Friday, 12 April 2013

Nuclear power: The only available solution to global warming

A good read: Nuclear power: The only available solution to global warming: "New fission technologies not only eliminate the concerns about safety and waste that plague today's reactors; they can also consume existing nuclear waste.
Global warming, energy independence, water scarcity and third-world economic growth are all amenable to a common, safe, clean, cost-competitive and field-tested nuclear solution. Why isn’t this solution universally embraced and implemented?
I suggest two reasons. First, we humans respond much more strongly to dramatic events, like earthquakes, violent weather and terrorist acts, than we do to steady-state threats, such as auto accidents, medical errors and coal particles. At a cost of $4 trillion, we started two wars in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that killed 2996. The death tolls in the US from auto accidents (30000), medical errors (44000–200000), and coal dust (13000) are not only higher, but also perennial. The gradual character of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming is elevating our “boiling frog” tendencies to an entirely new scale of danger. Although the problem may not excite us, our pot is warming so quickly that we must leap to survive.
A measure of the magnitude and urgency of this challenge can be found in Bill Gates’ summary of his wonderful TED lecture on this topic: Despite the time, effort and money he has devoted to new vaccines and seeds, if he could be granted a single wish for the coming decades, it would be for a practical, CO2-free energy source. That explicit prioritization reflects his awareness of an especially unfortunate feature of warming, that its burden falls most heavily on the politically voiceless poor, and less heavily on those with the means to address the challenge. The disparity adds to our inertia.
The second reason lies in deeply entrenched myths (which for my purposes I shall define as untruths breeding complacency), rooted in unrealistically high expectations for renewable energy and unrealistically negative expectations for nuclear power. Criticism of nuclear power focuses on history and ignores dramatic advances in fission technology. This incomplete picture gives rise to myths that conflict directly with the assertions of Gates and of John Parmentola, the US army's director of research and laboratory management: that nuclear fission is the only “practical” solution in view.
The remainder of this essay comments on Gates’ criteria for “practicality,” and examines the factors of availability, reliability, cost, scale, safety, proliferation and waste. The good news is that new fission technologies make fission clean, safe, competitively inexpensive, and resistant to terrorism. Moreover, they solve the nuclear-waste challenge. One technology claims to reduce the high-level waste output of a typical power plant from 20 tons per year to a few kilograms. American startups are pursuing commercialization, but much of the action is in other countries, notably China and India. "

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