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Could the US Phase Out Nuclear Power? 657

Posted by samzenpus
from the won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-mutants dept.
mdsolar writes "In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, [German Chancellor] Merkel announced that her country would close all of its 17 existing reactors by 2022. Other nations, including Japan, Italy, and Switzerland, have announced plans to pare back nuclear power, but none have gone as far as Germany, the world's fourth-largest economy. Merkel vows to replace nuclear power with alternatives that do not increase greenhouse gases or shackle the economic growth. Could the US do the same? An increasing number of reports suggest it is not beyond the realm of possibility, and Germany could provide a road map."
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Could the US Phase Out Nuclear Power?

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  • Short Answer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by badran (973386) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:07PM (#36377806)

    No.

  • Longer Answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:09PM (#36377828)

    And neither can Germany.

  • FUD article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:10PM (#36377860)

    No. This is just another anti-nuclear FUD article from mdsolar. Secondly, if the US did phase it out what exactly is going to replace it? More coal plants? Yeah, that sounds like a brilliant plan but would be an extremely amusing backfire from the anti-nuke nuts campaign.

  • Re:Longer Answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal (1427207) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:13PM (#36377880)
    Indeed, I read the article about Germany's plan to phase out nuclear power, and honestly it felt more like a short term grab for political power in the wake of Japan's issues to get more votes from the antinuke/enviormental crowd than an actual plan with substance.
  • by silas_moeckel (234313) <silas@dsmi[ ]corp.com ['nc-' in gap]> on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:13PM (#36377888) Homepage

    Can we stop being scared of fission please. Yes it will kill people so will coal solar wind hydro etc. Please can we live in the real world where people die. Once we do that we can figure out that fission is the next to least bad option next to hydro. Since nearly all the potential hydro is tapped out already it's the only currently viable option.

  • A better question: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:14PM (#36377906)

    Why would they want to?

    It's easy to panic about whatever the latest disaster was rather than actually rationally evaluate the trade-offs of various options.

  • Re:Short Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by enderjsv (1128541) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:15PM (#36377932)

    Sure they could. Never underestimate the power of fear and ignorance, my friend.

  • Re:Longer Answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:16PM (#36377942)

    Sure they can, just buy power from France. Who are of course using Nuclear power plants on the other side of the river.

  • by Red Jesus (962106) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:21PM (#36378022)

    And you men and half of the Internet as well are just as bad. We sit here, considering Wikipedia the all-in-all. We consider the greatest end of science is the classification of past data. It is important, but is there no further work to be done? We're receding and forgetting, don't you see? Here in the America they've lost nuclear power. In Japan, a power plant has undergone meltdown because of poor repairs, and the Chancellor of the Empire complains that nuclear technicians are scarce. And the solution? To train new ones? Never! Instead they're to restrict nuclear power.

    --Salvor Hardin, paraphrased

  • by cjonslashdot (904508) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:22PM (#36378046)

    What if we didn't have nuclear power? We would be just fine.

    Claims that we have to use it because other forms of renewable energy are not ready, are mistaken.

    As Churchill said, 'Americans can be counted on to do the right thing only after all other options have been exhausted.'

    And indeed, the US will not develop alternatives to oil and nuclear unless we have no choice about it. But if those options were removed, we would find alternatives. It would be costly for awhile, but eventually costs would go down and new industries will have been born.

    The fact is, as a former nuclear engineer, I can say with some intimate knowledge that nuclear energy is extremely dangerous from a proliferation point of view, with respect to the risk of nuclear terrorism. Nuclear reactors produce plutonium in their fuel rods, and plutonium is one of the most hazardous materials on Earth; and it is possible to purify plutonium sufficiently to make a dirty bomb powerful enough to take out a city, using table-top chemical processes. One does not need enrichment centrifuges the way that one does for uranium.

    If we want to be sure that we don't want one of our major cities to be blown up one day, we should shut down nuclear power.

