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Climatologist James Hansen Defends Nuclear Energy 345

Posted by samzenpus
from the give-it-a-chance dept.
First time accepted submitter prajendran writes "James Hansen, the former director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences, has been a strong defender of using nuclear energy to replace coal and renewable energy. He and three other researchers had written a letter, arguing just this. In this interview with, an Indian news site, he was asked to address some concerns surrounding the issue, especially given the strong feelings generated by it. It may not be Hansen's best interview, but it did bring out his passionate side."
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Climatologist James Hansen Defends Nuclear Energy

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  • Re:TL;DR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @04:43PM (#45634329)

    Hey nuclear advocates, how about you fix the waste issue first, then we'll talk. Sincerely, the kids from the future.

    Dear kids,

    Extremely small volumes of waste needing safe storage for only ~300 years is probably the best we can do. Shall we do it -- or will you prefer to be sharpening sticks to hunt among the silent rusted remnants of wind turbines? []

    Sincerely, LFTR []

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mashiki (184564) <> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @04:46PM (#45634343) Homepage

    Hey nuclear advocates, how about you fix the waste issue first, then we'll talk.

    Gee, 300 years of storage for a small segment of the waste. The rest of which can be reprocessed into fuel, unless of course you're in the US and have this boogyman fear of plutonium.

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @04:49PM (#45634363)

    >On the other hand, there is a one small cave in Nevada with some nasty stuff.

    This is the dream solution so far, but this does NOT exist. Hanford - nasty waste tanks buried in the ground. Fukushima - fuel pool at reactor 4 dangerously tipping and leaking. Yucca Mountain plans closed.

    At this point, a lot of nuclear waste sits in fuel pools because there is no long-term solution. We need to get on this and make a place like you describe, pronto. Nuclear can be clean and safe, but so far nobody is really running it clean and safe. Money and greed are too human.

  • by Todd Palin (1402501) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @04:49PM (#45634365)

    If you ask questions about our energy future from a nuclear context, you will get nuclear answers. If you think about it from en environmental viewpoint you get environmental answers. If you think about it from the economic perspective you get economic answers. If you think about it from the renewable context you get renewable answers.

    Unfortunately, the solar industry looks at the issue from the context of huge solar power plants instead of dispersed solar installations. That is where the money is. If the solar energy issue is addressed from the dispersed solar context it looks way different. Imagine empowering businesses like WalMart to cover every store with solar panels. Imaging requiring every new home to have solar panels. Imagine retrofitting all the appropriate buildings in the country with solar panels. Imagine the hydroelectric power plants changing their generation schedules to generate at night when solar power goes away, instead of in the day like they do now when demand is highest.

    This can be done much quicker and more cheaply than the nuclear path. It takes twenty years to get a nuke online. Dispersed solar can be online in a year or so. The cost of solar panels comes down almost every day. If you think dispersed solar, the equation changes on everything.

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swillden (191260) <> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @04:53PM (#45634387) Homepage Journal

    +5 insightful

    Seriously, all of the people who freak out about the waste are just being ridiculous. So what if the stuff is dangerous for 10,000 years? We don't have to solve that problem, all we have to do is to keep it safe for a few centuries, and make sure that our descendants understand what it was that we did and what the potential issues are. They'll be better-equipped to deal with it than we are -- and it's a much easier problem for them to solve than a planetary climate that has been pushed to extremes.

    Yeah, it'd be nice if solar, wind and wave energy could address all of our needs, but at present they can't provide the baseload coverage needed to eliminate coal and oil burning.

  • by tgibbs (83782) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @05:11PM (#45634451)

    Agreed. Absolute safety with nuclear materials is unattainable. But we can certainly make it as safe as it was before we dug it up out of the ground.

  • Re:Name them. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fnj (64210) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @05:13PM (#45634463)

    Name the advances and name the new technologies - like Pepple-Bed [];which is the only one I know.

    Liquid fluoride thorium [] reactor.
    Westinghouse AP1000 [] reactor.
    Something like the Argonne Experimental Breeder Reactor-II [].

    Do I claim the ultimate in safety has been achieved and is sitting on a shelf next to the holy grail waiting to be used as-is for the Final Ultimate Answer? No, but large advances in safety have been made and need to be pursued further, along with undoubtedly other fresh ideas.

  • by wherley (42799) * on Sunday December 08, 2013 @05:14PM (#45634473)

    What makes them interesting is being able to "burn" up existing nuclear wastes. So use LFTRs to clean up existing long term nuclear waste and get power as a byproduct.

  • Re:common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @05:26PM (#45634529)

    Until we have electric trans-atlantic pasenger air transport in six hours, we'll need more than just nukes.

    Transport fuel especially air and ocean needs to remain chemical, even nuclear advocates are pretty unanimous on this.

    0. LFTR for electricity and process heat ASAP
    1. use oil, while it lasts
    2. use synfuel made from coal or natural gas, using Fischer-Tropsch [] and LFTR heat source
    3. use hydrogen separated from water by energy from LFTR stored as liquid, gas or (preferably) oxide pellets

    With number 3 we have attained a state of complete, virtually limitless energy with extremely small footprint of Thorium mining, zero CO2 emissions and zero use of agriculture for energy production. Oh, and we can make limitless amounts of ammonia-based fertilizer with hydrogen separated from water and atmospheric nitrogen.

