Suggestions For Nuclear Power

David Trammel's picture

A FB friend of mine wrote this well-reasoned plan for the return to nuclear power which I thought I'd share here.

As much as nuclear energy has a bad rap, I feel like society will be embracing it again as oil and energy resources continue to decline. Just as we will probably burn every gallon of dirty sludge we can drill out of the ground, no matter its ecological cost, we will use the radioactives we can mine as well. Renewables just aren't going to be the bridge to a de-carboned and sustainable future that it is being sold as. Yes, there are serious issues with nuclear. A big one is the waste by-products. And yet, given the option of losing millions to heat deaths we will probably say fuck it.

"A Nuclear New Deal" by Russ Minotaur
"Ok, the current mass robbery of the US public by big oil proves YET AGAIN that we need to get off the oil spike. Now the right will cry this is impossible and doesn't work. (Neither does trickle-down economics, but they never seem to want to give up on that...) I happen to know a way to get off foreign oil that will work if we do it. We go nuclear. Seriously, all-out nuclear. Just like France did successfully long ago.

The French have the best civilian nuclear energy program on earth. it's safe, efficient, cost-effective, doesn't have safety issues or problems with waste disposal. It's run along ultra strict government regulations that control the design, construction, and maintenance of nuclear plants along with the training and certification of people working there. The French civilian nuclear power system has never had a serious incident due to strict control of quality in terms of the plants and the workers there. The American nuclear power industry was a shameful mess in contrast, as it was run by the corporations for the corporations with profit being the sole guideline. Graft and incompetence were routine.

Yet even then there was proof the system could work if run right. At the overhyped 3-Mile Island incident, a near disaster occurred due to graft riddled construction and poorly trained workers. Nonetheless, the fundamental design of the plants was so good it worked despite a perfect store of corruption and incompetence. The reactor design contained the incident and no appreciable or dangerous radiation leaked out of it due to the magnificent quality of the design, a design so good it worked despite poor implementation and operation.

Now we need a "new deal" nuclear program, and a green new deal while we're at it. We need to get off the need for foreign oil, and eventually all oil. Right now, until the mythical fusion power plant finally materializes, the only valid way to do it is nuclear. Fortunately, while America's civil nuclear industry is a horrible mess, we do have a nuclear program that works. it's been running for nearly 70 years with a record of safety and efficiency that it essentially immaculate. It's called the US Navy.

Since the first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus was launched in 1958, the naval nuclear program has has zero notable nuclear incidents. US navy personnel routinely spend months in close proximity to nuclear reactors and weapon stocks that are so well built and maintained that they show no notable incidence of radiation-related illness. If they did you can bet insurance companies would be screwing them over on rates. Even on the two nuclear subs that have sunk due to non-reactor-related issues, the radiation containment continues to work even at the bottom of the sea, the navy monitors them and finds no notable radiation leakage from either wreck.

Speak not to me of the Russian (SPIT!) nuclear submarines, they are not relevant to the discussion of the US navy's sterling nuclear record. We need to get off our corporate enforced oil addiction, and a nuclear program is the best way to go for now. We need a new nuclear program run by the US navy, run by an agency of people who have served in the US navy nuclear program and people they have approved. This new nuclear government regulatory force (and yes, it would be a FORCE, not a toothless oversight agency left impotent by regulations written by industry and signed by their politicians.) would oversee and approve every aspect of a new nuclear power system. Designs would be created and approved by this board, not by corporate design teams told to 'make it cheap".

Corporations could contract to build the plants under strict supervision by this agency, and any hint of graft would be heavily investigated by JAG. People working on plants would have to sign agreements allowing them to be investigated by JAG and subject to federal laws governing corruption, with real penalties. There would be great profit in this, maybe not as much as corporate oligarchs might want, but there's never enough profit for them so waah waah.

Personnel working at these plants would either be former US navy personnel who had been trained by the navy to work with nuclear systems or civilians who underwent a screening and training process overseen by the navy. You see, I may be optimistic, but I'm willing to bet that people who have served long enough in the navy to get certified as nuclear technicians and engineers just may have some concept of honor, duty, responsibility, and other words unknown to corporate America. So yes, naval personnel would be given hiring priority in all areas.

