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The nuclear option

New Hampshire has a nuclear power plant. The Seabrook Station was originally intended to have two reactors, but due to huge protests from the anti-nuclear crowd and economic necessities, only the first was completed. The incomplete containment dome sits next to it, a spectre of what might have been.

But with the increase in oil prices and the steadily rising demand for electricity, some people are looking at that second structure and wondering if the time has come to complete it.

Now, let me make one thing abundantly clear: I am unabashedly pro-nuclear. There have been exactly two major incidents involving nuclear power, and -- as the saying goes -- Ted Kennedy's driving has killed more people than Three Mile Island has. The other, Chernobyl, was yet one more reminder of how horrific things can get under socialism and communism, and a government is utterly unaccountable to the people.

That being said, I have to say I don't think finishing off Seabrook II is such a good idea. In fact, I don't think Seabrook I was well-advised.

While I believe that nuclear power has proven itself a safe and sound technology (just ask the Navy -- they've built and used most likely over a hundred in the past half-century, without a major problem), the reality is that under current regulations, there have to be emergency evacuation plans for the areas surrounding nuclear plants -- and for political reasons, those plans should have prevented New Hampshire from building a nuclear power plant.

Geographically speaking, New Hampshire really only has one place suitable for a nuclear power plant -- and that's along the seacoast. The Lakes Region was considered, but I believe it was rejected for geographic instability. A reactor needs access to lots of water for cooling, and the Atlantic Ocean suits that purpose quite nicely.

Evacuation plans were drafted by the state, but the problem is that the plans have to cover a certain radius around the plant -- and New Hampshire's coastline is so short, there was nowhere to put it that wouldn't intrude on either Maine or Massachusetts. And Seabrook's radius cuts into the northernmost of the Bay State's seacoast community.

Now, New Hampshire could simply force its own towns and cities to come up with plans, or impose them on the communities. But Salisbury, MA could just thumb its nose at New Hampshire with impunity -- and did. The matter finally went to the courts, and Salisbury found itself with a plan it described as impractical, unethical, and impossible -- but the plant went online anyway.

So now we find ourselves about 15 years since Seabrook I first went online, and 15 years have passed without incident. So, should we go ahead and finish the second one?

I have to disagree with some of my fellow Granite Staters (some I respect more than others). New Hampshire just isn't set up to support and host a nuclear power plant under the current regulations and state of the art. Perhaps when fusion becomes practical, it might work, for for now we ought to just make do without.

(A halfway-decent history of Seabrook can be seen here, and the plant's own site is here.)


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Comments (34)

Yes, let us discuss nuke en... (Below threshold)

Yes, let us discuss nuke energy especially with the price of coal being 12 dead on Monday (It was a steam coal mine: The steam=electricity) and 22 dead on Monday. This is a point I have tried to make this week (and much earlier)
A pound of coal on average generates 926 watts . 51% to 56% of electricity in this country comes from coal.
No one has ever died from a nuk plant.
1,163 coal miners have died since 1971

22 dead in 2005 -- sorry</p... (Below threshold)

22 dead in 2005 -- sorry

Plus Chernobyl actually kil... (Below threshold)

Plus Chernobyl actually killed only 56 people. I wish I could remember where I read that recently and point it out. Media numbers of people affected have actually grown dramatically over the years since, even as it's been increasingly clear how few there were.

Nuclear is the way to go. ... (Below threshold)

Nuclear is the way to go. Waste is a big problem. Not because we can't handle it, but because it usually has to travel through one or more other states to be buried in even another state. All the more opportunity for environuts to stop it. Especially since those other states don't see themselves as benefitting much from a nuclear powerplant in another state that could be far away.

I agree w/ you on nuclear p... (Below threshold)

I agree w/ you on nuclear power, we are squandering a ton of opportunity. As far as waste goes, I think Europe uses a lot of nuke power, what do they do w/ the waste?


I'm not a huge fan of nucle... (Below threshold)

I'm not a huge fan of nuclear (particularly given the problem of disposing of that nasty radioactive waste), but as I see it, we don't have very many options. So, nuclear it is.