    (Nothing but win. Think of me as the hyper 'Trix Rabbit' of Thorium [])

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @05:36PM (#45634563)

    "potentially ecosphere-killing crap"

    The longer lived the radioactive byproduct, the _less_ harmful it is. I'll take waste with a 10,000 or 100,000 half-life over something that decays in 1 year any day. Heck, just put it in my back yard. I could use the steady income.

    I'm no nuclear physicist, but I'm pretty sure that in substantially less than a few hundred years, the waste from your typical nuclear power plant will asymptotically approach background radioactivity levels. The tail that 10,000 year half-life begins almost immediately, and is exponentially less dangerous

    What's dangerous about nuclear waste isn't the 10,000 or 100,000 half-lives. It's the fraction of byproducts mixed in it that decays in seconds, minutes, hours, days or a few years. Once those disappear, the rest is not that big of deal. Put it into a container, seal it, and put it someplace where kids won't climb all over it. Problem solved.

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @05:59PM (#45634663)

    Right now no one knows how to solve the waste problem.
    That is likely the reason why now country on the world has a long term waste deposite.
    If you have ideas regarding that, publish them ;D

    You are completely wrong about this. There are plenty of ideas how to deal with "waste". You simply use it as fuel in fast neutron reactors. For example, []

    Then you have real waste that only lasts 300 years before it is less radioactive than the ore original uranium was extracted from.

    But of course, why build a reactor that uses $120/lb fuel when you can just dig up new uranium for $50/lb and store the current waste for later?

  • Re:passionate (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @06:17PM (#45634747)

    Nice, now if he stopped believing in this climate change fairy tale, he might have half a brain.

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ahodgson (74077) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @06:37PM (#45634837)

    Talk to Harry Reid. The scientists figured it out decades ago, but some politicians refuse to act.

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Entropius (188861) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @06:42PM (#45634859)

    Hey coal/gas advocates,

    The nuclear folks have a better handle on the waste than you do.

    Someone from the present

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:3, Insightful)

    by duckintheface (710137) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @06:49PM (#45634899)

    What Hansen is advocating are plutonium fast breeder reactors. Like the Clinch River plant that was cancelled in the 1980s. He wants to mass-produce them on an assembly line. He wants small distrubuted plants full of plutonium. This is one crazy dude.

    He never defends his assertion that nuclear can ramp up faster than solar and wind. He ignores the fact that the government continues to massively subsidize nuclear via the Price-Anderson liability limitation and support for research. He ignores the fact that current plants take 10 years to build. And when he says the new plants would be cheaper than existing plants, I had to laugh. Cheaper than "outrageously overpriced" is still not all that cheap.

    So yes, fix the waste problem, fix the terrorist problem, fix the fuel supply problem, fix the cost over-run problem, and fix the economically un-competitive problem And THEN we'll talk.

  • Re: common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DuckDodgers (541817) <keeper_of_the_wolf&yahoo,com> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:58PM (#45635605)
    The two are NOT equivalent. The US nuclear industry generates about 20% of our national power and 2,300 tons of radioactive waste per year. The US uses about a billion (with a 'b') tons of coal per year for 50% of our national power.

    So if we replaced coal energy generation with nuclear generation, we would have roughly 5750 tons of radioactive waste to handle instead of soot and particulate emissions from burning roughly 174000 times as much mass in coal.

    So you have a choice between unsightly outhouses here and there (storage facilities for nuclear waste) or pissing all over the lawns of everybody all over the country. The difference in scale is mind-boggling.
  • nuke waste 101 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by raymorris (2726007) on Monday December 09, 2013 @12:07AM (#45636735)

    Everything you said makes perfect sense - unless you spend two minutes learning the most basic facts about nuclear waste.

    There are basically two kinds of radioactive waste.
    There is a small amount of highly radioactive waste. Highly radioactive means it emits it's radiation quickly. That's bad because it emits a lot right now, and good because because by emitting it quickly, the radiation is gone pretty quick. That stuff you want to store in very thick steel containers for a hundred years or so. Since there isn't much of it, that's no problem.

    Then, there's the stuff that emits its radiation slowly, so it lasts a long time. On the other hand, because it is emitting slowly, you'd need to have it in your house for a few hundred years before it would make you sick. As a demo, I was going to eat a spoonful of it, which would probably give me a belly ache similar to eating an entire pizza. So no problem with that part either.

    The only problem with nuclear waste is that some people don't know the difference. It's purely a political problem, there's no engineering problem. Safe storage is easy, technically speaking. Getting people to understand that after 50 years of misinformation by the anti-business lobby is the hard part. You'll notice that the exact same environmental organizations and leaders who convinced you that nuclear was bad are now trying to undo their earlier misinformation campaign, nowtthat it's obvious that nuclear is the only workable alternative to petroleum for 90% of our needs. Most environmentalists have realized that they can't continue to pander to their traditional allies, the purely anti-business constituency. To save the planet, they have to leave those old allies behind and tell the truth - for most of our needs, it's either nuclear or petroleum, and nuclear is by far the better choice.

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Curunir_wolf (588405) on Monday December 09, 2013 @12:45AM (#45636883) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, why would anyone trust a 21st century corporation with something as dangerous as nuclear energy?

    Because the only other option is the government - which has shown just how competent it is at running projects by proving they can't even build a website given 3 years to do it.

  • Re: common sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by davester666 (731373) on Monday December 09, 2013 @02:08AM (#45637197) Journal

    But terrorists! And NIMBY!

    Actually, NIMBY applies to everything (nuclear, coal, wind, solar, power lines, pipelines [above and below ground], every other method of power generation and transportation).

"The greatest warriors are the ones who fight for peace." -- Holly Near