Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Five Best Things About Nuclear (Angwin)

Golden Gate Bridge with light-brown photochemical smog behind it.  NOx gives the smog that color.
Wikipedia photo by Aaron Logan
Nuclear energy makes no smog.

The Question: Your Five Best

In early February, Suzanne Jaworowski, Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor, Office of Nuclear Energy, Department of Energy, sent an email to selected people. She asked the recipients to send her "your top five most motivating facts about Nuclear."  Another part of the letter asked "What facts do you tell people and they are surprised?"

Dan Yurman blogged about this letter; his post is DOE wants ideas to educate the public about nuclear energy.  His post includes the entire letter, as well as his ideas for DOE's future actions.

Okay.  I am a little late about blogging about this.  Jaworowski wanted input by mid-February, and I sent my input quite promptly after after reading Dan's post. Alas, it took me a while to get around to putting my Five Best things on my blog.

Please comment or share your Five Best with me!

The Five Best Things About Nuclear, by Meredith Angwin

1)  Economic: Nuclear plants are great sources of jobs and taxes for a community.  They have jobs for people with advanced degrees and for high school graduates.  Plants often have very liberal policies to encourage continuing education for their employees.  Wages are usually higher than other local wages, and they hire good people at all education levels.

2) Safety: Living near a nuclear power plant exposes you to less radiation than you would get by 1) living in the mountains (cosmic radiation) 2) living on granite bedrock 3) taking some cross country airplane flights. People who live near nuclear plants do not have excess deaths from cancer.

3) Clean air.  This is my favorite, and not because of carbon dioxide. I hate NOx, which is formed in all modern high-temperature combustion-power processes, and only partially cleaned up. NOx is the precursor of acid rain, smog, etc.  Very bad stuff. In NOx, the air burns itself: the nitrogen in the air is burned by the oxygen in the air. This happens at the high temperatures in modern gas and coal plants.  Also, the good thing about talking about NOx is that talking about CO2 raises issues with people.  Many people do not buy into man-made global warming.  Mentioning CO2 is audience-specific, while "nuclear plants don’t make NOx" is straightforward. Nobody likes acid rain and smog!

4) Surprising fact: What a half-life actually means, People keep hearing that something has a half-life of  thousands of  years (or whatever) and this is presented as showing that  the substance is very dangerously radioactive.  Then I lead them through what a half-life is, and what  a long half-life actually means (few atoms decaying at any one time, not much radioactivity). A long half-life is low radioactivity.  This is almost always a surprise.

5) Surprising facts on the big accidents: Nobody died from radioactivity at Fukushima, and few or no cancer deaths are expected.  The sister plant (right next door) to Chernobyl was staffed and producing power until about 2000, over a dozen years past the day of the accident.

Please comment!

I spend a great deal of my time writing about energy and about nuclear power, yet this "five best" exercise was very helpful for me!  I hope you will comment on this post, hopefully with your own "five best."  I will be posting Howard Shaffer's list within the next few days.  If I get some great lists as comments, I plan to post them as blog posts.

I look forward to reading your comments.


Eric Schmitz said...

"Chernobyl was staffed and producing power until about 2000, over twenty years past the day of the accident."

Typo? The accident was in 1986.

At any rate, my favorite is #4. I bought a Uranium glass owl last week, and got a UV flashlight yesterday. I can carry them around, show people how it glows, let them handle the owl... and then tell them it's got Uranium in it!

Lars Jorgensen said...

Economic - A much bigger impact than the people we hire is the availability of reliable, economic electricity. The UK is temporarily shutting down industry because they are short on gas. The northeast experiences gas shortages together with frozen coal during cold snaps.

Meredith Angwin said...

Eric. Great catch. I have corrected it to "over a dozen years" after the accident!

Lars. That is indeed a very important reason to like nuclear energy. To some extent, this was a question about "what do we say about nuclear." My experience is that many people think the electricity supply is very secure, and "reliability" is merely a scare story. Even when I write about reliability, I get pushback about how it is broken power lines that lead to power outages, and outages are not caused by power plants going offline. However, a local economic engine...that is appreciated by most people.

Alex Cannara said...

Chernobyl had multiple reactors. Just one headed for the sky. But the plant is only relevant because it was illegal everywhere else, demonstrating the safety of regulated nuclear power. Similarly for Fukushima -- violatred proper regulation because of govt./NISA/TEPCO collusion. It even saved thousands of lives via eliminated pollution over its operating years.

Alex Cannara said...

I'd simply have 3 include "unmatched environmental benefits", which include minimal intrusion, clear air/water...

Ike Bottema said...

Great points and responses. I wrote her also (someone posted the letter in a Facebook group as I recall. I limited my points to two: necessity and safety and expanded on each. I posted my letter here.

Jim Bowlby said...

Here’s my favorite five.
1. Highest concentrated energy source
2. Smallest environmental footprint per megawatt produced
3. Breaker-to-Breaker run times with highest capacity factors (18 to 24 months)
4. Cleanest dispatchable energy source with full control over all waste products
5. Safest of all energy fields to work in (man-hours/MW)
Note: By replacing fossil fuels as an energy source, nuclear power has done more to “Save the Planet” than all of the “green” environmental groups combined. Proud to be a Nuke!

John Stumbles said...

Meredith is correct: reactor #4 had the disastrous accident but there were 3 other reactors on the site which were unaffected.

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you to everyone for your comments!

The blogspot platform doesn't automatically link to links that are inserted into the comments, which is annoying. Here the link that Ike Bottema attempted insert, which is his blog post that answers the Jaworowski question.

Most Interesting Facts

Shockingly, I was unaware that Bottema has a blog! He does, and I have added it to my blog role. Bright Side Energy Viewpoints

Jeff palmer said...

As the two most surprising things about nuclear, I'd say:

1) In study after study, people and animals exposed to low levels of radiation have lived LONGER than the control groups exposed to none at all! (This is called the "Radiation Hormesis" effect.) That shouldn't be surprising since the human body adapted to radiation as we evolved in a world flooded with radiation. In fact, the world had much higher levels of background radiation in the past than it does now.

2) Nuclear power is a SUSTAINABLE energy source. There is enough uranium dissolved in the world's oceans to operate more than twice as many nuclear plants as are in the world today for 100,000 years. And, after that time, there would be just as much uranium in the oceans as there is today! The reason... The oceans are constantly being replenished by rivers carrying the naturally-occurring uranium that has been washed out of the land.

Phil Weyenberg said...

Here are my five.
1. Clean. In addition to no CO2 and NOx emmisions, by carefully monitoring all aspects of production already it is the most ecologically sound form of energy. In the future the so called "waste" will be recycled.

2. Adaptable. In addition to electricity, it can be used to desalinate water, for industrial heat, to power ships, and for remote communities. Reactors can be built large or small depending on the economics of the situation.

3. Dense. High energy output per fuel unit. Small physical footprint.

4. Scaleable. Nuclear can actually accomplish zero worldwide CO2 emmisions by 2050, by building reactors on assembly lines at 1-2 per day(1Gw).

5. Inexhaustible. Besides terrestrial deposits of uranium and thorium, the ocean produces enough uranium per year to be extracted to power a large civilization virtually forever.