuclear energy in place of fossil fuels and to slow down global warming significantly.

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  5. I do not agree with you that the solution to climate change/crisis is to develop nuclear energy.

    Rather, I agree with Greenpeace's 6 reasons why humankind should not develop nuclear energy. Your readers can find out why in this excellent article: https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/52758/reasons-why-nuclear-energy-not-way-green-and-peaceful-world/

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    1. Thanks, Garth, for your comments expressing your disagreement with my position. I was hoping someone would express the opposing position, and I appreciate you doing so. I don't have time now to do the research and reflection to rebut the Greenpeace article fully, but let me make just a few (rather random) remarks:

      1) I have long been aware of Greenpeace--and have long had mixed feelings about them.

      2) Greenpeace's actions/protests are portrayed in the video I linked to in the endnote to my blog article.

      3) Greenpeace is largely dependent on the donations of those who agree with them, so like other similar fund-raising organizations, they tend to downplay the complexity of situations and solutions, emphasizing only the absolute correctness of their position.

      4) Some of their objections to nuclear energy are the same as I acknowledged in my post. There are, indeed, problems and dangers in using/expanding nuclear energy. But I am not sure they give adequate suggestions of how to solve the global warming issue. Of course there needs to be greater use/development of renewable resources. But the way forward, it seems to me, needs to be the use of both nuclear and renewable energy resources. Both need to be increased at the same time, not one as opposed to the other.

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  6. If only I trusted the nuclear industry, and the government that supposedly regulates it, I might consider nuclear power. Between the high costs and the grievous waste problem, there are just too many issues to proceed with new power. Now, I am not in favor of rushing to close operating facilities that are still in good repair, but both the industry and the government have a long way to go to convince me that they are to be trusted. It is much better to use existing clean systems and to support developing more options, such as storage, rather than dropping massive amounts of money into projects that work for a few decades and then leave waste that lasts for many thousands of years. Yucca Mountain is testament to our failure to properly handle nuclear power. You can read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_Mountain_nuclear_waste_repository

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    1. Thanks, Craig, for your pertinent comments, and in my post I clearly noted the problem of high cost and the waste disposal--and certainly there are problems with any industry and the government regulations. Through the decades we have seen those problems with the coal industry and the petroleum industry, so why should it be any different with the nuclear industry? But things do change and gradually improve, as we see now with the coal industry (in spite of Sen. Machin). Regarding nuclear waste: just because there have been serious problems in the past, which there certainly have been, that doesn't mean ways cannot be found for dealing with those waste materials more effectively. Progress/improvement is always slow and never inevitable, but it is always possible.

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  7. Scott Weast, a Facebook friend (and a church friend) posted the following comments about this blog article on FB:

    "I don’t know. Many experts seem to agree that an 'all the above' strategy is the best approach to providing a robust generation portfolio.

    "The huge capacity of Nukes seems to make a nice complement to the intermittent nature of renewables and the low carbon footprint is attractive.
    Still, it seems there are instances where unforeseen circumstances produced disastrous results.

    "At Fukushima the earthquake knocked out primary power and the tsunami got the diesel backup generators. This produced the meltdown. Afterwards the NRC looked at the US fleet to see if something similar could happen here and as it turns out the answer then was yes either from earthquake or large tornado. The solution recommended was hardened structures containing more diesel backup capacity to withstand these events but last I heard this regulation was being treated as an unfunded mandate and the companies owning these facilities were slow to adopt these recommendations.

    "Now we are trying to figure how best to manage nukes in a war zone."

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Scott. -- Just a couple of quick responses:

      1) I certainly agree that an "all of the above" strategy is best.

      2) What little I have read today about what is happening in Ukraine is scary indeed. The nuclear reactors there, as elsewhere, were not built with the thought of protecting them from war damage, it seems.

      (Here is the link to one article I saw earlier today:
      https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/08/europe/ukraine-zaporizhzhia-nuclear-power-plant-monday-intl/index.html )

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  8. We are always looking for an alternative to the only true solution - a radical change in how we consume everything - by consuming far, far less. Also, I can't find anyone who is willing to have a nuclear waste disposal site near their home.

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