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Linda_Owl's avatar

What do you think about nuclear power plants to generate electricity?

Asked by Linda_Owl (7743points) January 29th, 2012

The US has continued to build nuclear power plants to generate electricity despite the fact that there does not seem to be any safe way to dispose of the expended fuel products. These expended fuel products are dangerously radioactive & just the ‘half-life’ of these expended materials is around 10,000 years. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has tried to bury these radioactive materials, but slowly, over time, the radioactive levels leach out into the ground where they are buried & into our water tables. There does not seem to be any safe way to dispose of these radioactive materials. When you factor in earthquakes (& tsunamis) like the earthquake & tsunami that struck Japan, & led to the melt down of three of their large nuclear reactors, which has now contaminated a large portion of Japan & the ocean around the area. The melt down also put radio active particles into our atmosphere & it has traveled around our planet – contaminating all of the countries it has passed over. Many countries have decided to no longer build nuclear powered plants to generate electricity, but the US seems to be intent on continuing to build these nuclear powered plants. In your opinion, should the US be doing this, or should they be concentrating on renewable energy sources like solar, wind, wave, & geo-thermal, all of which will reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels like oil & coal. We have to have electric power, but do you think that nuclear powered electric generating plants are the best course to follow?

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33 Answers

EverRose11's avatar

We should have been doing renewable energy sources like solar, wind, wave, & geo-thermal we all know these have been possible for a very long time.

CWOTUS's avatar

Where has the US “continued to build nuclear power plants” since the 1980s? Seriously. I worked on some of the last “new construction” nukes to be built in the USA, which were mostly completed before the mid-80s. As far as I know, no commercial electric power generation nuclear power plant has even gotten to the permitting stage since the Three Mile Island incident in… when? 1979?

To answer your last question, yeah. Despite the obvious problems I think nukes are the best course to follow.

JaneraSolomon's avatar

Not only are renewable energy sources perfectly practical, but also conservation efforts really haven’t even started in earnest yet. If energy efficiency were a priority in the USA, energy usage should have gone DOWN steadily each year since the oil crisis of the 70’s but energy consumption per capita is about where it was in 1982, according to the US Energy Information Administration. CAFE automotive gas mileage standards called for 27.5mpg in 1985, and 25 years later in 2010 that gas mileage standard was: 27.5mpg.
Chances are you don’t even know how many watts your computer consumes, as computer makers aren’t required to disclose that information. Clearly these indicate many possibilities for more energy efficient living.

jerv's avatar

There are reactors that can take those things with >10,000 year half-lives, use them to generate more power, and wind up with things that have a half life that is far more manageable; closer to 12–20 years for some things, a few seconds for others.

We have more advanced safety procedures and mechanisms. Not all people use them (I am looking at Russia and Japan…) but in the US, we tend to do better about more training and less cost-cutting.

The worst part about nuclear power is the ignorance, and fear surrounding it. I know many people, myself included, that were at least skeptical until they studied how reactors really work. Not just the list of potential byproducts. Not the half-assed things you see others doing like using RMBK reactors (unshielded, single-loop reactors are an accident waiting to happen; Chernobyl was an RMBK reactor, and look what happened!). Look at the actual science. Of course, if you change your mind then you will be considered a turncoat and not taken seriously either.

I trust nuclear reactors because I know about them. Not the screamsheets, Not the fear-mongering. Not the rosy picture of cheap energy that we had in the 1950s. I know how the shit actually works, including it’s dangers and shortcomings. And you know what? I like it!

Now, I think we should also look at other things too. For instance, I like solar. But solar takes up a lot of space and only works half the time in good weather, less in bad. That means batteries; hazardous, explosive, caustic batteries, and big ones at that.

@JaneraSolomon It’s easy to figure. Ballpark figure for a stock PC with integrated graphics is around 200–250W, but graphics cards add a bit to that; often another 60–150W on their own. Or just use this

JaneraSolomon's avatar

Yes thanks @jerv, I’m quite familiar with the Kill-a-watt and used one to see how much energy I could possibly save by underclocking my CPU. But the point stands. If energy conservation were a serious concern, people would be factor in energy consumption into their purchasing decisions and manufacturers would be touting their energy efficiency. Conservation makes renewable sources far more practical, while diminishing the need for foreign oil and nuclear reactors.

cazzie's avatar

They don’t like to take into account the cost of the environmental damage disposing of their waste. They are extremely expensive to build. They would be my last choice as a new build for power generation.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

I have never been in favor of nuclear power plants. I would like to see more wind harvesting. Other than that I don’t have suggestions. I just think nuclear power production is too risky for us and the environment.

jerv's avatar

@JaneraSolomon Very true, but while that may work in Europe or Asia, that would never fly here. They drive small, fuel-efficient cars while we insist on Hummers and Hemis. Think about it.

