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Former Anti-Nuclear Activist Does A 180 912

Posted by Zonk
from the need-just-a-bit-of-radiation dept. writes "Wired is running a story on how Gwyneth Cravens, a former nuclear power protester has changed her views on nuclear power as a viable solution to the world's energy needs. Said Cravens: 'I used to think we surely could do better. We could have more wind farms and solar. But I then learned about base-load energy, and that there are three forms of it: fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear. In the United States, we're maxed out on hydro. That leaves fossil fuels and nuclear power, and most of the fossil fuel burned is coal.'"
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Former Anti-Nuclear Activist Does A 180

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...who is going to pay to take care of the waste for the next 100,000 years? No human institution has ever lasted that long and yet we build reactors that can only work for 40 years or so but have this waste that is hot and nasty for at least 100,000.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:48PM (#21637333)
      The stuff is safe, as long as its contained there's no reason why anybody needs to gain access to it. There's only one reason to guard the waste, and that's to ensure that it doesn't end up in the hands of terrorists.

      From the point of view of disposal, the main thing is keeping it out of the water supply and away from people. Not really that hard, until you start getting alarmists crying about the problems. The reality is that the harm done by fossil fuels on a daily basis to people and wildlife is far greater than what nuclear is going to do.

      Even in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, probably the worst esposures ever to radioactive waste, the number of radiation related deaths was only a small fraction of the number that were killed as a direct result of the blasts.

      The main issue I have with the way its handled here, is that we in WA get all of the waste from, I think, 11 states, and we have the feds refusing to give us any assistance to clean up the mess we have. That being said the treat is more of a long term thyroid cancer risk than anything else, and potassium iodide does a pretty good job of keeping that at manageable levels.

      In the US, any reactor that loses power to the control rods will also cut power to the fuel rods, resulting in the control rods falling into the core, and the fuel rods falling out of the core into a huge slab, stopping the reaction. I wish TFA had properly indicated that as the reason why we won't ever have a chernobyl, along with our compliance with basic safety regulations.
      • First of all, there are many different kinds of nuclear waste. Some are fairly safe, others aren't. Your analogy to Hiroshima is bullshit; exposure to a nuclear bomb and nuclear fallout is not the same as exposure to nuclear waste.

        Second, there is no safe permanent nuclear waste disposal at the moment; all nuclear waste is stored above ground in temporary storage because there is no agreement on where to put it for the long term. That's not just political wrangling; it's simply that nobody knows what sto
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Planesdragon (210349)

      who is going to pay to take care of the waste for the next 100,000 years? No human institution has ever lasted that long and yet we build reactors that can only work for 40 years or so but have this waste that is hot and nasty for at least 100,000.

      No, it isn't. If it were HOT and nasty, we could just stick it in a box, heat water, and use the power.

      We have a boat-load of stuff that is "bad for you to hand around with", and will be that way for thousands of years. And we have even more "don't use this if the paint falls off" stuff. And a very little ammount of "touch this and die."

      Most of the last is or can be used as a fuel, somewhere. The rest is, on a planetary scale, useless.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 4D6963 (933028)

      who is going to pay to take care of the waste for the next 100,000 years?

      I'm going to deserve my flamebait mod points, because you guys are so full of shit. What the hell do you know, fool, how do you know that in 200 years we'll have found a way to deal with these things for good or simpler yet that we won't have drilled a hole to the core of Earth to dump that waste with the rest of the inner Earth radioactive stuff, or even sent these things into the Sun (I would expect that in 200 years it will be fai

    • by gnuman99 (746007) on Monday December 10, 2007 @01:36AM (#21638305)
      There is no *waste* that lasts 100,000 years. Most of the isotopes currently viewed as waste are very good sources of energy. Current reactors are not even built to utilize most of the fuel but to generate nuclear weapons hence the so called *waste*. For example, UK now has a problem with all the *waste* Plutonium being generated by its power plants!! That is the insanity! Plutonium is a better power source than U-235 if you have a real energy reactor. One of the few truly civilian reactors are the CANDU reactors designed in Canada. They utilize heavy water and breed Plutonium and use it for energy at the same time. No Plutonium *waste* there. Heck, they are used now to get rid off the US extra nuclear stockpiles - stuff that can't be handled by US reactors mailing because of the Plutonium content.

