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Nuclear blogging March 3, 2007

Posted by Andreas in blogging, Nuclear Power.
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Earlier this week, I managed to get my last anti-nuclear power post onto the “Your say” section of News24. I think this sort of cross-pollination from blogs to conventional web spaces can be quite fruitful.

I’m really keen to get people thinking and talking about issues that I feel pationate about, like nuclear power. It really doesn’t bother me if they don’t share all of my opinions as long as some sort of dialogue has been started in their heads and around their proverbial water coolers (not that we have many of those in SA, so maybe I should say “around their braai fires”). Exploring other avenues to get my stuff out into public spaces is definitely something I want to try to do more.

Getting the story onto News24 increased traffic to this blog substantially. I was a bit annoyed that the comments facility on the individual News24 contributions was disabled, making it much less interactive and open to immediate comments and responses.

Nonetheless, two people sent in lengthier replies to my initial rant. David Kritzinger
seems to be one of those nuclear energy supporters who think of themselves as environmentalists (or perhaps he is an environmentalist who’s turned to the dark side, I don’t know) , saying that we’re all really on the same side. Can’t say I agree – in my opinion, you cannot call yourself an environmentalist and support atomic energy.

Eelke de Boer from Botswana complained about my biased opinion and insisted on pointing out that renewable energy options are not perfect. It entirely slipped Eelkes mind to mention that nuclear power is, in fact, even less perfect.

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Comments»

1. Pienk Zuit - March 3, 2007

David Kritzinger’s article makes sense to me. Your opinion on him not being an environmentalist does not change the facts of his story.

2. Andreas - March 3, 2007

You’re right, Pienk, that was merely my opinion. I just wasn’t in the mood for replying to all of the points he made individually. I’m still not really in the mood, but I’ll give you two comments.

Notice how he downplays the fact that the nuclear industry produces toxic waste that will be highly radioactive for a very long time and, after decades of trying and much money spend, has yet to find an acceptable way of disposing of it. If it was up to me, I would absolutely insist that there be a solution in place before implementing a nuclear power program. Kritzinger’s suggestion that “the problem is not insurmountable and not nearly as difficult as the pro-renewable supporters make it out to be” is disingenuous – if it isn’t a big problem, than please solve it!

Secondly, Kritzinger’s insistence that the fact that the nuclear industry kills people is irrelevant is a reflection on his particular personal moral system. I happen to not share these morals and think that this sort of attitude is pretty loathsome. I would suggest that he would feel differently if he happened to have lived near Chernobyl.

You see, I think that the argument shouldn’t be about whether or not atomic energy has a number of positive attributes, but whether or not it has even just a single characteristic that rules it out as an option entirely. For me, there are a number of such characteristics, so take your pick.

I know that the chances of anything going wrong at Koeberg, for example, are very small, but the fact that there is in fact a possibility is enough of a stumbling block for me to oppose nuclear power. Just one accident could mean the end of Cape Town, my home, as an inhabitable city.

Since we are supposedly living in a democracy, I would expect that the population would have a say in whether or not they want to live with those sorts of risks. If the majority decided to build 36 new nuclear power plants, I’d have to live with that or I’d have the option to move elsewhere. I have a very deep fear, however, that South Africans will never be given the option to express their opinion on atomic energy. Hence, I rant on…

3. David Kritzinger - March 14, 2007

HI there Andreas.

I’m glad you liked my response even if you disagree with my stance. Please forgive the length of this comment, but I really wanted to respond properly. You say in your comment above:
“Notice how he downplays the fact that the nuclear industry produces toxic waste that will be highly radioactive for a very long time”

I penned that rebuttal for a list I moderate and only submitted it to News24 after some encouragement. The upshot being that I didn’t elaborate as much as I would have liked to on all of the points and nuclear waste was one of them. People on the list had the same objection as you, so a couple of days later I wrote a bit more about nuclear waste — here is a copy (note as it was written in response to a friend, the tone is a lot more casual than usual).

Ok, so there are 3 levels of radioactive waste. The first two are not
particularly dangerous and are currently stored at Vaalputs 600kms
north of CT in specially designed concrete containers and buried 10m
deep. Vaalputs was selected because it’s annual evaporation is higher
than the annual rain, meaning that even should radioactivity leak into
the ground water, evaporation will remove it. This leaves only the
spent fuel to deal with.

Spent fuel is the stuff that everyone is worried about, but remember
that radioactivity levels decrease exponentially and within 10 years a
spent fuel rod has lost 95% of its initial radioactivity. It’s still
highly toxic, but not to the extent that you typically associate with
spent fuel. Koeberg has facilities to store all of it’s spent fuel
until 40 years after the decommissioning of the plant. At that point,
uranium reprocessing should be economically viable, allowing us to
effectively recycle the uranium and if not, even the most recent of
the spent fuel will have cooled off sufficiently to safely store it in
concrete encasing, ready for burial – probably in a mine shaft
somewhere.

With regard to PMBR reactors the technology is so radically different
that the spent fuel problem is almost completely eliminated. Firstly
the fuel are not uranium pellets arranged in long rods, but tiny
balls, coated in a special carbon polymer. Several of these balls are
then encased in a tennis sized ball and again coated in a carbon
polymer. This special casing prevents most radioactive leakage. The
reactor is also made of ceramic and designed so that it automatically
regulates it’s own temperature. This specific design allows the
reactor to run far hotter than a conventional water cooled plant
(Koeberg) which means the uranium is used MUCH more efficiently,
depleting the balls by about 45% MORE than current reactors. This also
has an effect of half-life, because spent fuel from a PBMR is much
more highly depleted than from a traditional reactor design. All of
this means that the exclusion zone around a PBMR is 2kms instead of
30km.