@cazzie They do, actually. In fact, that is part of why nuclear plants are so expensive; doing it cheaply is neither clean nor safe. Now, would you rather save money by cutting corners? I would rather pay a little more and keep it clean/safe.

@MollyMcGuire I have to say that wind is my least favorite alternative energy source. While the low environmental impact and cost are attractive, the erratic output which is often lowest when it is needed the most precludes it’s use as a primary source. Hydro and geothermal are much more reliable.

flutherother's avatar

Nuclear power works in the short term but from a longer perspective the costs of decommissioning and the risks of accident should rule it out. However politicians who decide these things don’t think long term.

cazzie's avatar

I would rather not have them at all, @jerv. As I said, but again, I sit on a high horse where all my electricity if generated by hydro.

jerv's avatar

@flutherother No, but engineers do. Sadly, they are often overruled by politicians or bean-counters.

Remember, engineers advised against launching the Challenger the day after freezing temperatures due to possible O-ring failure. Also, management actively resisted investigating damage to Columbia after it’s final launch. We know how those went

The science is fine. The engineering is fine. The problem is the politics, and by politics, I include finagling enough money to do it right.

rooeytoo's avatar

Folks are always concerned with environmental impact which as @jerv says, is often overstated by everyone except the ones who know.

I am more concerned that many many more coal miners have been killed in the process of making “safe“electricity with coal.

The amount of energy used to manufacture many of the alternative or clean energy sources way outweigh the benefits reaped by using them.

Nuclear is the best choice of the day.

JLeslie's avatar

I hate nuclear power.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie Any particular reason, or just on general principle?

elbanditoroso's avatar

We need many more of them.

While there are definite issues (meltdown, nuclear waste) their efficiency is FAR superior to coal and gas burning plants. And the pollution (carbon emissions) on a nuke plant are infinitesimally smaller than from a coal plant.

Hydro power is great, but there is not enough of it to support a country of 325 million people. And solar and wind energy, as attractive as they are, can only be considered niche energy sources for the next 50 years. They are boutique approaches that make no real contribution.

So I would build dozens of those small mini-nuclear plants around the country and get us off the coal burning plants in the next 5 years.

marinelife's avatar

I hate the idea of them. It’s like getting power from a gun with a bullet in the chamber. The consequences of accidents are too severe.

cazzie's avatar

Nuclear power plants around the US to match their increased earthquakes due to fracking and increased wild tornado weather. Nice combo.

CaptainHarley's avatar

In Nuclear, the downside risk is far too high. Too many things can happen, like earthquakes, or ( as in Japan ) a tsunami.

ragingloli's avatar

I am all for nuclear fusion.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv I think our scientist can and should work on developing and utilizing energy from sources with less risk, and doesn’t produce a radiotive substance we have to store. I realize the chance of a nuclear reactor having an accident is very small, but wuen it happens it is catostrophic. Even when there is not an “accident” there have been instances of nuclear plants being brought to their brink during extreme weather, and they pour off heat into the waterways killing marine life.

The more we build nuclear plants, the less people will focus on building and researching solar and hydro and other.

Governments usually have their hands in energy for a country, so government has a tremendous amount of control, at minimum influence, on what a country develops concerning energy.

I don’t know if big business helps build these plant, I would assume they do? Which means I assume there is profit in the business? So, I don’t completely trust the motives of wanting to build a nuclear plant. If I could have reasonably priced solar tiles on my roof that were effective, I would not even have to pay my local powerplant every month forever. Ibet there are governments and businesswho don’t like the idea of me being independent from the grid. Or, even small communities having their own power sources. But, I have never researched that, I have never researched how profitable power companies are.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie That is why I like the newer reactor styles that run on what would otherwise either have to be stored for a million years or go into weapons. That is also why I dislike (and mistrust) certain other reactors designs. There is also the point that certain places are just unsuitable. For instance, as @CaptainHarley points out, Japan; an area prone to natural disasters to the point where I personally would not consider any permanent structure.

