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It's all very well for us now to say we can handle it, but are we not just storing up huge problems for those in the future to have to clear up?
Paul Anderson asked the Naked Scientists: HI Chris and team,There is talk of expanding nuclear power in various countries. The pro-nuclear faction say they will be safer than older breeds of nuclear power station. As far as I am concerned I would like to know how they are going to dispose of the nuclear waste. There are still dangers related to the re-processing of spent rods in nuclear power stations.I am still opposed to the visits of nuclear powered vessels into NZ waters. Even on the high sea a US submarine came to the surface under a Japanese vessel and just recently were they British and French vessels which collided on the high seas?Someone is going to jump down my throat now and say Oh but they were not nuclear vessels!, but if we as humans cannot prevent conventional vessels from colliding, how is it going to be any different with nuclear vessels? There is even more chance for collisions in harbours when everyone is in close proximity, plus the danger to the nearby citizens in the city attached to the port in the harbour. Comments? Regards PaulNZWhat do you think?
No matter how much nuclear waste you produce and have to store somewhere, that downside is absolutely nothing when you compare it to the CO2 you would be releasing if you used a coal power plant instead. The CO2 output into the atmosphere is what will store up huge problems for the future, not a few neatly contained nuclear waste sites.
If you want to be pessimistic/optimistic about technology it would be fair to do it for both sides of your argument.
1) Coal power is not the only alternative to nuclear power. It is however probably one of the worst.
2) You should compare the release of CO2 (are non-toxic gas) to the RELEASE of nuclear waste (extremely toxic in even tiny amounts). The area of Chernobyl is off limits for humans for another 500 years right now.
Chernobyl was suffering from inadequate funding. Much basic maintenance had never been performed. It had only a skeleton crew, nearly all of whom were untrained workers from the local coal mine. The only manager with nuclear plant experience had been a worker installing small reactors on board Soviet submarines. Some genius decided to run a risky test of a type that no experienced nuclear engineer would ever gamble on. The test was to shut down the water pumps, which must run constantly in that type of reactor; and then find out whether the turbines, spinning on their momentum alone, had enough energy to restart and run the pumps during the forty-second delay before the backup diesel generators would kick in. The test was so risky that one faction within the plant deliberately disconnected some backup systems, trying to make the test too dangerous to attempt. The test was run anyway. It didn't work, the pumps couldn't keep up, the graphite core caught fire, the coal miners couldn't find any shovels so they didn't know what to do, and the reactor exploded. If you think I'm exaggerating this, there are extensive resources both online and in print, if you really want the hairy truth. In this short space I'm probably not even giving you ten percent of what a travesty this was — I'm tempted to call it a joke but it's so not funny. For example, they scheduled this right in the middle of a shift change, and the new workers coming in didn't even know what was going on.Two people died that day, and some 30 to 60 people were dead within three months. Predictions of eventual cancer deaths caused by the radiation run from 1,000 to 4,000. And, of course, the damage to the local environment is extensive and difficult to estimate. The terror of a radiation cloud blowing across Europe was the second nail in the coffin of American nuclear power.Not only was Chernobyl a monumental failure of the human element, the plant was a Generation I design, specifically an RBMK reactor, which is generally regarded as the least safe reactor type ever built. One design flaw is that the core used combustible graphite, and this distinction is the main reason that Chernobyl-type disasters are not possible in most reactors around the world. Only a very few Generation I designs are still in use, all in the former Soviet Union, and all have been retrofitted with improvements intended to prevent this type of accident. Other nations have long been lobbying for the closure of these reactors, and rightfully so.
Quote1) Coal power is not the only alternative to nuclear power. It is however probably one of the worst.I know it's not the only alternative, but it's the most realistic.
By realistic I mean it's more economically viable to just burn coal for power than to build solar plants or wind turbines, and it's more dependable. You know you how much energy you can get, you can get a buttload of it, and the weather doesn't matter. So despite its environmental harm it remains an attractive option.
In my wording "few neatly contained nuclear waste sites" i'm trying to counteract the stigma associated with the thought of nuclear waste, some people seem to think its just dumped in the river and the entire area is soon populated with 3-eyed fish and squirrels that can shoot laser beams from their eyes. But I don't think it's too pretty, especially in comparison to the waste from coal fired powerstations. At least you can control nuclear waste and make sure it's stored safely, it's not just vented into the atmosphere. And as dentstudent mentions, there are new technologies in the works that brings the amount of nuclear waste produced to near-zero.