What’s the future of nuclear power?

Minnesota legislators have voted to lift the state’s ban on new nuclear power plants. But that was before the crisis in Japan, where several reactors have been crippled following last week’s earthquake. Today’s Question: What’s the future of nuclear power?

  • Steve Share

    Nuclear power is a very expensive, very dangerous way to boil water. We’ve now experienced serious tragedies at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the current events in Japan.

    Technology isn’t fool-proof. The power of nature is incalculable.

    Nuclear power represents the worst of human arrogance.

  • John O.

    Questionable, at best.

    Even if the moratorium comes off, who would want a new nuclear power plant built in (or near) their community? Then there’s matter of finding adequate storage for spent fuel rods that are still radioactive.

  • I agree with Steve. Nuclear power is extremely dangerous, and by any rational calculation, it’s risks outweigh it’s benefits. I would prefer to have coal plants (as bad as they are).

    What we really need is investment in renewables–serious investment–and conservation. There will soon be a bill to spend around $700 million in public funds to build a sports stadium. If we spent that on instead building a factory or two to manufacture solar panels and ultra-efficient LED lighting, we could create far more permanent jobs than the stadium would create, AND get our electric consumption under control so that we would not need another nuclear reactor.

    We need out of the box solutions to solve the State’s problems, and we need them now.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Let’s see….

    By the NRA’s logic, this demonstrates that we should get more nuclear reactors into the hands of law abiding citizens, so they can defend themselves.

    By Wall Street’s logic, this shows we need less regulation and government interference, because that the Free Market is self-correcting, and if Japan had just let the Invisible Hand work, this would not have happened.

    Left-wingers, of course, will want to tax tsunamis.

    Funamentalist zealots will say it’s Japan’s loose morals that caused the tsunami.

    Here in Minnesota, I expect to hear the “No Nukes” refrain loud and often, even though tsunamis are not likely to hit here.

    In general, the future is another slew of talking hot-heads shouting unreasonably at each other about how wonderful/horrible nuclear power is. I despair of finding any rationality in public discourse these days.

  • Mike

    If we want to use energy, we must weigh all of the risks and benefits. We don’t prohibit the use of gasoline, even though it’s dangerous; the use of cars, even though they are dangerous; of oil, even though it pollutes and burns (there was a North Dakota oil well fire last week).

    all factors must be weighed when using energy.

    Also, we should wait to see what the problem was that prevented the cooling. Was there something not in place that should have been???

  • Mike

    Additionally,

    nuclear power is safe. Safer than any other sources of energy that we presently use to make electricity.

  • Barb

    Voting to lift the ban on nuclear power plants is another example of our legislators wasting their time on non-issues. As someone already pointed out, what community would want a nuclear power plant in their neighborhood? Plus, it takes at least 10 years to build such a plant. What happens in between? The least expensive (and least popular) approach is to reduce our use of fossil fuels, but when so many Americans feel it’s their birthright to use up as much oil as we can get our hands on, energy conservation seems about as popular as gun control.

  • Chris Oinonen Ehren

    I think we’re way above our tech level on nuclear power. We always build too big and too hot, and when things go wrong, they go wrong in a big, big way. We still don’t know where to put the waste when we’re done. Just because we can do a think doesn’t mean we should. I’ve never heard of a photo-voltaic panel failure making a community unlivable, or a wind farm going haywire making it necessary to evacuate.

  • jon

    There have been two earthquakes in Minnesota on record. There have been oceans in Minnesota on record.

    That makes the disaster that happened in Japan Extremely unlikely in Minnesota.

    There have been 1 disasters as bad a Chernobyl. It ended up costing fewer lives then all of the coal mining accidents in the past 100 years has.

    Japan has less stringent regulation on the plant that is having issues for containment then what the US has ever had to my knowledge.

    Chernobyl was a flawed design for power plants, never used in the US, and they were testing a flawed theory at the time. So put a few regulations around NOT doing that! Legislate in that Minnesota should make no effort to geographically relocate to a coastal region. Then call it a day.