As for motives, that goes for any company.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv I agree motives goes for any company, but it is up to the public to not support companies that are not for the greater good.

Natural distasters can happen anywhere. True, there are some parts of the world and our country that are much more prone.

I don’t trust that the “safer” reactors will be the ones built necessarily. If nuclear power did not exist what would we do? I think we should do that.

ragingloli's avatar

Somehow I don’t think american reactors would have handled a tsunami any better.

JLeslie's avatar

@ragingloli There are parts of America that have no risk of Tsunami. But, instead they have risk of tornado, or earthquake, or some other sort of mess. There are areas of the US that have very very little natural distaster risk, not of any kind, but they are not completely immune.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie Then we would not have any companies.

As for what we would do, we would set ourselves back about 150 years. Goodbye industrialization. Goodbye productivity. Goodbye transportation. Basically, goodbye First World. Our energy demands are too great, and there hasn’t been sufficient research into efficiency to supply our needs without at least fossil fuels.

@ragingloli Vermont Yankee doesn’t care about tsunamis; too far inland in an area that didn’t get quakes or tornadoes.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv There would still be companies. I am not all kumbaya we should all live on a commune and be one with nature, believe me. But we can mitigate harm, consider our options, and even sacrifice a little.

rooeytoo's avatar

Why does @ragingloli whisper when he makes his usual anti american remarks?

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie I would gladly trade my car for a smaller one that got twice the MPG like some Europe-only cars or, better yet, electricity. Many Americans, however, are unwilling to sacrifice that way; they prefer big cars with big engines. They also ignore the fact that electric cars accelerate faster than sports cars, but I digress. In an ideal world, you are correct. Other parts of the world are ahead of us there though, and I don’t see us changing anytime soon. I mean, many people thought that the best solution to high gas prices was to bomb Iraq and take their oil; conservation and alternative energy were not even considered.

Maybe in a couple of centuries things will be different, but in practical terms, nuclear power is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv I have a few cars that don’t get great gas mileage, my husband is a car nut, races porsches, so I am guilty of using up some gas, but the last car he compromised with me, and he mostly commutes in our little VW that gets over 30 MPG, and makes me feel better. We seal off part of our house in the winter to save energy, and money for that matter. I do my little bits. I would love to build from scratch and have solar power incorporated into my house and hot water from instant hot, rather than hot water heaters holding gallons of water. It’s so tough to do it as individuals, if there was simply a large movement, if builders automatically started doing some of the easy things when building housing communities, just minimal stuff that does not cost much more, sometimes the same, it would be huge. I have not figured out if electric cars really need to cost so much more, or if the auto manufacturers are taking advantage of tax breaks for the consumer? If they are getting greedy, that is a mistake in my opinion. The more of a car we see on the road, the more people will buy the car. Also, when hybrids were first introduced in America they were “green” looking cars that appealled to that liberal hippie type, they should have brought in a more average looking car to begin with, so hybrid and electric did not get associated with liberal, democrat, and put off people who going around saying they don’twant to be told what to do by the government. My neighbor literally said to me a few years ago, he is going to use his air conditioning and heat as much as he wants, Obama is not going to tell me what temperature to set it at. Huh? 99% of our Porsche friends here in Memphis literally make fun of and tease people with economical cars. Only one guy I can think of who is very into being green, and he is still a Republican, tending towards libertarian. He doesn’t get sucked into the bullshit though.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie A large part of the cost of an EV is the battery, but I won’t get into the why here. Suffice it to say that ditching gas for EVs would require more electricity; most estimates I’ve seen range around 10% more than we burnout currently consume. That electricity must come from somewhere.

BTW, I know of an electric Datsun that has twice the torque of a Dodge Viper. 0–60 in 1.8, ¼-mile in under 10.3, and could be replicated for under $25k.

mattbrowne's avatar

1) Way too expensive when looking at total costs including dismantling the plants at the end of their life cycle plus the handling of nuclear waste.
2) Way too risky as can be seen from Chernobyl and Fukushima and all the near disaster events

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv Yes, I have heard the batteries are expensive, I just wonder how expensive? How much profit they make off of each electric car sold compared to other cars. I have no idea to be honest, but it would be interesting to know.

Linda_Owl's avatar

Thank all of you for the responses that you have made to my question. If you have thought about the disposal of the radioactive materials that have to be stored, you might want to check out this link. Disposal continues to be a very REAL problem.

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