Re: nuclear power

Paul Arveson (
Thu, 9 May 96 10:32:36 EDT

In message <> "Sweitzer, Dennis" writes:
> >> The ASA journal did an issue debating nuclear power back in June,
> 1980. Most
> >> of the authors were very optimistic. I think this is an excellent example
> of
> >> failure of trained Christian nuclear engineers to be prophets. I think
> it would
> >> be interesting to go back and re-read that issue now.
> Joel responded,
> >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
> oriented society).

I (Paul) know and respect Joel and I know several other nuclear engineers here
who work at the NRC and go to my church. I think if everyone were as
intelligent and conscientious as these people, we would not have a problem.

> 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.
Why not?

> 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).

I remember such cost arguments that were made back in the 1960s to justify
nuclear power. However, the last US power reactor was built in 1973. The
utility companies were facing unanticipated costs and legal battles. This was
long before Three Mile Island (1980). The NRC discovered things like
contractors that were lowballing bids and building structures with low-grade
steel. Regulator surveillance was increased. Costs then escalated. This
positive feedback spiral eventually reached the point where the whole industry
collapsed. Unfinished billion-dollar plants were left as monuments, for
instance, on Long Island.

> The immature energy technologies are about to drastically change our energy
> landscape.
It's about time.

> 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
> surface.
Preach it, brother!

> >From what I've read, focusing on the safety of nuclear power and comparing
> 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.
Well, maybe not as suddenly. I don't expect that one day all the oil will run
out and people will stop their cars on the Beltway and walk home. However,
something like the 1974 crisis could easily occur again. But currently, the
amount of installed solar/wind power is miniscule. I assume it's all driven by
economics, not idealism or environmentalism.

Back to nuclear power: is anybody out there seriously advocating a large-scale
return to this option? If so, why? What has fundamentally changed in the
technology, or in the honesty of construction contractors? And what about waste

Paul Arveson, Research Physicist
(301) 227-3831 (W) (301) 227-1914 (FAX) (301) 816-9459 (H)
Code 724, NSWC, Bethesda, MD 20084
"Practice thoughtful kindness, and helpful acts of beauty."