Despite your jibe about socialism and communism at Chernobyl, I certainly expect nuclear plants to be strictly regulated for safety.


Have you seen the December ... (Below threshold)

Have you seen the December issue of Scientific AMERICAN?

Pages 84-91 Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste
by William H. Hannum, Gerald E. Marsh and George S. Stanford


The Fall 2002 issue of A... (Below threshold)

The Fall 2002 issue of American Heritage of Invention and Technology had a good article (not online, unfortunately) about why nuclear power stalled in America. It wasn't just Three Mile Island. Most American reactors were one-off designs, so most designs were unique or only built a few times. France, which gets well over half of its electricity from splitting atoms, standardized early on three or so basic layouts. That makes maintenance and safety inspections a LOT easier for all involved.

There are new ideas for air-cooled reactors that cannot melt down since there's no active coolant that can be accidentally shut off to allow a meltdown to occur. That would also allow more flexibility in reactor siting, since there would be no need for a major lake or river nearby for cooling purposes.

>> Have you seen the Decemb... (Below threshold)

>> Have you seen the December issue of Scientific AMERICAN?

Thanks for the heads-up on that Tom, I'll check it out.

I am a big fan of nuclear p... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

I am a big fan of nuclear power. It burns cleanly and adequately produces power at affordable cost compared to other sources.

My husband was a Navy nuke, and their safety standards are very anal, but impeccable. Anytime they did anything to the reactor (started it up, shut it down, raise or lowered temps, maintenence etc) they had to open a book and read and follow each step. Even if they did it 500 times and had every step memorized they had to do the check offs. The Navy is proof that careful and clear standards can prevent problems. Granted the Navy has the advantage that they can make one very miserable if you screw up, while power plants will likely have unions etc that may make accountability more difficult.

I don't know enough about the Seacoast to have an opinion on whether or not finishing the second plant is safe or not-I live up in the Lakes Region, and rarely head towards the coast, but I think building more nuclear plants is a viable and good option.

Your readers might be inter... (Below threshold)

Your readers might be interested to know there is a new techno-thriller novel about the American nuclear power industry, written by a longtime nuclear engineer (me), and available at no cost on the web. This book provides an entertaining and accurate portrait of the nuclear industry today and how a nuclear accident would be handled. It is called “Rad Decision”, and is at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com.

"I'd like to see Rad Decision widely read." - Stewart Brand, futurist and founder of "The Whole Earth Catalog".

A number of readers have already commented at the site that the story is a good read without an overwhelming amount of science and technology. Check it out yourself. And if you like what you see - pass the word.

Hmmm.I'm in favor ... (Below threshold)


I'm in favor of nuclear power but less so with light water reactors, such as Seabrook, and more with pebble reactors.

By it's design pebble reactors cannot go "China Syndrome" and even with complete electrical and mechanical failures cannot cause a massive nuclear event. Currently pebble reactors are starting to gain a lot of ground in terms of world-wide acceptance and there's a very bright future for them. As an example China is looking to generated 6,000MW of nuclear power using pebble reactors.

Hmmm.Even France i... (Below threshold)


Even France is getting into pebble-bed reactors. If it's good enough for th Kyotoite then it should be good enough for us.


Nuclear stuff is one area w... (Below threshold)

Nuclear stuff is one area where the French are right on.

Another is treating Scientology like a money-sucking cult instead of a "religion," but that's another story.......

I support nuclear power usi... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

I support nuclear power using newer designs such as the pebble reactor. I believe China is the first country to build a commercial sized pebble reactor. Too bad the U.S. is becoming a technological follower rather than the leader. To get nuclear power going again in the U.S. requires changes to current federal environmental laws or some new laws that limit how long plans to build and license nuclear plants can be opposed in court.

Given the fool-proof nature of the pebble reactor design, requirements for evacuation plans could be greatly reduced, which would allow plants to be built in many more locations.

BTW, what do they call the "China Syndrome" in China?

Hmmm."Our Syndrome... (Below threshold)


"Our Syndrome"?

From what I've read, the <a... (Below threshold)

From what I've read, the Accelerator Driven Sub-Critical Reactor System would go a long way towards solving both green power generation and nuclear waste handling issues.

