>As a former nuclear engineer ... I do not and never did view them as
failsafe, but I view them as reasonably and acceptably safe and preferable
to the alternatives (with the possible exception of changing our consumption
>To put it at the experiential level I do not get nervous driving by or
living by a nuclear plant and would prefer it compared to a coal generating
plant. Comparisons of Chernobyl and American reactors should be done with
the greatest of care (and technical knowledge) to be done responsibly.
Maybe it is time to redebate the issue, since this is 1996 and Three Mile
Island & Chernobyl have occured in the meantime. Not to mention safety is
only part of the issue. Economics are changing quite a bit as well.
Let me fire an opening salvo (in all brotherly love & humility of course).
Last I know, nuclear power costs $0.08/kwhr to generate, while coal is as
low as $0.03/kwhr. These are established and mature technologies which have
traditionally competed for the base load power generation. Being mature
technologies, I doubt that they will get much cheaper (coal being limited by
thermal efficiencies limits, nuclear being limited by the expensive
engineering & materials required to contain the nuclear radiation).
The immature energy technologies are about to drastically change our energy
For instance, wind generated electricity from the Midwest is now down to 4?
to 5? cents per kwhr--less than nuclear, and approaching coal. The limiting
factors on wind is the strength & cost of materials in the turbine, and the
availability of appropriately windy sites. Since there's a revolution going
on in composite materials & such, and the Midwest has enough wind to meet
the entire US electrical demand, the price of wind generated electricity
will continue to drop for a long time (making the necessary long
transmission lines cost effective).
The cost of solar electric power is dropping by 10% to 15% per year. Last
year manufacturers of solar cells doubled their manufacturing capacity.
Currently photovoltaic power is cost effective in many remote
applications--for instance, if you're building a house more than 1/2 mile
from the utility line and have to pay for the line yourself!.
The fossil fuel companies are responding as well: Arco, the only major oil
company to anticipate the oil embargos in the 70 s is investing heavily in
solar power. Royal Dutch Shell acknowledges that 50% of our energy will be
supplied by renewable energy sources by 2040. Enron is building a big pilot
photovoltaic electrical plant and will sell the power for
$0.085/kwhr--they'll lose money, but gain a lot of experience.
Energy efficiency is also an immature technology. Under the EPA's Green
Lights program, numerous companies have rebuilt their lighting systems with
payback periods of around 2 years. Considering that large scale facilities
look at technologies with 30 year paybacks as being worth it, a payback
period of only 2 years tells me that we've only begun to scratch the
it to coal is like a little like arguing the merits of 2 versus 3 horns on
Ceratopsian type dinosaurs in the late Cretaceous period. It doesn't
anticipate what's about to happen.
Grace & peace,