Letters

Letters 12-14-2014

Come Together There is a time-honored war strategy known as “divide and conquer,” and never has it been more effective than now. The enemy is using it against us through television, internet and other social media. I opened a Facebook account a couple of years back to gain more entries in local contests. Since then I had fallen under its spell; I rushed into judgment on several social issues based on information found on those pages

Quiet The Phones! This weekend we attended two beautiful Christmas musical events and the enjoyment of both were significantly diminished by self-absorbed boors holding their stupid iPhones high overhead to capture extremely crucial and highly needed photos. We too own iPhones, but during a public concert we possess the decency and manners to leave them turned off and/or at home. Today’s performance, the annual Messiah Sing at Traverse City’s Central Methodist Church, was a new low: we watched as Mr. Self-Absorbed not only took several photos but then afterwards immediately posted them to his Facebook page. We were dumbfounded.

A Torturous Defense In defense of the C.I.A.’s use of torture in a mostly fruitless search for vital information, some suggest that the dire situation facing us after 9-11, justified the use of torture even at the expense of the potential loss of much of our nation’s moral authority.

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”!

THE ALTERNATIVES
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.

NUCLEAR FEAR
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.

CLOSER TO HOME
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.

SAFER & SMALLER
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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