The Future of Nuclear Power

The production of nuclear power can be safe. The U.S. Navy demonstrates that fact 24/7.

However, the fact that it can be safe doesn’t mean that the American public will welcome an increase of its commercial use.

NPR station WCAI recently put out a story about the future of nuclear power. The story includes statements by David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He gives reasons for lack of enthusiasm for nuclear energy.

“We’re seeing more power plants being shut down due to unfavorable economics than we’re seeing being built, and the ones that are being built are way over budget.”

“These nuclear power plants need a lot of concrete for shielding and to support a lot of the safety equipment. Concrete is surprisingly expensive, and it’s a large share of the construction cost for nuclear power plants.”

“Clearly, nuclear does have some environmental benefits – a much smaller carbon footprint, but the price of that is too high. Nuclear power is very expensive.”

Even if nuclear power weren’t very expensive, it isn’t likely that the American public would welcome more nuclear power plants, especially not after what happened at Fukushima. University of Houston professor Ramanan Krishnamoorti writes, “Perhaps the single largest barrier for nuclear energy, after the economics associated with traditional nuclear power plants, is one of social acceptance. The near-misses such as Three Mile Island and the catastrophic incidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima highlight the challenge of gaining broad societal acceptance of nuclear energy.”

The American public has just cause to question the safety of commercial nuclear reactors. After all, those reactors are not designed the same way as the reactors used on U.S. Navy ships and submarines. The latter aren’t designed with cost in mind. Instead, they are designed with safety in mind. One simply doesn’t cut corners to reduce cost when one is going to require military personnel to constantly work and live within meters of an active nuclear reactor.

Besides, naval reactors are designed to withstand harsh conditions not normally experienced on land. So, the U.S. Navy’s nuclear safety record is irrelevant when discussing the safety of nuclear plants built for commercial use.

Then there is the issue of the below-ground storage of radioactive waste from commercial nuclear power plants. Right now, there isn’t any such place in the USA that can accept such waste.

The Obama Administration shuttered the project at Yucca Mountain, and Nevada government officials are fighting tooth and nail to keep Yucca Mountain from ever being used to store radioactive waste.

At the same time, the state of Texas has filed a federal lawsuit in order to get the Yucca Mountain project going again.

Without the use of a permanent below-ground nuclear waste repository, it wouldn’t be wise to generate more radioactive waste just to reduce carbon emissions.

Nuclear power is one hot potato that few Americans have an appetite for. So, I don’t expect it to show up often on America’s future energy menu.

Doel nuclear power plant cooling tower.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

DISCLOSURE: I am a graduate of the U.S. Naval Nuclear Power School, and part of my military training took place at a nuclear power facility located on land. That doesn’t make me an expert on nuclear power, but it does explain my knowledge of the U.S. Navy’s use of nuclear power.

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  • Retired military

    NPR = The darling of the left paid for partially by tax money.

    “We’re seeing more power plants being shut down due to unfavorable economics than we’re seeing being built, and the ones that are being built are way over budget.”

    Well that is easy considering all the ones operational are 35+ years old and none being built have been brought online for the past 35 years due to the court cases keeping them from going online.

    “Nuclear power is one hot potato that few Americans have an appetite for.

    ” = Liberals don’t want it.

    “Without the use of a permanent below-ground nuclear waste repository, it wouldn’t be wise to generate more radioactive waste just to reduce carbon emissions.

    Who shut down Yucca mountain? – Liberals.

    “The near-misses such as Three Mile Island and the catastrophic incidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima highlight the challenge of gaining broad societal acceptance of nuclear energy.”


    Cherynobyl was what 30 years ago? With the soviets?
    Fukushima was the result of an earthquake and resulting tsunami on an island. When Tsunamis start hitting Utah, Oklahoma, Montana, the Dakotas, Tenn, etc we may as well all kiss the baby.
    In short David, I believe the words to describe your article are umm slightly uninformative and for the most part ignores the realities of why we don’t have more nuclear power plants.

  • Retired military

    “These nuclear power plants need a lot of concrete for shielding and to support a lot of the safety equipment. Concrete is surprisingly expensive, and it’s a large share of the construction cost for nuclear power plants.”

    http://fhr.nuc.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/05-001-A_Material_input.pdf

    The construction of existing 1970-vintage U.S. nuclear power plants required 40 metric tons (MT) of steel and 90 cubic meters (m3) of concrete per average megawatt of electricity
    So say a 1000 megawatt Nuclear plant needs
    40,000 metric tons of steel and 90000 cubic meters of concrete.

    https://www.google.com/#q=amount+of+concrete+used+to+build+a+building&*&spf=742

    Burj Khalifa’s construction will have used 330,000 m3 (431,600 cu yd) of concrete and 39,000 tonnes (43,000 ST; 38,000 … The amount of rebar used for the tower is 31,400 metric tons.

