Letters 10-12-2015

Replacing Pipeline Is Safe Bet On Sept. 25, Al Monaco, president and CEO of Enbridge, addressed members of the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. His message was, “I want to be clear. We wouldn’t be operating this line if we didn’t think it was safe.”

We pretty much have to take him for his word...

Know The Root Of Activism Author and rabbi Harold Kushner has said, “People become activists to overcome their childhood fear of insignificance.” The need to feel important drives them. They endeavor good works not to help the poor or sick or unfortunate but to fill the void in their own empty souls. Their various “causes” are simply a means to an end as they work to assuage their own broken hearts...

Climate’s Cost One of the arguments used to delay action on climate change is that it would be too expensive. Such proponents think leaving environmental problems alone would save us money. This viewpoint ignores the cost of extreme weather events that are related to global warming...

A Special Edition Cuckoo Clock The Republican National Committee should issue a special edition cuckoo clock commemorating the great (and lesser) debates and campaign 2016...

Problems On The Left Contrary to letters in the Oct 5th edition, Julie Racine’s letter is nothing but drivel, a mindless regurgitation of left-wing stuff, nonsense, and talking points. They are a litany of all that is wrong with the left: Never address an issue honestly, avoid all facts, blame instead of solving; and when all else fails, do it all over again...

Thanks, Jack It is so very difficult for the average American to understand the complex issues our country faces in far off places around the globe. (Columnist) Jack Segal’s career and his special ability to explain these issues in plain English in many forums make him a precious asset to all of us in northern Michigan...

Home · Articles · News · Other Opinions · Go Nuke?
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Go Nuke?

Lee Oslund - March 9th, 2006
For anyone who has cared to look recently, our country is at an energy crossroads. Fossil fuel costs continue to escalate with no end in sight, natural gas costs continue to skyrocket while oil companies are touting natural gas as “the next big resource,” and coal mining continues to claim the lives of miners every year.
Our elected representatives in Washington seem to be either unwilling or unable to take any meaningful action as regards to a sensible national energy policy. We are still as dependent on foreign oil as we were 30 years ago, and will continue to be for as long as we continue to be the consumer of 25% of the world’s oil.
Today we clamor for alternatives to fossil fuels to save our atmosphere, local ecosystems, and to save the lives of those people we charge with obtaining them. In recent weeks a dozen coal miners were lost due to mining accidents. We seem to always be cringing in anticipation of the next major oil spill with its devastating impact.
The time has come for us to be realistic about our energy future, and to be logical in how we think about our options. We need to recognize that for each of the options we have before us, there are some sacrifices we must be willing to make. Recent news reports have revealed lawsuits filed to stop the development of seemingly innocuous solar and wind power plants in the western U.S. These lawsuits have been filed because of ”adverse environmental impact”!

Wind generating farms are noisy and a danger to birds. Solar farms use up an enormous amount of land area for a relatively small return in power output. Each of these technologies have their own peculiar dangers and drawbacks.
It seems that anywhere we turn there are always a number of we Americans with the NIMB (Not in my backyard) attitude. In Mackinaw City, the much touted windmill generators seem to be idle at times when a good wind is blowing and the power generated by them costs their customers a premium over and above what the local energy company charges.
For three decades we have set aside nuclear energy as being too expensive, too dangerous, or too impractical. Yet recent developments and currently available technology have changed that scenario.
Currently, available technology presents a fuel reprocessing procedure which cuts the life of dangerous nuclear waste to 300 or 400 years instead of hundreds of thousands. This nuclear reprocessing method also reduces the volume of waste by over 98%.
(Nuclear waste is recycled into fuel and then burned in advanced fast-neutron reactors, according to an article in Scientific American magazine -- ed.)
Another benefit of this fuel cycle is that it reduces the danger of nuclear proliferation. It provides a way of safely and permanently disposing of fissile materials used in nuclear weapons.
This fuel cycle promises to extend the availability of useful nuclear fuels to hundreds of years instead of decades. We have enough potential nuclear fuel stored in pools around the country to easily supply us for centuries while we work toward ultimately perfecting
nuclear fusion; a resource that has the potential to supply us with a virtually inexhaustible source of energy.

Perhaps the highest hurdle to be overcome is the pervading fear of nuclear energy felt by large portions of the public. Much of this fear is the result of ignorance, some is ideologically driven.
Detractors point to Chernobyl or Three Mile Island as the reasons we should not pursue the atom. These detractors fit into one of two categories. One category objects out of ignorance of the specific facts and technologies involved in the two plants. The other category objects for ideological reasons; not reasons that are logical and scientific.
Most Americans do not understand that Russia‘s Chernobyl-style nuclear plants were built with significantly smaller safety margins designed into the plant systems than U.S.-built plants. The most noticeable difference is that the Chernobyl-style Russian plants did not utilize a containment building, unlike U.S. plants which utilize substantial containment structures. The Russians also chose to use a much more unstable reactor design than plants in the West.
Western reactors are much more stable and easier to control. A Chernobyl-style accident could not have happened here in the U.S. because the plants here are designed, built, and operated differently.

Most Americans also do not understand that during the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island perhaps as much as 30% of the nuclear fuel contained in the reactor vessel actually melted. Despite this, the highest exposure to anyone even in the immediate vicinity of the power plant itself was less than that of a dental X-ray, perhaps 1/20th of their annual exposure to local natural background radiation.
In fact, if a family from that area in Pennsylvania moved from there to Denver, they would have doubled their radiation dose received per year, even if they had lived right next to the plant. The natural background radiation in Denver is twice that in Pennsylvania, thus the higher exposure.
At Chernobyl in the 1986 disaster, plant engineers intentionally disabled safety systems and operated the reactor in low power regions that they knew were unstable in order to run tests. The Chernobyl engineers disabled safety systems and automatic trips that would have protected the reactor from an over-power excursion.
As a result, the systems that would have prevented what finally occurred at Chernobyl did not work. As a result of a large power excursion a meltdown occurred. Two resulting hydrogen explosions breached the reactor vessel and, because there was no containment, also breached the reactor building roof, leaving the badly damaged reactor core exposed to atmosphere.
Had this reactor breach occurred in a U.S. plant, the radioactive material that escaped the reactor would have been contained inside the containment building. For example, the materials released from Three Mile Island’s reactor accident were contained inside its containment building, just as designed.

Recent new generation reactor designs by General Electric and Westinghouse have already been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These designs are smaller
than today’s larger plants (1100 MW) at about 600 MWe (Megawatts electrical).
These relatively new plant designs use passive reactor safety systems that require no positive interaction by operators to function.
The marriage of these reactor designs to new reprocessing technology would go a long way toward alleviating the usage of vast tracts of land necessary for solar and wind energy. It would also alleviate the dumping of vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from burning coal. It would provide a safe and secure place to dispose of fissile materials recovered from dismantled nuclear weapons.
A renewed look at nuclear energy is certainly worth our while. It will allow us to utilize nuclear plants of sufficient power density needed in order to maintain or improve our nation’s standard of living.
Given current technology, wind and solar can only be a supplement to our power needs now or in the foreseeable future. To preserve the atmosphere, we, with a minimum of impact on the environment, need to wean ourselves from organic combustible fuels.
More on this topic can be found in the December 2005 issue of Scientific American.

Lee Oslund is a veteran of 20 years as a Navy Nuclear Propulsion operator, and eight years as a power plant operator at a commercial nuclear power plant. He lives in Mackinaw City.
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