  • by Joey Vegetables (686525) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:23PM (#36378068) Journal
    The most rational, prudent, safe, and progressive thing to do would be to phase out the current, 1st generation plants, but simultaneously remove, insofar as possible, obstacles to safer 2nd / 3rd generation designs such as CANDU.
  • by donscarletti (569232) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:25PM (#36378118)
    Here's my take, if a nuclear reactor explodes, a rare but possible occurrence, it will contaminate a hundred square kilometers or so so it cannot be inhabited for a century or there abouts. If you want a hydro system with the same power output, you generally flood a valley and not only prevent it from being inhabited while the dam stands, but also ruin it for plants and animals too, unlike Chernobyl which is returning to natural forest flora and fauna. Nuclear probably won't explode and if it does, it still isn't all that bad compared to hydro.
  • Re:Longer Answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Caerdwyn (829058) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:29PM (#36378182) Journal

    Germany is not phasing out nuclear power. They will need to import power in the short- and medium-term from France and England, both of which are nuclear-heavy (particularly France). Germany will still use nuclear-generated electricity; they're just playing a "not in my back yard" game. And by "they", I mean politicians which are pandering to their electorate to try to keep in power.

    Long-term, they are putting themselves at the mercy of Russia. The NordStream natural gas pipeline will eventually be providing fuel, which can and will be used as a political lever (Russia has successfully done so several times in the past to strong-arm NATO over membership for the Ukraine and Georgia). Also, natural gas is a fossil fuel just like oil, and if the CO2 boogeyman is still the boogeyman, well... how does that not cause problems? On a per-megawatt basis, nuclear power remains much cheaper than natural gas, and a full decimal order of magnitude cheaper than solar (recall how far north Germany is. That's a problem for solar.) Switching from nuclear power to natural gas is not a step forward, economically, politically, ecologically

    This is just another example of politicians doing long-term harm for short-term political dominance.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:31PM (#36378234)
    Hydro is only "not bad" if you don't live near where it buggers up the ecosystem, like I do.

    Make no mistake: hydro is not as "cheap" as it appears to be. It has hidden expenses (just look at the fish barging on the Snake River) and in many cases is not, in the long run, sustainable unless you want to kill off whole species.

    People tend to think hydro is "clean" because it doesn't dump poison into the atmosphere or leak radiation into the ground. But it does leak "poison" (oxygenation) into the water, and it disrupts all kinds of things in the ecosystem, from algae all the way up to peak predators.
  • by lazn (202878) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:31PM (#36378238)

    But if we use breeder reactors that burn the plutonium then the only place at risk is the plant itself.. It's our backasswards old plants that are the problem, not modern nuclear plants.

    It's like arguing against modern hybrid or electric cars because ones built in the 70's were gas hogs.

  • Re:Short Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mlts (1038732) * on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:33PM (#36378264)

    Don't forget Big Oil and Big Coal. They would love the US to be nuclear free. There are plenty of lignite coal deposits and plenty of small towns just itching for toxic mine tailings to wind up in the ground water.

    Realistically, lets close nuclear plants... the first gen ones. Replace those with passively safe breeding designs like TWR that can happily chug on fuel until it is plain old lead suitable for adding to paint chips. Done right, we can take the high level nuclear products from older reactors and use it for more than triggering NIMBY knee jerk politics near Yucca Mountain.

    There is nothing wrong with nuclear power. We just need to move to designs of plants made after the conflict in Viet Nam, or ideally, designs made this millennium.

  • Re:Short Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nharmon (97591) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:33PM (#36378272) Homepage

    Are you referring to the fear and ignorance of saying a phase out of nuclear power is irresponsible? Or the fear and ignorance of saying nuclear power can never be safe?

    I forgot which one we're supposed to side with.

  • Re:Longer Answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thelovebus (264467) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:34PM (#36378284)

    How much of that renewable energy is subsidized? Considering Spain's current budget issues, I hope not much, because otherwise the price of energy in Spain could be very unstable.

    I'm certainly not anti-renewable, but nuclear energy is such an attractive alternative I hate seeing all the fear-mongering that goes on with it.

    Additionally, the link you provided says that only 32% of Spain's electricity is generated from renewable sources, not "over half".