BTW just a guess, but I'd think the Chinese refer to it as the American Syndrome...

Also, a statistic from my c... (Below threshold)

Also, a statistic from my company's corporate parent, which operates two uranium mines:

Uranium, pound for pound, is 26,000 times more efficient than coal.

I find it quite ironic that while the environmental lobby keeps pushing people to do things with less environmental impact, while being using natural resources more efficiently, they miss the fact that those two goals, at least in the short term, become mutually exclusive, at least in terms of risk vs reward.

JohnAnnArbor,Actua... (Below threshold)


Actually France uses nuclear power to generate closer to 80% of their electricity.

Sadly, I think your info on... (Below threshold)

Sadly, I think your info on Seabrook Unit 2 is out of date. IIRC, the incomplete "dome" was demolished some time ago. A great many of the key Unit 2 components are also gone. For example, the steam generators went to Salem nuclear plant.

A (probably dumb) idea:... (Below threshold)

A (probably dumb) idea:

The US Navy has lots of nuclear-powered vessels. Any point in running their reactors while they're in port and sending the energy into the grid?

I guess it wouldn't amount to enough power to make up for the costs of extra wear and tear, monitoring, and the bother of getting the power into the grid.

The author of this article ... (Below threshold)
Eileen McCabe-Olsen:

The author of this article fails to mention that the particular reactor design that was in use at the Chernobyl power plant was discontinued for use in the United States for fear that we would experience the same kind of accident. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the United States is not accountable to the people, but to the nuclear power industry, and the Department of Defense. While a disaster at Three Mile Island was narrowly averted, more recently, falsified records and shoddy inspection practices at the Davis –Besse plant led to near failure of containment because of significant rust accumulation. Check these the articles http://www.shundahai.org/12-31-05TolBlade_Grand_Jury_Decision_on_Besse_May_Come_Soon.htm, and http://www.shundahai.org/1-5-06ClevePlainDlr_Besse_Nuclear_Plant_Probes_Wrap_Up.htm for details. The ocean has been used for cooling at the San Onofre plant in San Diego, including cycling the heated water back into the ocean. This has resulted in increased kelp and algae population and the killing of wildlife near the plant because of the elevated temperature of the water.

JohnAnnArbor -USN ... (Below threshold)

JohnAnnArbor -

USN nukes put the vast majority of their steam power into turning their propellor(s) and not into turning electrical generators. In fact, USN nukes have very little electrical generation capability - percentage-wise - to the output of their nuclear reactors. (We're talking single digits percent) The only way to get the rest of that power onto the grid would be to put the ships in drydockm renove the propellor(s), and design/fabricate some sort of weird and huge generator-like device to fit around the propellor shaft(s) - not likely!

Eileen McCabe-Olsen -... (Below threshold)

Eileen McCabe-Olsen -

I am sorry to say, but your post had so many errors in it that I hardly know where to begin. However:

1) The type of reactor at Chernobyl was a graphite-moderated, positive temperature coefficient, non-robust-containment reactor not resembling any commercial power reactor EVER, EVER built in the US (not "discontinued"). It was a design that grew out of a weapons program, unlike the US LWR designs that grew out of the USN propulsion program.

2) How you imagine that the US NRC is accountable to DOD, or even the nuclear industry (and not the people), must come out of some conspiracy theory. DOE has a DOD-related component, but not NRC. NRC is run by 5 appointees who have been nominated by (currently) Clinton and Bush and confirmed by the US Senate which can blackball nominees deemed unsuitable (either party). The US Senate can demand investigations anytime it wants. Heck, one of the 5 NRC commissioners now serving was the staffer of Democrat Senator Reid!

3) The Davis-Besse containment had no significant rust. Were you referring to the reactor vessel head item?

4) The TMI was not a catastrophe simply because not everything failed.

5) ON higher water temperatures, any steam power plant will do the same, not just nukes - Coal plants are just as bad, if not worse in that respect. It has nothing to do with nukes versus non-nukes, just any plant that creates steam to use it to run a turbine to make electricity will have to cool the steam to condense it and re-use the water.