As for your second comment about my particular moral system, you couldn’t be further off the mark. Chernobyl was a terrible and completely preventable tragedy. However it is also the only nuclear accident on record that resulted in the loss of human life. Not a single person died or was injured at 3 mile island and those are the only two nuclear disasters ever. That 56 people died because of Chernobyl is sad, but to judge the entire industry by that incident is doing it a massive disservice and buying into the anti-nuke propaganda. People die in industrial accidents every single day. Gold miners get trapped in mine-shafts at least twice a year, yet I do not see you picketing for the mine’s to be closed. Coal-fired stations produce massive amounts of radiation – far more than is released by Koeberg, yet I do not see you complaining about that either.

You say you know that the chances of something going wrong at Koeberg are small, but I don’t think you realise just HOW small. First of all, the containment building was build to withstand a direct hit by a fully-laden 747, secondly the entire plant rests on a bed or rollers, enabling the building to maintain it’s structural integrity through an earthquake measuring 9 on the richter scale. Finally – as you should be aware – what happened at Chernobyl could not happen at Koeberg because the reactors are of completely different design. The worst that could happen would be for the core to melt through the building and into the ground where it could contaminate our ground water. The major issue being that everyone with a borehole would effectively be pumping radiation to the surface. Now for the core to melt through to the groundwater there are at least 5 completely different fail-safe systems that have to fail at the same time.

Once again, it comes down to economics. Renewable technology is not mature enough to be used on a large scale now and does not have an answer to the problem of a continual always-on supply. The environmental implications are also not to be simply dismissed – wind farms and solar-array farms do have a large-scale immediate impacts on the environment.and are not as eco-friendly as you make out. SA needs to up it’s generating capacity quickly and there are only two ways to do that. Build another couple of coal stations which I think we can both agree are far worse than nuclear OR we can build a bunch of PBMR’s. Thank goodness the government has well-educated advisors and has approved plans for another Koeberg and 24 PBMR’s.

I agree with you about getting educated Andreas and in that spirit, I urge you to visit Koeberg Nature Reserve. Do some of the walks and trails and then go through the visitors centre and learn about the plant. You may just be surprised.

4. Andreas - March 14, 2007

Hi again David. And so the arguments continue back and forth. Sorry, no long reply today – just back from a blissful holiday – only a few links.

For some good reasons why pebble bed modular reactors are not the answer, see this contribution from Earthlife Africa

http://www10.antenna.nl/wise/index.html?http://www10.antenna.nl/wise/642/5751.php

and for the real death-toll and damage done at Chernobyl read these:

http://www.thecancerblog.com/2006/04/22/torch-the-other-report-on-chernobyl/
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/news/chernobyl-deaths-180406
http://www.chernobylreport.org/?p=summary
(the full 91-page report for the last link is here http://www.greens-efa.org/cms/topics/dokbin/118/118499.the_other_report_on_chernobyl_torch@en.pdf)

Andreas.

5. Glen - March 16, 2007

I think there are valid arguments for and against Nuclear Power. Most of them already made by far brilliant thinkers than myself. That said my personal position is against. I think the Nuclear Agenda is being pursued in this country for ego reasons, rather than any proven feasibility / cost effectiveness. I could think of a few other things to spend R12-billion on…

Here’s some more fuel for the fire:

Prague – About 2 000 liters of radioactive water leaked at the Czech Republic’s Temelin nuclear power plant, but did not contaminate the environment, an official said on Thursday.

Read the 01 Mar 2007 article on news24.

Seem’s like someone left the tap open? Human error, faulty designs. Will the PBMR’s be immune to these?

Also seems like they have great results treating radioactive water with sewerage in the Czech Rep. Yeah, right.

6. Andreas - March 16, 2007

Glen, let me preempt the pro-nuclear lobby’s answer to the Czech “problem”: “Can’t happen here!”. 😉

7. Renewable energy can conquer global warming « The Antidote - March 29, 2007

[…] Nuclear Power, Environment. trackback Engage the pro-atomic energy community in a keyboard battle (as I have done in recent times) and in no time at all they will tell you that nuclear power provides 70% of France’s […]

8. Nicole von St Ange - April 7, 2007

I think that one of the biggest problems with the ‘PBMR nuclear’ debate is that everyone seems to be bias.

We have the enviromentalists who think it will be the better for mother nature than a good breakfast… and we have enviromentalists who think we might as well be pointing a gun at her and waiting for the right time to pull the trigger.

We then have the average joes who wet themselves at the word “nuclear” and those who think it doesn’t sound all that bad. (keep in mind these people don’t really have any clue what is going on)

We then have the informed few… those people who have weighed up the pro’s and con’s and come to a decision. They deserve some respect… however once they have decided on their point of view they refuse to admit to any fact that goes against it.

How could we forget the polititions and businessmen who just like the profits.

All-in-all the topic is far too emotive to be considered debatable. Someone should simply make a decision… then we can all be content with sitting back, closing our eyes and waiting for the next ‘big bang’


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