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The Sound of Ideas

The Nuclear Option

Posted Tuesday, June 23, 2009

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The Nuclear Option Ohio's two operating nuclear power plants might one day be joined by a third. Duke Energy announced last week it wants to build a nuclear plant in Piketon, south of Columbus. Duke, with backing from Governor Strickland and other public officials, is touting nuclear as a source of non-polluting green energy. Nuclear power is gaining traction in Congress and with the Obama administration. But critics say even with improvements, nuclear power is still fraught with environmental dangers and isn’t cost-effective. We'll examine the pros and cons of nuclear power Tuesday at 9:00 on 90.3.


Economy, Regional Economy/Business - News, Environment, Other, Energy


Philip L.Taylor, PhD, Perkins Professor of Physics, Case Western Reserve University
Amy Roma, attorney, Clean Energy America
Harvey Wasserman, senior advisor, Greenpeace

Additional Information

Nuclear power information
MIT study on nuclear power
Union of Concerned Scientists on Nuclear Power

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Kevin Snape 9:24 AM 6/23/09

It seems to me we are missing a significant point. It will take us 40 years to develop enough renewable power to stabilize the electric grid without baseload power plant. Given we need them the question is now renewable vs nuke but rather nuke vs. coal to provide that baseload power.

John Scofield 9:50 AM 6/23/09

For Mr. Wasserman to say that reprocessing was looked at 30 years ago and rejected—as if that is the final answer on the matter—is just silly.  Many of the emerging Photovoltaic system (CdTe, CIS) were looked at 30 years ago and rejected—but have re-emerged with improving methods and break-throughs.  This is a dynamic environment in which we have to re-evaluate strategies as knowledge evolves.

Chris Szell 9:53 AM 6/23/09

I would still like to hear a response to a previous callers question he raised regarding the lack of private insurance available for nuclear plants and the lack of wallstreet (private) investment in this technology.  I would like to hear what Ms. Roma has to say regarding these “missing pieces.”

Ed, Berea 10:16 AM 6/23/09

The Rocky Mountain Institute ( has issued several papers regarding the economics of nuclear power and has shown that dollar for dollar, nuclear provides less reduction in carbon emissions than other options and that it is uneconomic.  The Sound of Ideas should cover this angle of nuclear power some time, perhaps by interviewing Amory Lovins, Chief Science Officer of RMI.  Links to several articles can be found at their website:  Lovins also has published several rebuttals to his critics on RMI’s site, but you’ll have do a search there to find them.

I provide just a few article links below:
Overview of RMI’s position on nuclear power:
Forget Nuclear:
Nuclear Power:  Economics and Climate Protection Potential
Nuclear power is often described as a big, fast, and vital energy option—the only practical and proven source big and fast enough to do much to abate climate change. Yet industry and government data tell the opposite story. Nuclear power worldwide has less installed capacity and generates less electricity than its decentralized no- and low-carbon competitors—one-third renewables (excluding big hydroelectric dams), two-thirds fossil-fueled combined-heat-and power. In 2004,these rivals added nearly three times as much output and six times as much capacity as nuclear power added; by 2010, industry forecasts this sixfold ratio to widen to 177…

Frank, Middlefield 10:17 AM 6/23/09

Anyone who believes that nuclear power is “carbon free” or “safe” or the only way to produce large quantities of electricity at “affordable rates” has not been watching the performance of Davis Bessey and Perry over the past 35 years, nor are they informed about ways that smart grid technology together with renewable energy sources could out-generate a nuclear plant in less time than a new nuclear plant could be licensed and built.
A recent CNET article discussed how a smart grid could use offline storage in the form of the battery packs of electric vehicles as reserve power which could be fed back into the grid when needed. It is estimated that in ten years this system could produce enough energy to replace a nuclear or coal-fired generator. Can Duke build a new nuclear plant in ten years?

Timothy Johnson 10:18 AM 6/23/09

It is not true that there isn’t a solution to so-called “nuclear waste” If the U.S. did not have such heavy enrichment restrictions, uranium could be recycled. Secondly, if the government would enact a standardized design system that models France’s nuclear program we could implement a very good system.  In addition, China has been working on the pebble bed reactor since 2004.

Skip, Chesterland 10:18 AM 6/23/09

I was talking to a FirstEnergy engineer over the weekend.  We discussed how many windmills it would take to replace a power plant.  It is a ridiculous number.  Give me a break…..while windmills may serve as an ancillary source, but NOT a practical replacement to a standard power plant.  So my question is will we have to cover the face of the earth with windmills?

Joel Sage 12:37 PM 6/23/09

As part of this debate shouldn’t we discuss how we get there from here in terms of the manufacture of nuclear facilities and solar energy?  Nuclear facilities require a lot of carbon-intensive energy and materials in their construction as well as during operation they use large amounts of water.........i.e. France ran into a problem during drought prone summer of 2005.  Now on the solar side is also hazardous waste produced in the manufacture of panels!  With intermittent power produced solar and wind needs battery tech to come up to speed.

S. Kurseong 12:39 PM 6/23/09

Most of the discussion I have heard from experts deals with large scale power generation (coal, nuclear, geothermal, wind, solar, natural gas etc.) for residential and industrial uses. Would it not make more sense to generate power locally within communities (e.g. school districts, private homes, large and small cities/villages) using renewable energy sources, and instead use large scale power generation for industrial use? How about magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) power generation?

Jim Hopf 8:25 PM 6/23/09

Anti-nuclear organizations, like RMI, continually assert that renewables are cheaper than nuclear, but what’s important to note is that such groups have NEVER supported policies that put that assertion to any kind of market test.

Instead they support policies like Renewable Portfolio Standards, which mandate a large amount of renewables use, regardless of cost or practicality (essentially an infinite subsidy).  They also are solidly behind this year’s laws coming out of congress, which in addition to the RPS, give renewables subsidies that are orders of magnitude larger than anything nuclear is getting.  Wall St. isn’t any more willing to fund renewables than they are nuclear.  Almost all renewables being built are due to govt. mandate.

The best policy would be to simply limit or tax CO2 emissions (as well as other air pollutants and foreign oil/gas imports) and then let the market decide how to respond.  If there are any subsidies, they should be provided equally, to all non-emitting sources.  Under such a system, non-emitting sources would be chosen on merit.  But these are precisely the policies that anti-nukes fight tooth and nail to prevent.  They instead insist on a system that fixes the outcome for renewables.

Under any such (fair, CO2-limited) system, a lot of nuclear would be built, and they would not having trouble getting financing, from Wall St. or anywhere else.  They would also have no trouble paying for unlimited insurance.  Don’t believe me?  Then surely you’d agree to a fair market test...!

Matthew Burns 5:54 PM 6/24/09

What strikes me most about this conversation is Mr. Wasserman’s completely automatic response to each question.  “Ah, recycling fuel is a failed technology”.  France’s nuclear program is a failure. etc. etc.

It generates, and has been generating 80% of France’s power.  France recycles and reuses fuel.

It is also interesting to me that the revered FOUNDER of Greenpeace, openly and vocally supports the use of new nuclear plants to solve our current and future energy demand problems.

Shame on you for trying to make a connection between nuclear weapon proliferation and nuclear power generation.  If anything, nuclear energy presents a success story.  The U.S. is currently using materials from dismantled Russian nuclear missiles to safely produce clean power in our energy reactors.

It’s also funny to hear you say “Cleveland can rebuild its industrial base” by using wind.  Greenpeace now wants more industrial sites in the U.S.? 

Give me a break.


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