    Gee in Dubai they can build a skyscraper using about the same amount of steel and about 350% more concrete that would be used in a nuclear power plant but we cant afford it.

    • Vagabond661

      So do dams…..

    • Retired military

      David

      I have to ask. Do you really put any thought and research into these articles.

      90000 cubic yards of concrete in the above example. A cubic yard of concrete costs about $60 per yard last time I checked. But say we need extra special concrete mixed by labor union people so call it a $100 a cubic yard. 90,000 X 100 = $9million. So you are saying we can spend $400 million on big bird in one year but not $9 million for concrete in a nuclear power plant because concrete is “suprisingly expensive”

      DO you realize how stupid you look now with your statement above?

  • yetanotherjohn

    “Besides, naval reactors are designed to withstand harsh conditions not normally experienced on land. So, the U.S. Navy’s nuclear safety record is irrelevant when discussing the safety of nuclear plants built for commercial use.”

    It’s reasoning like this (because we all know what is built for the sea could never be built on land) that always makes David a laugh to read.

  • Vagabond661

    David Robertson: the Rachael Maddow of Wizbang.

    • jim_m

      Rachel Maddow should be offended. In fact I’ll bet she would be. (of course she’s probably offended at everything so that doesn’t say that much – Kind of like David.)

  • jim_m

    As predicted earlier. David is against fossil fuels and has now written an article justifying the opposition to nuclear power.

    • Retired military

      Unicorn farts for the win.

  • Vagabond661

    Dsclosure: I, too, attended Naval Nuclear Power School and served 4 years on a submarine after graduating. I worked the past 6 six years construction at a Nuclear plant.

    We had a batch plant on site and produced our own concrete. So i don’t understand the concrete concern. Seems like a strawman argument. Maybe David should ignore NPR. Maybe we can pull their funding or something.

    • 8207 Section 14
      PTT @ A1W

      • Vagabond661

        I don’t remember my class number off hand but I can tell you I started in the spring of 1979. So 790 something. However it seemed like we had ET’s in our class. I was an EM. Prototype was in Ballston Spa. D1G ball.

        • ET’s and EM’s,. MM’s to themselves. A1W is in Idaho Falls.

          • jim_m

            My father worked at the Argonne West facility (now INL) back in the 50’s-60’s with the first breeder reactors they ran. He worked there when they had the SL-1 reactor incident.

          • They being the Air Farce. I’ve read that incident report.

          • jim_m

            Being pinned to the ceiling with a control rod is probably not one of the best ways to go.

          • The only one alive when the first responders got there was the one with head injuries who had been working under the PV at the time of the incident. The MD who treated him had himself to be treated for Radiation Exposure.

          • jim_m

            Their hands were so radioactive that they could not be buried with the bodies. For the soldier buried in Arlington there is a standing order that the Atomic Energy Commission (Now the NRC) has to be notified before the grave can be disturbed.

          • Vagabond661

            Yep. I was glad to get Ballston Spa. I didn’t want to do that bus ride everyday that y’all did.

          • The bus sucked.

            I did get to walk around in the Nautilus prototype shortly before they took it down the last time for scrapping.

          • Vagabond661

            That would have been a cool tour. They scrapped my boat long ago but saved the sail and stuck it in the ground in Springfield, Mo.

  • Wild_Willie

    Nuclear plants are made with ‘light’ water now. Much safer. We as a country would have been very far ahead by now except for the liberals and the environmentalists throwing roadblocks in court again and again. Our dependence on fossil fuel lays at their feet. Ironic. ww

  • Retired military

    https://ombreolivier.liberty.me/environmentally-friendly-pollution/
    Thank you environmentalists for killing people with pollution because they don’t use things like nuclear power.
    Without electricity used from those nuclear power plants made from that ridiculously expensive concrete people do things to stay warm like burning wood or coal. These produce quite a bit more air pollution than that nasty nuclear power plant and are quite a bit less efficient but hey no dirty nuclear power plants for us.

  • Nuclear, Oh Nuklear
    trik sulap