    Nuclear power is not as dangerous as it sounds, it’s just scary. cause people associate Nuclear with Nuclear Bombs.

    All of that being said, we should still be putting money into wind power over nuclear… it’s more efficient, after fuel costs, and storage of waste costs are determined it’s cheaper.

    Solar is a good idea too, but the technology isn’t up to snuff yet,at least not at a production scale… it’ll get there and then we should start investing in that as well.

    As others have pointed out, Gasoline is dangerous too, and we still use that… More people have died from car accidents in the US then have died in nuclear disasters… heck more people have died falling down the stairs in the US then they have from nuclear disasters…

    to sum it up, there is no reason for a ban on nuclear power, there is also little reason to build a new nuclear plant when we could choose instead to work to lessen our energy usage, and focus on more sustainable energy practices.

  • steve

    we should look at all options and make a good decision risks and benefits look also at renewables!

  • Curt

    How would we feel if we had been left some extremely dangerous waste from an earlier generation, that was a byproduct from what perhaps was a public supported industry some 200 years ago? A waste product that could kill thousands, and would remain deadly for another thousand years.

    It’s time we looked not only to the future well being of our children, and grandchildren, but to generations farther out into the future. The radioactive waste from nuclear power generation is a problem that has no solution. Every plan for permanent disposal fails or is blocked. This alone should cause us to rethink expansion of nuclear power generation. It’s an idea that has come and should be gone. It’s dangers are more than just the possible release of deadly radiation. It’s dangers are generational.

  • Amy

    I believe that nuclear energy is a very good option for the country’s future energy needs. The “uproar” over nuclear energy is clearly being fueled by the oil companies, no pun intended. Of course they want to paint a picture of nuclear energy as this big, dangerous monster, when really, the danger is minimal at best.

  • CHRIS KLEIN

    There will always be tragitic events that we can’t stop. The earth quake would have happend whether there was a nuclear plant or not. As people we must learn our lesson and continue to innovate and make things safer.

  • As one who has worked in the industry for 42 years, the future of nuclear power may be enhanced by the events in Japan. The plants have maintained structural integrity in the wake of one the worst disasters ever recorded. The determination and resiliance of the the japanese workers have acted to protect the public and when the dust settles the impact of the reactor problems will look pale in contrast to the environmental damage and loss of life caused by the tsunami in other sectors.

    David James PE

  • BruceChris

    Solar and wind are very Green, but when the sun is down, and the wind is not blowing, we will need massive energy storage systems.

    A modern nuclear plant, properly designed and regulated, would be a very useful system to bridge our way to such green answers. In Minnesota, earthquakes are rare, and rarely all that strong. Tsunamis are unheard of.

    If we keep burning coal, by the time we realize that we can’t breathe, it will be too late.

    By that time we’ll all be Coughin’ in our Coffin. I agree with Jon.

  • rebecca

    WAKE UP PEOPLE!!

    humans are the only animal stupid enough to choose to destroy their own homes.

    wind and water ensure that we all share the same environment in time.

    there is no us and them.

    shame on us for not changing our ways.

    turn the lights off and take a walk.

  • Matthew

    The future of nuclear power… Let me look into my crystal ball…. I see darkness, no vegetation or living organisms — WAIT!!!! I see… I see… cockroaches. Lots of mutated cockroaches. AND MICHELE BACHMANN!

  • Bill M

    It’s like I learned while studying ecology and chemistry in the 1970s: Nuke plants have a finite probability of causing bad stuff. Fossil fuels have a certain probability of causing REALLY bad stuff. Take your pick.

    Modern nuke designs (which Japan’s are not) reduce that probability to a very small level. Global climate change will be altogether more disruptive. Fossil fuels are in fact the more dangerous technology. Not to mention that a coal-fired power plant puts out way more radiation than a nuclear power plant. Nukes are the wise bet.