Marge and I vote yes.... (Below threshold)
Homer Simpson:

Marge and I vote yes.

I'll second Jim on this. I... (Below threshold)

I'll second Jim on this. I work in the power industry, and no Chernobyl style reactors were ever put into use in the commercial sector. They were never deemed safe enough, or stable enough. The US nuclear industry took its technical lead from the USN, just as the majority of the nuclear tech folks in the industry came out of the USN. Heck at our nuclear headquarters... you can feel the barely suppressed urge to salute in some of the meetings :)
TMI had the potential to be a big disaster, and the human factor was the biggest component in that incident. US (and French) systems are very robust with plenty of failovers and redundancy. Chernobyl had none.
As for pellet reactors: they rock, but they didn't exist when the US was building reactors. The so-called environmentalist movement has successfully stalled every reactor proposal for a generation.
Maybe with the current focus on energy prices, new reactors can gain some traction, esp the newer and safer designs. Maybe more attention paid to fusion research and hybrid plants (designs that pair steam plants with KE).

<a href="http://www.atomica... (Below threshold)

Nuclear Accidents

Hate to break bad news, but there have been a few more than just 2 major accidents. 3 people were killed in January 1961 at Idaho Falls. Granted, it was an experimental design. Still, I'm pro-nuke myself and think the proven track record is better than any of the alternatives. But there have been issues.

BTW, what do they call t... (Below threshold)

BTW, what do they call the "China Syndrome" in China?

"Hey look! A free nuclear reactor!"

Hello,What a fair ... (Below threshold)


What a fair forum this indeed. I do not even spot ONE person who is opposed to nuclear energy. I guess you are all involved in the nuclear sector one way or the other. What brought me to this website is my subscription to Google alert to the word Chernobyl. I am not strongly opposed to nuclear energy, as some leftish Europeans are, but I am concerned, very concerned about the dangers surrounding nuclear energy. Chernobyl is a lesson to us all: do not underestimate the dangers which go along with nuclear energy. Maybe in the West things are better than in the old Soviet Union or China. Nevertheless Three Miles Island was not under communistic rule when this accident happened. Maybe we have just been lucky with those accidents that only little people (ONLY 4000 will die as a consequence of the Chernobyl disaster a recently publisched UN report says). Nuclear waste is another problem. Think of the nuclear waste from reactors, nuclear submarine and other nuclear waste which is lying in the seas around Russia waiting for a moment to contaminate the waters it surrounds. And another 'advantage'of nuclear energy is the political problems it brings along: dare I mention North Korea, Iran, etc. No, I wouldn't say that nuclear energy is the blessing the earth has been waiting for, for a long time.

Several other posters have ... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

Several other posters have referred to the fact that the basic designs for all of the commerical power nukes now operating in the U.S. are a half-century old, and much better designs are floating around. I'll add to that: We've learned a lot about man-machine interfaces since 1955, and the technology has improved. One problem that operators of existing reactors have, in monitoring the rooms full of blinkeylights, honking horns, and flip-card displays is "alarm saturation": when dozens of indicators all signal at once, it's hard to sort out what is significant and what is trivial. Modern reactors can be designed with much-better MMI that won't confuse the operators, as happened at TMI and contributed to the severity of the accident.

M. Bos -You might ... (Below threshold)

M. Bos -

You might take up your concerns with Ms. Eileen M-O above.

Your use of "fair" intrigues me. Might you elaborate?

On Chernobyl, there was luck aplenty. For one thing, if the wind had been blowing over the nearby lake that was the region's water source, the number adversely affected would have been much greater. Comparing it to TMI, however, seems not "fair" (I use your word from above).

At TMI, the exposures outside the reactor site was effectively nil. At TMI, the design included a containment building proof against just about anything below a large meteor strike. No exposures and no luck involved at TMI - far different from Chernobyl.

I wonder if you know the half-life of non-radioactive cadmium? Coal plants leach cadmium and other toxic metals into the environment even as they emit more radiation during operation than do nukes.

I'd note that my novel "Rad... (Below threshold)

I'd note that my novel "Rad Decision", mentioned above, discusses TMI and also covers Chernobyl in excruciating first-person detail. The difference between the Soviet approach and the US method of operating reactors becomes apparent. A number of other nuclear events you may not be aware of are also discussed. Again, there's no cost to readers at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com (If you like what you see, please pass the word.)