      Secondly, don't be freaked out about radiation so much. If you were transparent to radiation such that a Geiger counter would see all the radiation going off inside of you (where the damage is done), it will go into a nice high pitched, continuous whine. You sid/madam, contain enough radioactive radioactive potassium for about 5000 events per second. Add that nice trails of cosmic muons hitting out every 0.5-1 second (enough to go right through you and ionize LOTS of stuff), and you are positively glowing :)

      Also, coal has 2-3 ppm uranium and about 5ppm thorium (means, 1,000,000 pounds of coal have 2-3 pounds of uranium and 5 ponds of thorium). Since US burns about 2200 times that [], US alone is releasing about 5000 pounds of Uranium and 10,000 pounds of Thorium into the air. Ok, there are those precipitators, but only about 50% effective on these things (unlike soot). So, about 1 metric ton of Uranium goes poof, into the air *NOW* in the US.

      Anyway, most of the so called *waste* can be recycled. You only end up with maybe one small barrel of waste per large nuclear plant per year. That is much cheaper to watch that one can for 10,000 years than letting all the mercury from the coal power plants pollute the lakes such that we can't even fish there anymore. Sad. []

      BTW: Uranium is not HOT. ANYTHING that has a 10,000 year half-life, by definition, is NOT hot. HOT stuff has a life time of seconds or minutes or maybe up to a few days. Hot stuff is used in medicine.
  • Good to see. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vorghagen (1154761) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:44PM (#21637293)
    I'm always pleased to hear about an activist (doesn't matter what kind) publicly admit they were wrong after learning more about the subject. Firstly because they took the initiative to actually research something instead of taking as gospel anything those around them say. Secondly because they're big enough to admit they were wrong. I just wish more activists would do the same.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by daem0n1x (748565)

      You are mistaking "activist" by "fanatic". Most people make a choice to be activists because they know more than the others, not the opposite.

      Fanatics, on the other side, simply don't want to know. Their faith is above any evidence. Of course, some activists are fanatic, but let's not label everybody the same way.

  • by Gideon Fubar (833343) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:46PM (#21637301) Journal
    Hands up all those who read the headline as 'Former Anti-Nuclear Activist Dies at 180'..

    if protesting against nuclear power will give me a lifespan like that, i'll look for a placard right now ;)
  • Unfortunate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Helios1182 (629010) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:49PM (#21637337)
    It is unfortunate that the damage is done. People are convinced that nuclear is a dangerous, dirty, and impossible to maintain power source. Building one is next to impossible due to the misinformation. It will take another 30 years to convince people that they are ok.
  • by SamP2 (1097897) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:53PM (#21637369) []

    By Clay Bennett.
  • What's a prote? (Score:4, Informative)

    by (1195047) <> on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:59PM (#21637441) Homepage Journal
    Noticed the question in the tagging section... apparently, "prote" is short for "protester"... news to me :).

  • Shenanigans (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aoteoroa (596031) on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:00AM (#21637451)
    The article was interesting until Gwyneth claimed that only 69 people died from Chernobyl.

    So far about 60 people have died, most of them -- almost all of them -- from immediate exposure when they were fighting the fire in the reactor, and the emergency workers. Nine children, unfortunately, developed thyroid cancer that was not treated
    While it is difficult to prove causation, consider these trends: a paper published by the Chernobyl Ministry in the Ukraine, a multiplication of the cases of disease was registered
    • of the endocrine system ( 25 times higher from 1987 to 1992),
    • the nervous system (6 times higher),
    • the circulation system (44 times higher),
    • the digestive organs (60 times higher),
    • the cutaneous and subcutaneous tissue (50 times higher),
    • the muscolo-skeletal system and psychological dysfunctions (53 times higher).

    Among those evaluated, the number of healthy people sank from 1987 to 1996 from 59 % to 18%. Among inhabitants of the contaminated areas from 52% to 21% and among the children of affected parent from 81% to 30%.

    Nuclear power can be safe, and Chernobyl was poorly designed, but to claim only 69 people died from that event is wrong

  • by AaronW (33736) on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:12AM (#21637587) Homepage
    Everyone keeps claiming that nuclear waste is a huge long-term problem or that we'll run out of U235. This is a political problem and not a technological problem. Technologically, the problems have been solved, but due to a federal mandate from President Carter we are stuck with the current mess.

    It is well known how to convert U238 into plutonium as a usable fuel, and the isotope of Pu is not suitable for bombs either. Thorium is also readily available as a fuel as well with a much larger supply than Uranium.