  • Re:Short Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drooling-dog (189103) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:49PM (#36378514)

    Never underestimate the power of fear and ignorance

    Fear, maybe, but ignorance? I'd say it's more an issue of trust. Not everyone can be a nuclear engineer, but most can smell the stink when the assurances they are given by them are contradicted repeatedly by empirical reality. When people who purport to know what they're talking about ridicule popular concerns about safety and accidents, they allow themselves to appear cavalier about those matters, which erodes public confidence even further.

    Personally, I believe that nuclear energy should be part of the mix in the future. But the next time the impossible happens and a reactor melts down, don't try to convince me that it's no worse than standing next to a bunch of bananas.

  • by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:49PM (#36378522)

    if a nuclear reactor explodes, a rare but possible occurrence

    If there's anything that SimCity has taught us, it's that nuclear reactor meltdowns are a "rare but inevitable occurrence". Being attacked by Godzilla is a rare but possible occurrence.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:51PM (#36378564)

    That is how they die for the most part. Same for roof mounted solar.

    Hydro power makes large areas uninhabitable for as long as you want power. Ask the folks that live in the area flooded for the three gorges damn all about that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:53PM (#36378594)

    If we want to be sure that we don't want one of our major cities to be blown up one day, we should shut down nuclear power

    Of course! It is not like there are THOUSANDS of NUCLEAR WEAPONS ready to do actual damage at moments notice. No sir!! After all, nuclear power produces plutonium so efficiently that the highly inefficient US military decided to make their own plutonium pits instead for these weapons..

    And of course plutonium cannot be used as a fuel because using that instead of virgin uranium makes bunnies cry.

    proliferation point of view, with respect to the risk of nuclear terrorism

    I say we go further. burn all physics books!, especially those ones that deal with particle and nuclear physics. No one needs to know about cross sections. It is the devils knowledge!!

    On a more serious note, anyone that brings up proliferation as a significant problem is a little crazy. You know, there are these things like radiation detectors that can detect a few atoms of contamination. I think they would detect a nuclear reactor worth of fuel going missing... It is not easy to build a nuclear weapon even though conceptually it seems so. An effective plutonium device is very difficult to produce and a "dirty bomb" is the most useless type of a bomb and it is easy to clean up.

    If you want to worry about proliferation, worry about chemical and biological agents because these happened and are likely to happen again.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_anthrax_attacks [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarin_gas_attack_on_the_Tokyo_subway [wikipedia.org]

    Here's a nice list of attempting smuggling of nuclear stuff. Basically all after USSR fell apart. None of these were sourced from nuclear energy. They call came from nuclear weapons programs.

    http://articles.latimes.com/keyword/smuggling-russia [latimes.com]

    PS. This was mostly sarcasm, but since mdsolar is probably modding with 10 accounts, this will get -1 anyway ;)

    And finally, nuclear energy from Uranium will not become exhausted for at least 1000 years. With fusion, nuclear will be permanent base load, unless we nuke ourselves over coal/oil/gas/food/water (take your pick) to kingdom come..

  • Re:Short Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Patch86 (1465427) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:06PM (#36378774)

    Anything which deals in absolutes is probably fear and/or ignorance based. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.

    Phasing out nuclear power in some geographical areas might not be the stupidest thing in the world. Banning it from a whole continent surely is.

  • Re:Short Answer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@cCOWornell.edu minus herbivore> on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:07PM (#36378786) Homepage

    I disagree. Anything is possible - but at what cost?

    A knee-jerk reaction to an incident at one of the oldest reactors in the world, triggered by a record breaking natural disaster, is the LAST thing we need in an economy that is already weak due to rising energy costs.

    If we pull a Germany, I'm going to have to start learning French or Chinese I think...

    Coal power is a major polluter, both air AND soil/water. Look at the Kingston fly ash spill...
    Natural gas may burn clean, but the process for extracting it from the ground has contaminated more water resources and sickened more people in 5-10 years than the entire history of United States nuclear power generation.
    We're tapped out on hydro - and that isn't completely safe either (Banqiao Dam anyone?)
    Wind and solar are too variable for more than 10-20% penetration given the current energy storage technology we have. In Washington or Oregon, they have frequently had to shut down wind farms because the windiest times were also the rainiest, which meant that the hydro facilities were cranking at full capacity. Denmark exports a significant portion of its wind power and then buys it back from their nuclear/hydro-enabled neighbors, and many believe this is at a significant loss. (Denmark sells it when it's abundant and hence cheap, and buys it back when it's more expensive.)

