YDATL Blog NOTE: The opinions expressed by our individual bloggers are their own, and not necessarily those of Young Democrats of Atlanta.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
So leads the headline of an April 2006 article in National Geographic magazine. It's scary. It's expensive. It could save the earth. And they're right. So today, on the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident, I've been contemplating that ugly green glowing genie of nuclear power.
A good way to start warming up to nuclear energy (aside from standing near a fuel rod) is to listen to our boy, Al Gore. Remember him, the guy who should be president? He's bringing us a fun summer movie, An Inconvenient Truth; go watch the trailer, and then you might realize why as scary as nuclear accidents and waste may be, I'm more afraid of waking up in the world described therein. I'm more afraid of my kids or grandkids waking up under the ocean. And as an engineer, my gut just tells me that we'll be technologically more capable of containing the nuclear genie than of rolling back a century of carbon emissions once we've crossed some invisible line.
One thing that might help would be successful demonstration of Generation IV reactor technology, like the gas cooled fast reactor. These new reactor systems would use a fuel composition and core design that would be virtually catastrophe-proof; they do not have a meltdown failure mode because of the way the fuel is cooled and neutrons are moderated. It's like a Ron Popeil "set it and forget it" rotisserie grill, only not as tasty. The South Africans are pulling far ahead of us on the technology as we speak, because while the White House thinks promoting healthy marriages is worth $250 million for FY07 alone, developing safe, meltdown-proof nuclear power generation so we can keep the ice caps icy is so ridiculously important it warrants a whopping $32 million in the budget request. Subsidies for lazy-ass utility companies who won't invest a nickel of capital in new generation without being begged and bribed, on the other hand: $54 million for Nuclear Power 2010.
Oh, and all that hoo-hah you hear about driving hydrogen cars someday? A generous $114 million -- and that includes some of the more ridiculous methods for generating hydrogen, like squeezing it out of coal. (The coal industry is so psyched up about the amount of money it might trick out of the taxpayer that they're running these TV ads with cute little kids telling us to go to the coal industry website to learn how clean it is these days. Beware anything that requires cute kids to sell it -- you know what that third box of Samoas or Tagalongs did to you. Clean coal is a joke, just not the funny kind.) $114 million a year to bring you that hydrogen car. $114 million will also buy you eight hours of the Iraq War, so we can secure the oil to drive your non-hydrogen car.
And $32 million a year (2.3 hours of Iraq War) for safe, proliferation-resistant nuclear energy -- the waste of which will be an order of magnitude less radioactive, due to the way it converts the heavy actinide elements. Oh, we'll still have to bury the crap in the ground, don't get me wrong; just instead of guarding the hole in the ground for millenia, we'll only have to watch it for a few centuries, and engineers can think in terms of centuries. I'm not saying nuclear power (not fission, anyway) is the end game of power generation for this country and this planet, but for now, it's the best thing we've got over coal and oil, and I think we need to start living with the idea for the next century until we figure out something better.