I have to disagree somewhat... (Below threshold)
Jim H:

I have to disagree somewhat with those who characterize TMI as a potential "disaster". Due to several fundamental reasons, such as the presence of a containment, the fact that Western reactors are fundamentally stable (making a power excursion like that at Chernobyl impossible), and the fact that Western reactors are not flammible, the maximum possible release from a US plant is orders of magnitude smaller than that which occurred at Chernobyl.

Chernobyl caused ~50 clearly-attributable deaths, and estimates of eventual premature deaths (from cancer, etc..) range from zero to ~4000 at most. The consequences of any concievable accident (or attack) at a US plant would be far smaller than that. By contrast, coal plants cause ~25,000 premature deaths in the US alone every single year (hundreds of thousands worldwide). They are also the largest single source of CO2 emissions (global warming), whereas nuclear plants have negligible emissions. The deaths from coal mining (mentioned earlier) are nothing compared to the costs/effects of coal plant emissions.

Over its entire 40-year hisotry, Western nuclear power has never had any measurable effect on public health or the environment. The effects of a hypothetical worst case accident (if one ever occurs) would be less than those inflicted every single year by fossil plants, in both financial and public health terms. It is clear that the public health and environmental risks/costs of nuclear power are negligible compared to those of fossil fuels. Every reputable scientific study estimating the environmental costs of energy sources agrees.

I would say to the author o... (Below threshold)
Jim H:

I would say to the author of the article that evacuation plans should not be a reason to oppose nuclear at a given site as they are largely based on a lie, namely that people will receive a large dose, and die of acute exposure, if they are not immeadiately evalcuated from the area in the event of an accident. The Chernobyl experience clearly shows otherwise....

As discussed in my last post, the worst possible release from a Western plant would be far smaller than that of Chernobyl. Not only was the Chernobyl release orders of magnitude greater, but the people living around the plant were not even told, and went about their business for days, or even a week, while the radioactivity was being emitted. Despite this, no acute exposure deaths occurred among the local population. There isn't even any clear evidence of cancer increase in this same population.

To the extent there IS any significant health risk in the aftermath of a nuclear plant release, it would only occur over long time periods, as one lives for years/decades in areas of elevated annual exposure (largely from longer-lived isotopes like cesium and strontium). The only significant short-term isotope that would deliver a large dose over a short time frame immediately following a release is iodine-131, and its effects can be blocked by taking iodine pills.

For these reasons, sheltering in place (i.e., staying home, closing the windows, etc...) should be more than sufficient for any Western plant accident. The MOST one would consider doing is perhaps taking iodine pills and avoiding certain locally-grown foodstuffs for some short time period. After waiting out the initial releaase, surveys would be taken, and public officials would decide what areas, if any, are not fit for long-term habitation, and they would then order a SLOW, orderly evacuation (no urgency) from those areas. I should point out that, due to the relatively small potential release, it is unlikely that any significant land area would have dose rates outside the range of natural background.

Requiring elaborate evacuation plans, and proof of the ability to evacuate the entire population over a large area, is completely unecessary, and out of line with the level of hazard involved. They are an albatross that was deliberately hung (by politically motivated forces) around nuclear power's (and only nuclear power's) neck. In New Hampshire, or in any other region of the country, there are industrial facilities all over the place that are actually capable of having far greater immediate effects on public health. Evacuation plans are actually more necessary for such facilities, but they are not required to have them at all. It is not even talked about.... Why? Because there is no major political force dedicated to wiping them out. That's why.

One final point. There is no reason why a nuclear plant in NH has to be built on the coast. You have rivers, and plants can use cooling towers. The US's largest nuclear site is in the middle of the Arizona desert. The main reason why only the Seabrook site would be considered is that it is an existing plant site.

Which reminds me. If you built a 2nd reactor at that same site, you would not have any evacuation plan issues that you don't already have. Adding a 2nd reactor would not result in any changes at all to the evacuation plan(s) that are already on the books.






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