    Nuclear isn't perfect either - but of all of the power generation technologies out there, it has the cleanest and safest track record. Chernobyl and Fukushima are the only times in the history of nuclear power generation that more than a handful of members of the public have been exposed to anything but negligible hazards. (Note: I don't count incidents related to weapons detonation or production such as Kyshtm, since most countries are dismantling weapons instead of producing them.) Technically you could even throw Chernobyl into the weapons category, since its flawed and dangerous design compromised safety in favor of suitability for weapons production.

  • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:13PM (#36378872)
    A fascinating argument. We can't shut down nuclear plants because we have no plan for decommissioning and waste treatment. You seriously use that as an argument FOR nuclear energy?
  • Re:Mod parent up! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoSleepDemon (1521253) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:20PM (#36378968)
    Reading through the first and second pages comes up with such treats as "Fukushima meltdown could be template for terror", "sustainability experts: nuclear energy not essential", "radiation understated after quake" and "nuclear in 2018 more expensive than solar PV today". Definitely an agenda there, especially with the abuse of the word 'terror', regardless of whether or not the stories are credible.
  • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:33PM (#36379148)
    How is asking the question whether the US could phase out nuclear power FUD? It's a perfectly legitimate question. The GP just does not want it asked, so he resorts to an ad hominem/poisoning the well against the submitter. It's perfectly fine to ask what we do with the waste, by the way. And if the answer - as you, and the GP seem to agree upon - is that we have no clue, that is a pretty strong argument to research possibilities of a phase-out, instead of accumulating more of it.
  • Re:Short Answer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mlts (1038732) * on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:45PM (#36379316)

    It is getting there. India has done some with their Kakrapar reactor, although not as a direct fuel source.

    We have a nice vicious cycle here. People are afraid of nuclear power, so they want to defund research that makes using Pu and uranium a thing of the past. Because of slow advances in nuclear research, people continue to equate nuclear power with reactors made when McCarthy was saying that a commie was under every bed, and sock hops were the rage.

    No interest in R&D for better energy solutions is pure suicide on a national level.

  • Re:Short Answer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:53PM (#36379426)
    These polar arguments also suppose a false dichotomy. It's not "keep nuclear power or get rid of it". There are other, more rational options, like replacing our half-century old reactors with designs that are much safer. That's more of a "best of both worlds" solution, wouldn't you say?

    Unfortunately, we only ever hear from the shouters when it comes to things like this.
  • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@cCOWornell.edu minus herbivore> on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:57PM (#36379482) Homepage

    I live above the Marcellus Shale gas formation.

    Given the rampant groundwater and stream contamination resulting from hydrofracturing operations south of me in Pennsylvania - I'll take a brand-new modern nuke plant in my area over the commencement of gas drilling operations without any hesitation.

  • by edxwelch (600979) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @03:06PM (#36379562)

    Funnily enough Germany is actually exporting solar power to France, because nuclear power can't provide power during peak hours and solar does. Germany is one of the biggest solar producers, with a capacity of almost 17GW.

    http://www.energydelta.org/en/mainmenu/edi-intelligence/latest-energy-news/special-report-solar-power-aids-german-nuclear-shutdown [energydelta.org]

  • Re:Longer Answer: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by edxwelch (600979) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @03:15PM (#36379660)

    It is subsidised, but not as much as nuclear is (insurance caps, subsidised fuel, loan guarantees, etc.)

  • Re:Longer Answer: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jeppen (1377103) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @04:05PM (#36380240)
    That is not correct - Germany is typically a net importer from France. Also, you're wrong about the relative size of wind. Germany's electricity mix is something like this: 23% nuclear 23% lignite (brown coal, the worst type) 20% black coal 13% natgas 7% wind 14% other (hydro, biomass, waste, PV) It is simply evil of them to prioritize a phase-out of nuclear power before a phase-out of fossils and biomass.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell

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