This article in today’s Burlington Free Press goes beyond
the safety (and benefits) of nuclear power and its fuel, recommending new
nuclear plants in Vermont, although fueling them by establishing a reprocessing
plant in the near future is ‘unlikely.’ J
about nuclear energy in a rational manner
Published: Wednesday, August 10, 2005
we have been subjected to a number of rants against nuclear energy, and it
appears that we should now look at the subject in a more rational and
We have been told, "In the 1970s, based on false promises, Vermont legislators chose
Vermont Yankee over a hydro project that would have provided electricity at a
fraction of the price paid for Vermont Yankee power. ..."
When I was studying electrical engineering at the University
of Vermont in the 1950s, it was well
known that almost all of the potential hydro-electric energy sources in Vermont had already been
developed. Is it really possible that 500 megawatts of new developable hydro
power appeared in the next 20 years? Just where and what is this "hydro
project" that our legislators rejected?
And if nuclear power is so expensive, why is it that whenever Vermont Yankee
shuts down for refueling, our electric bills contain a surcharge because our
suppliers have to buy more expensive replacement energy?
We have also been told "the nuclear industry has saddled the nation with
radioactive waste that will have to be stored for tens of thousands of years.
..." When we have shaken off the institutional paranoia about things
nuclear that a number or well-organized anti-nuclear groups have so assiduously
promoted, we will realize that these "nuclear wastes" are a very
valuable resource, which can be processed into fuel for future power reactors,
as well a providing a vast array of isotopes not found in nature which are
extremely valuable in such fields as biochemical and medical research. Until we
do so we must store them, of course. But it is important to note that that
storage is not a technical or engineering problem -- it is purely a political
problem, and had it not been for the lobbying of the Vermont Public Interest
Group and a large number of its clones, the federal government would have long
since kept its promise to provide a storage site, if not Yucca Mountain, then
an equally acceptable one.
We have also been told that the nuclear industry has received nearly $150
billion in taxpayer subsidies since World War II, and that "Wind beats
nuclear hands-down on cost and solar power costs are dropping fast." Why
then are there calls for massive tax incentives for wind power? Is one man's
"tax incentive" another man's "subsidy"? And looking into
various catalogs I find solar panels priced at about ten times the cost per
installed peak kilowatt as the accepted cost per peak kilowatt for conventional
(oil, gas, coal) generating plants.
Wind and solar will be important components of Vermont's energy supply, but
until an economically feasible method of storing large amounts of energy when
the wind is blowing or the sun is shining for use when they are not, wind and
solar cannot become part of our base-load power supply, which must be reliably
present 24 hours per day and 365 days per year. The only proven large scale
energy storage method we have today is pumped storage, which involves building
lakes at different elevations separated by a dam with pumping and generation
capacity. Except in very scarce localities where existing landforms are
favorable it is very expensive which means that it raises the price of energy
to the consumer.
The only way that we can make Vermont
energy-independent in the near future is to establish a nuclear fuel
reprocessing plant to reuse Vermont Yankee's spent fuel and to build a pair of
1000-mw nuclear power plants to use its product (one should be in northwestern Vermont where the
preponderance of energy demand resides). For more details on the reprocessing
of nuclear fuels, the reader is referred to an article of that name in the
December 1976 (yes that is correct -- 1976) edition of Scientific American,
pages 30-41, a publication that is very clear and readable.
And as for the claim that nuclear energy is not "green," which I take
to mean that it somehow degrades the environment, it is evident that it
produces no air or water pollution or greenhouse gases. Nuclear has a forty
year safety record superior to any other form of electric generation, and does
not depend on foreign sources of oil or gas. Also it will, in the future, be
essential to the transition to a hydrogen transportation economy (automobiles
and trucks running on hydrogen rather than gasoline or diesel fuel), since
electricity is needed to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Jim Burbo lives in Grand Isle
Respond to this
story in a Letter to the Editor