    The other problem that always comes up is nuclear waste. When a fuel rod is removed from a reactor, it still contains a lot of usable fuel, which can be extracted and reused. If we use breeder reactors, the long term nuclear waste can be burned up so the only remainder is stuff that has a half life in the hundreds of years instead of thousands or tens of thousands of years, and it would be a fraction of the amount of waste. France already does this. It's expensive, but cost can probably be greatly reduced as the process is improved and the scale grows.

    Granted, we do need to have very strong safety standards, but modern designs for nuclear reactors are a lot safer than the old designs. And the cost could also be drastically reduced if we stopped making each reactor a complete custom one-of and had a bunch with the same basic design.

    The other form of energy I'd like to see tapped is geothermal, since that's almost free.

    I consider myself green and am looking into installing Solar when the price drops a bit more.
    • I consider myself green and am looking into installing Solar when the price drops a bit more.

      Oh we all consider ourselves green here and I have no doubt when the price drops a little more then we'll all install solar. Say when it becomes cheaper than anything else, such as base-load coal generated power.

      And I'm pro-American too and will consider buying good old USA goods when the price drops a bit more - say to just a little bit less than the Made In China stuff we all currently by.

      . What smells arou

    • It's been clear from the 1980s that breeders and reprocessing are not a simple solution (France tried this and shut the plant down, that's why it's clear the post above is 20 years out of date). Thorium is very promising but there is no prototype yet of any size. The problem of high quality ore is real and is why there was a great deal of excitment this year about a new ore body in Australia that almost doubled the known reserves. It isn't easy to make the fuel as news reports from Iran should make clear
  • by Morgaine (4316) on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:15AM (#21637617)
    Solar irradiation at the Earth's surface is approximately 150,000 TW.

    Mankind's projected peak power needs by 2020 or so amount to about 22 TW. Yeah. 22, not 22,000.

    So throw stupid statements like "three forms of base-load energy, fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear" in the rubbish bin of irrelevancy, and tap what is effectively an infinite supply (and if that's not enough, place solar arrays into LEO).

    There are hundreds of times more permanently irradiated deserts in the world than would be needed to supply Mankind's power needs for the forseeable future. What's more, they're spread around the world, so base load is as easy to supply as peak, without storage. All that's lacking is the will to do so --- especially the will to act against the greed of those who are currently making megabucks off fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear.

    So dear Gwyneth, think again. You've just been sold the Brooklyn Bridge. It's a costly mistake.
    • by Soko (17987) on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:37AM (#21637807) Homepage
      Your bias is showing.

      Solar is well and good, but it's not exactly reliable, as in you need the fricken Day Star to be shining in order to generate power. Clouds, night time, space needed, protecting the space needed from damage - lots of things can go wrong with current Solar generation methods. Your Solar-Power-Station-in-LEO idea has a lot of merit, but that solution is in the order of 50 years away. We just don't have the needed infrastructure to flip the switch and use Solar in a time frame that makes sense.

      Nuclear is here now - and we don't have to invent a bunch of things to get it working with our current infrastructure. As a 40-50 year solution, it's about the best we've got. I'd rather have a few tons of nuclear waste vitrified in a mine somewhere that another 100 billion tons of carbon spewed into the atmosphere while we come up with something cleaner.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sjames (1099)

      Since we already have a bunch of 'spent' fuel rods in storage, we need a way to safely dispose of them. The crazy schemes to keep it sequestered for 10,000 years just isn't looking that practical.

      Fortunatly, we know how to seperate the waste roughly so that the most radioactive 5% need only be stored for 500 years (which is a LOT more likely than 10,000). That leaves the other 95%. The best way to 'dispose' of that is to feed it into a reactor and convert it into the short lived waste (oh yeah, and produ

  • "Just" Learned? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by florescent_beige (608235) on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:48AM (#21637921) Journal

    So, a guy like me goes to school for six years, learns some things, and can't for the life of me get my friends take a fair look at nuclear power. They used to go on and on about Browns Ferry and Yucca Mountain and all that. They just took their youthful rebelliousness and ran with it.

    So, one such person, this woman, years later, finally decides to learn what "base load" power is? And she's been mouthing off all these years to anyone who will listen without knowing?

