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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Energy versus the Environment

I heard a story on the radio about Riverkeepers suing to compel Indian Point to upgrade its water intake facility to limit its impact on the Hudson River ecosystem. This is a very fact specific question. I think plants should be operated to have as little impact on the environment as practical, but of course, practical is in the eye of the beholder. I thought I'd take the opportunity to reiterate my pitch in favor of nuclear power.

Here is what the Riverkeepers have to say about Indian Point Nuclear Generating Station:
Due to the plant's vulnerability to terrorism, a laundry list of safety problems, the storage of 1500 tons of radioactive waste onsite, and the lack of a workable evacuation plan, Riverkeeper has been working toward the permanent shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. In fall 2006 Riverkeeper launched its Reenergize New York initiative to encourage state leaders to invest in clean replacement power and to encourage New Yorkers to use energy more wisely. In addition, Riverkeeper is working with elected officials and the community to prevent a 20-year license extension for the Indian Point 2 & 3, currently licensed until 2013 and 2015, respectively. Despite all the problems and public opposition to the plant, Entergy, the owner/operator, submitted its relicensing application to the NRC on April 30, 2007.
I think that nuclear plants are not vulnerable to terrorism. It has been my experience that their security forces are highly trained. The facility has numerous failsafes, for example, even if you could remove all electric power to an area of the plant, it can safely shut down with a variety of systems that have battery back ups. What about the safety of the spent fuel?

Riverkeepers report 1500 tons of radioactive waste onsite; first, one should note that the term radioactive waste includes a lot of material that is completely harmless, but is nonetheless potentially contaminated. However, there is spent fuel kept onsite, and that has to stay segregated from groundwater (just like heavy metals and waste material from chemical processes) They are moving it from a spent fuel storage tank to dry fuel storage. This is from a press release:
Once the fuel is secured and sealed inside the multi-purpose canister, it is placed inside a Hi-Storm cask. These robust casks are 20 feet high, 11 feet wide, with concrete walls that are two feet thick. When loaded with fuel, each cask weights approximately 360,000 pounds.

After this stage is complete, the dry cask project team will remove the cask from the Unit 2 spent fuel pool building. Using a heavy-haul transporter, a specially designed transporter with tank-like treads specifically designed to fit and move the 360,000-pound casks, the team will move the loaded cask to the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation pad just north of the plants inside the protected security area.

The ISFSI pad is approximately 100 feet wide by 200 feet long. Approximately 480 truckloads of concrete and 21 miles of rebar were used to form the two-and-one-half-foot thick concrete pad. Under the pad is a six foot thick bed of compressed engineered fill that provides a foundation that also acts as a shock absorber in the event of seismic activity. The casks will remain on the ISFSI pad until a national repository is made available.
Basically, nuclear plants have an infinitesimal impact on the environment when compared to other sources. These plants compactly produce 5100 MWe of power. A wind farm, assuming 5kW/acre cite would cover 1 million acres, or surrendering an area 50% larger than Rhode Island to energy generation!

That said, if you still think nuclear power is a pax on our great nation, here's a link to Riverkeepers. They are accepting donations.

1 comment:

Matt Dick said...

I don't even understand this debate.

Lots of things people disagree with me about are things I understand. I don't agree with the pro-life argument, but I understand why they hold the position.

I have a hard time even accepting that people are so afraid of nuclear power. Can it kill you? Sure, but it's not any more likely than a thousand other things, and it's not more horrible than other ways to die. Tanneries are much more likely to kill you and in just as yucky a way, for instance.

Cancer from chemicals is not more pleasant than cancer from nuclear contamination.

And you can just add that to the fact that we don't have any alternatives. It's like arguing whether or not you should use a gun to defend yourself against 50 armed gunmen. You could choose the knife if you wanted to, but that's just a recipe for losing. You can choose to try to replace the energy we get from fossil fuels with wind, but that's just a recipe for losing.

Maybe tidal energy someday, maybe solar in a few decades, but right now the only viable energy we have for our needs are coal/oil and nuclear.

That's it, that's the list.