  • Elaine

    We were assured that deep ocean oil drilling was/is safe. Hmmm…

    We;ve been assured that nuclear power and the storage of nuclear waste is safe. Hmmm…

    We’re being assured that sulfide mining can be done safely in Minnesota, even though it has never been done somewhere else without contaminating the environment. Hmmm…

    All of the above relate to water. Where does all the water come from to cool our nuclear plants? What happens to the used water? What happens when we run out of clean water?

    Why do governmental solutions only involve depending on technologies whose failures are catastrophic?

  • Michele

    If nuclear power is so safe why don’t they insure themselves? The federal government holds the insurance policies on these time bombs.

    They will only get built because the federal government will underwrite the loans.

    Which area of Minnesota do you want to be able to evacuate like they are doing in Japan?

    And where exactly are we putting the waste again? Oh, yeah, I forgot, it’s still being stored on site.

    So a technology that is too dangerous potentially to insure, too expensive per Kwh to build on it’s own and with waste problems we haven’ t yet solved.

    Sounds like a no brainer to me.

  • Lawrence

    Japan 2011 (quake causing nuclear spill), the Gulf of Mexico 2010 (oil rig explosion causing spill), New Orleans 2005(hurricane flooded the city) and the Columbia Space Shuttle 2003 (aerodynamic forces tore foam that damaged shuttle’s safety system) all have one thing in common: they were caused by events we didn’t plan for even though every safety precaution was taken into account. That is why expanding nuclear power is a risky proposition – the 1% chance something wrong might happen, will eventually happen, no matter how safe nuclear energy becomes.

  • Stan

    Nuclear power must be an option on the table. We — the global community — cannot satisfy our current demand for energy with all the known energy technologies combined. All current technologies have inherent liabilities; some have environmental and human impacts that are greater than nuclear power: coal mining, oil extraction. Others have limitations, sun needs to be shining or wind blowing. There is no one good solution devoid of environmental or human impacts.

    So, consider that while the nuclear disaster in Fukushima is catastrophic for the people and the local region and it is a terrible that it occurred, it does not have nearly the impact globally as CO2 emissions. For 180 years we have been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. The largest contribution to CO2 emissions – 85% — is from fossil fuels. This is affecting weather patterns and eventually will impact agriculture and human health. There is a lack of serious effort to reduce CO2 emissions. We cannot blame this on “big oil’s” greed: we are creating the demand, which they are happy to satisfy! “The Tragedy of the Commons” (Garrett Hardin, 1968) aptly applies.

    The concept of “conserve” our way to reducing demand on fossil fuels is noble but flawed. Demand for energy is increasing exponentially. In the US we use energy at a rate 32 times that of a developing nation. China, Brazil, and India consume at 12 times. As China, Brazil, and India advance their economies they will strive to have the west’s standard of living: cars, two cars, TV’s, appliances, pleasure boats, travel, etc. No amount of conservation can offset the increased demand as China, India, Brazil and other countries grow their economies. We need clean energy sources; we need safe non fossil fuel sources and we need to get serious now.

  • JD

    http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/battle-brewing-over-giant-desert-solar-farm/

    Well, if we can’t even build a solar farm without environmentalist interference, what hope have we of building new nuclear facilities in this country?

  • Jay

    Nuclear power is NOT cheap. The cost of dealing with the deadly waste is INFINITE since it never goes away.

    It is foolish to power today’s televisions and radios with toxic waste that will last longer than all of recorded human history.

  • Steve

    Having work in the Power Gen. industry, there is a difference between a cold water reactor and a fast Neutron reactor. I would rather live beside a Nuclear than a Coal burning power plant any day. The world is dying a slow death from burning coal and the coal burning has already done more damage than any Nuclear plants ever will.

    Fast Neutron Reactors don’t produce the waste that cold/clear water reactors do. Look them up an study about them.

    People think that their electric car is a clean fuel transport device…well it is not if if the Elec. comes from coal. Only Nuclear, Hydro, and wind is clean cost effective Elec.

    As far as danger… it is all relative…more people (est. are projected in the 10s of thousands) have died from this and the numbers are in the 100,000s from other tsunamis than any Nuclear reactor. 25-35,000 people die in auto traffic accidents every year in the US alone. Are going to ban Autos or ban people from living close to an Ocean?