    Young people. Sheesh.
  • Base load? Feh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by goodmanj (234846) on Monday December 10, 2007 @02:04AM (#21638519)
    "Base load" is a bad phrase to use for this issue (to the extent it's an issue). Today, the base load is the electrical demand that's always there, 24/7. It's met by sources like coal and oil and nuclear that can't be started or stopped slowly (or are just too expensive to allow to sit idle); we've got stuff like natural gas plants that we switch on quickly to meet the occasional peak in demand. In a renewable energy future, the problem is that occasionally, it's nighttime and the wind slackens off and suddenly you need to get a crapload of power from somewhere. You don't solve this problem with a slow base load station: this is an intermittent spike problem, you solve it with a fast-starting, cheap-to-idle supply like a gas plant. Which brings me to two points:

    1) Who cares if there are a few jobs that renewables can't fill? Use fossil fuels to make up for their shortcomings. Insisting on a 100% renewable future is overly idealistic: I say, if we can fill 95% of our energy needs with renewables, go ahead, use natural gas or whatever when you need to. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    2) There are plenty of renewable forms of "gap-filling" energy. People have mentioned biomass burning. Here's another one: TFA quotes the "prote" as saying that "hydroelectric is maxed out." Well, it's not. It's maxed out as far as its *average* power output, because of limits on available water supply to the reservoirs. But we can get a lot more out of it if we use it to fill in the gaps left by solar and wind. Shut off the hydro plants during the day when the solar plants are running, run them twice as hard at night, and you're good to go. Need more nighttime power? Use solar electricity to run a pump to pump water *up* the dam into the reservoir in the daytime, then run the plants even harder at night. The gap-filling potential is almost unlimited.

    3) The main reason modern-day "base load" is so high is because major industrial power users (aluminum smelters, etc) shut off operations during times of peak demand, when they get charged extra for electricity: they make up for it by sucking up cheap power in off-peak hours. Change the pricing structure, so they get charged extra whenever supply dwindles. I can guarantee you that if you tell an aluminum plant "Tomorrow night's gonna be calm: if you want wind power then, you're gonna have to pay triple per kWh", they'll stop the smelters tomorrow night.

    4) There is one overall problem: I'm describing an electrical system with much more variability. Everything, from the hydro turbines and generators to the high-tension lines to the substations, has to be built to handle higher peak power draws. That costs money, but it's not a fundamental problem.
  • by mattr (78516) <mattr AT telebody DOT com> on Monday December 10, 2007 @08:07AM (#21640211) Homepage Journal
    I am not an expert on nuclear power, and though I am quite worried about environmental contamination by radioactive material I will just add some real data points to the discussion.

    1. Having read many nuclear power plant operations inspection documents, I believe I can say that human error is quite common although if run by sane management who don't hire illiterate part-timers, then most such error is not very dangerous. But if you think all safety procedure is perfectly followed always, or that the physical parts (pipes, etc.) in a power plant don't end up mislabeled, confusing and sometimes rusted or leaking, well you're wrong. And sometimes there are total idiots allowed to handle this stuff because work is outsourced to other companies run by utter criminals, as demonstrated by actual recent accidents.

    2. NIMBY is not "idiots who won't forget past mistakes" or even "idiots with boats". It is mostly people who are well aware that there will be contamination and maybe utter disaster. At least in Japan, where you have not only the above management and engineering problems, but also earthquakes and potential missile attack from China or North Korea to worry about.

    3. I was at a talk recently and heard the president of TEPCO (a major Japanese electric power operator with nuclear reactors). He was seriously complaining about the press and how they never listen to facts. That seems correct. However even without worrying about #2 above #1 above provides plenty of incidents, both minor and major, to keep the home fire burning among those vociferous against nuclear power.

    4. The president as mentioned above was talking at the 150th anniversary of Keio University. They are opening a new school for systems design, digital media, and hopefully as this guy was saying it can train new talented people who can understand human factors in engineering - they must have such people in the future for nuclear power plant design and there is not a single person like that who is really competent and working in his company... who would want to work there, he said in fact.

