Saturday, February 7, 2009

Extreme weather events multiply existing risks and vulnerabilities of nuclear power

A few snips from a vigorous, long piece in Dissident Voice, where Jo-Shing Yang lays out the problems with the new push for nuclear energy: …This week, America found out that President Obama’s economic stimulus plan includes a $50 billion loan guarantee for nuclear power plants in the Senate version. …. The irony is that while nuclear proponents cite global warming as the key impetus for expanding nuclear power, it is precisely global climate disruptions and the associated extreme weather events which will significantly multiply and amplify the existing risks and costs of nuclear power to make it more costly, risky, lethal, and unreliable. With global warming, nuclear power threatens to turn ordinary natural disasters (such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts) into potential nuclear disasters.

As an insider and consultant to the nuclear industry, retired Yale professor Charles Perrow warns in his book, The Next Catastrophe (2007): “Nuclear power plants concentrate more lethal potential than anything else in our society. These vulnerabilities of nuclear power require a vigorous regulatory effort, especially since there is no meaningful liability penalty for a catastrophic accident.” Unfortunately, what we see in the energy industry–just like what we see today in the financial industry and Wall Street–has been vigorous deregulation (which essentially allows the energy industry to self-regulate) and a woeful lack of governmental oversight and failure of enforcement. …. If the existing nuclear utilities cannot even do a decent job on securing their power plants, how can the public have faith in their ability to upgrade their facilities in the face of extreme climate disruptions or well-trained foreign terrorists?

…Nuclear power plants are a voracious consumer of water. Nuclear power requires even more water than gas-fired generators, at 3,100 liters per megawatt hour of electricity, just to keep the nuclear reactors from overheating. (Coal and natural gas use 2,800 liters and 2,300 liters per megawatt hours, respectively.) According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2006 “Report to the Congress on the Interdependency of Energy and Water,” the most water-intensive form of electricity generation is nuclear power, especially the plants with the open-loop cooling (once-through) design…..

The Idaho National Lab's Advanced Test Reactor

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