    Only ban Nuclear if you are willing to let your house go dark 24/7/365.

    All of the statements are common facts that can be found at national sites. Please look them up and you will save elec. posting the “oh yeah…but I think (without bases in fact)…. replay.

    Cheers,

    Steve

  • Marilyn

    Keep the moratorium on new nuclear plants in Minnesota. We haven’t solved the problem of where to store the nuclear waste from the plant that we have. I don’t want coal to be burned either. What we need is more wind and solar power, and less consumption of power.

  • Jeff V.

    Regarding the Nuclear plants in Minnesota:

    The guest indicated that our nuclear power plants are designed for the weather conditions and natural disasters such as tornadoes and floods possible in this region. I understand that the power plants in Japan would also have to be designed for natural disasters. However, these designs are based on statistics and empirical data, and must be economically feasible. At some point, it must be designed to be affordable and ARE NOT designed to be able to withstand any perceivable natural disaster. Also, the claim that Xcel Energy is taking proactive steps against flooding at their plants is hard to believe. Just look at Black Dog that floods annually which allows heavy metals and toxic materials to enter the Minnesota River.

  • C F

    I grew up in Vermont thru the 70’s & 80’s and must say VT is a hotbed of the no-nukes movement. As we said to the protesters then, it remains the same today. If you don’t like base-load energy, then move to Montana to some hippie commune and live without it. No car, (polluting fossil fuels), no electricity, (dirty coal and “dangerous” nuclear power). Live on your own organic garden and hope the weather is in your favor. Just burn your candles, and huddle in your tent knowing you’re safe.

  • Neil

    When I learned about the events in Japan on Friday, my biggest concern was America’s reaction to the events.

    As I watch CNN essentially cheering for a nuclear disaster in Japan, I cringe.

    If America turns its back on nuclear, our standard of living will tumble. It is simple math.

    Despite their enormous capital costs, and because of their low operating costs nuclear power is cheap. Somewhere between 2 and 5 cents per kilowatt hour.

    Nothing else comes close. Wind and solar is somewhere in the vicinity of 50 cents. New coal is somewhere around 10 cents. Hydro is pretty much used up.

    Of course all of these numbers leave out the “impact costs.” In the case of nuclear, it is the massive cost times the infinitesimally small probability of a disaster. With coal and other hydrocarbons it is the cost of global warming and the costs of protecting our distant supplies.

    I so hope that the heros in the nuclear plants in Japan largely contain the problems for a few more weeks, until the reactor cores cool and the risks subside.

    America needs them to succeed.

  • Ron

    I find it hard to believe the number of people that still endorse nuclear energy. They seem not to understand “You don’t know what you don’t know”. We don’t know what is the next thing to go wrong but there will certainly be something. Some are saying that we learn from every failure. What we haven’t learned is that we can’t outsmart nature. Ask the people of northern Japan if they think nucleear is “clean” energy.

  • C F

    @Ron

    Ask the Japanese if they would rather have nuclear, even with the inherent risks involved, or have little energy and be a 3rd world economy. Versus what energy they do have and be slaves to OPEC, (like we are in America), or become a world empire like they were before World War II to obtain oil resources to only spend enormous blood and treasure to preserve those resources… like we do in America.

  • Steve the Cynic

    See? I was right: hotheads on both sides shouting at each other!

  • Sue de Nim

    As the saying goes: A mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.

  • Patrick

    Another consequence of consumption based economics. The bankers are happy, the utilities are happy, investors are happy.

    Suck it up, Wallyweinies.

  • JD

    Before all sense of sanity and reason melts down, read this:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/13/fukushima-simple-explanation/

  • To close to Monticello

    People keep saying reassuring things about Minnesota being prepared for a natural disaster. I would like to know more details. In this time of crazy weather, I want to know how big of a tornado is “in the plan” for safety? Does that plan include a combination of tornado damage and flood? and finally, if it is such a great choice, why aren’t companies lining up to build these plants on their own, without government subsidies, tax breaks and government insurance?