    5. As a combination of my own reading of what it really is like to be observing worker teams in nuclear power plants, and also heavily based on this recent talk, I must conclude that nuclear power plants of the current design generation are far too complex, and also are made of materials that are far too weak, and the designs are prone to accidents. And sometimes work is done without a real safety framework solidly in place. It also seems that these plants are built on such a large scale, with so much tension, such difficulties in teaching new procedure, and generally such complex psychological issues that they really cannot be run perfectly safely.
      That is, they are fine, if you are willing to accept little mishaps now and then, but they aren't 100% safe and can't be. Reading about it (sorry I know it is not 1st hand experience so perhaps this is hyperbole but..) it feels like the movie Brazil, a bureaucratic maze on a huge scale. Or paralleling the movie 2001 with people dwarfed by this huge machine they live in. I read about bead reactors once some years ago, and they sounded great. But whether they stand up or not there is a real problem, evidenced by human factors analysis I've seen and the talk of the top person in charge of managing this stuff in Japan as a business, and the whole system is full of pressures from the bottom up, including requiring absolute perfection from people over long term and from the top down, by economies that badly need nuclear power.

    It would be nice if we had ultra resistant materials, perfect workers, and so on like in science fiction, and maybe nuclear power will be operated really safely by robots one day, but at the moment it seems to be a tough business and the tension about managing things that are radioactive gives every single aspect of the business a whole other axis of danger to be controlled. We may be up to it but I am not convinced that the capitalist system is the way to manage nuclear power. It looks like a bad idea.

  • Please explain (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sherriw (794536) on Monday December 10, 2007 @09:56AM (#21641063)
    I just love the 'nuclear is the only way' people. I just don't get it. Please, Slashdotters, answer me this...

    - How are we 'maxxed out' on hydro?? I guess I'm thinking in terms of Canada too.

    - Why did she skip from hydro to fossil fuels and nuclear? What happened to wind, solar hot water heat, energy conservation - increased energy efficiency, etc? I know that in my Canadian home town... they are close to approving the largest wind project in Canada for my county- the first one in the county. Proof that we are far from 'maxxed out' on wind for example.

    - If the sudden popularity of compact fluorescent lightbulbs has just recently taken off and can make such a difference, as well as Walmart's push for concentrated laundry detergent, etc, etc, isn't this a sign that we have many, many more areas where efficiency improvements can be made. Lets look at trimming the waste.

    - What REALLY is the solution to nuclear waste? Isn't it kind of a joke to assume that any human government or corporation will be around and responsible enough to babysit these waste storage locations for 50 or a hundred thousand years? That's THOUSANDS of generations of humans!!! Puh-lease!

    - It seems to me that it's kind of a give-up to say nuclear is the 'only' solution.

    I'd like to see industry get rid of 'stand by' mode on electronics, pointless status lights on devices, more efficient lighting, turn lights and what not off when no one is in the room or using it (only some schools are starting to do this), remove excess packaging from products and excess water from liquid products, etc, etc.

    I think the nuclear as the only solution people are really saying that nuclear is the only EASY solution.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by moosesocks (264553)

      - How are we 'maxxed out' on hydro?? I guess I'm thinking in terms of Canada too.

      Hydro's nowhere nearly as easy as it sounds. For starters, you need a river with sufficient flow to make the project worthwhile, and you then need a location to put the dam so that it forms a reservoir in an area that you don't mind flooding.

      Dams can have massive (and devastating) environmental impacts. Take a look at the three gorges dam. Although I commend China for building a power plant that doesn't run off of coal, it'

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcrbids (148650)
      - If the sudden popularity of compact fluorescent lightbulbs has just recently taken off and can make such a difference, as well as Walmart's push for concentrated laundry detergent, etc, etc, isn't this a sign that we have many, many more areas where efficiency improvements can be made. Lets look at trimming the waste.

      Which brings up an interesting point... in the last 30 years, average energy usage per capita in the United States has dropped LOTS, something like 40%, with an associated INCREASE in the qua
  • by handy_vandal (606174) on Monday December 10, 2007 @10:49AM (#21641677) Homepage Journal
    Stuart Brand and Dr. Patrick Moore, both long-time anti-nuclear environmental activists, have, in recent years, declared for nuclear power:

    Stuart Brand:

    "There were legitimate reasons to worry about nuclear power, but now that we know about the threat of climate change, we have to put the risks in perspective. Sure, nuclear waste is a problem, but the great thing about it is you know where it is and you can guard it. The bad thing about coal waste is that you don't know where it is and you don't know what it's doing. The carbon dioxide is in everybody's atmosphere."
    Link []

    Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder of GreenPeace:

    "We'd like to see 50 percent by the end of the century, maybe even more. But for now, the objective should be doubling the number of nuclear plants in operation."
    Link []


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