Again, regulation and investigation of wrongdoing would be handled by the JAG. Lastly, security would be overseen by the USMC. Former marines would be given hiring preference in security positions, other security workers would be evaluated and hired by these personnel. This program might produce a bit less profit than the suited leeches running our current grift of a nuclear industry might like, but it would also produce a safe, efficient, effective, well-built, and ran nuclear power system that would free America from foreign oil completely.

Of course, it will take a civil war to get it done as the left will reflexively oppose it because "NUCLEAR!!!" and the right will reflexively oppose it because "REGULATIONS!" Maybe this will be a good time for the mainstream public who is neither extreme right nor extreme left to unite, stand up and beat down the extremes at both ends of the spectrum, and force its will to be done for once.

I can dream, can't I?


Opinions from the community?

mountainmoma's picture

It is a bad idea in a society that is in decline. Nuclear waste is an extremely long term poison to have to take care of. There is no way we can insure that we can keep it safe for teh required time etc..... the above article you posted doesnt address any of the real issues.

You did. But, you are likely correct that all logic aside more may get built as people freak out at the prospect of less. And, of course, the managerial class will support it and convince the rest as teh managerial class will think that the downside wont affect them.

I am worried that of course the desperation will lead to haphazard implementations and/or the people left out of the benefits, as we couldnt possibly every be able to 100% substitute, will sabatoge as they dont chare in the benefits.

My hope is that we will run out of money and drive or cohesive will faster than we can get any built

David Trammel's picture

I recognize that nuclear energy has a big problem with the disposal, storage, and handling of its waste. It is a problem that can be solved to a great degree with engineering. The sticking point has always been the political will to address it. "Not in my backyard" is a powerful force for stopping things.

We've gone past the point that many of the things we should leave alone because they are environmentally poor choices will have to be used. The alternative will be to allow people to die. Since the ones that will be most at risk, will be the economic disadvantages, the poor, and the disabled, I don't think we can just say, "Sorry you're going to suffer and die because that's best for the future."

I know it's not that simple but it is at the core of the "use it or not use" argument. There are poor choices, bad choices, and worse choices. The ones we make need to factor in the loss of life, not the loss of profit. We have the money, we don't have the will to take on those with the money.

That said if we are going to restart a nuclear energy industry we are going to have to pry it from the hands of the vulture capitalists who caused so much harm with their insistence of a right to make a profit on all things while pushing the losses off onto the public. There are things that are public goods and services and should not be expected to make someone money.

The Navy has the expertise and the personnel. I'd love to see them given the job. There are some great ideas for small-scale, localized nuclear power plants modeled after the ones used in naval vessels that I think would be the way to go. Rather than the giant subsidy dumpsters that we have now. I actually have one in my after oil series of short stories, that the St Louis elites privately fund to keep their electricity coming.

mountainmoma's picture

nuclear waste is not like other issues. It is not just an engineering issue, it realy does last too long

Ken's picture

Of all the insane ideas that humanity has come up with, nuclear "power" has always been the top of the heap. Please tell me how you plan to keep nuclear waste safe for 250,000 YEARS. We are a young species and if we ever hope to become an old species we will have to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle, stop it up and bury that suicidal impulse.

I mean, seriously, David? WTF? Nuclear power is more than just a money hole; it makes ZERO sense on so many levels that it beggars comparison. I literally cannot think of anything more insane. Slave labor building a pyramid in St. Louis is a good idea compared to nuclear technology!

Tell me ONE THING that has the same devastating consequences of a single fuck-up? How many perfect humans do you know? - Yeah, me too. So why on Earth would you consider a highly centralized technology that creates toxic waste that lasts more than a quarter million years a good idea?

There may be small nucs that resemble the power plants in nuclear subs that are small and appear "local" and under local control, but supplying the fuel and disposing of the the waste are not small nor local problems. Unless the whole shittery goes kablooey and then it's VERY local!

Nuclear energy looks interesting from a classroom point of view but in the real world of terrorists, moronic contractors, simple human stupidity, and the level 10 hubris that it takes to commit our descendants to a quarter of a million years (and more!) of safeguarding the insanely deadly shit we produced and all so Karen can pour a package of crap into a "breadmaker" and have it spit out a loaf of pseudo-bread, it just doesn't look that interesting to me.

In regard to the Navy being the champions of nuclear understanding and safety; how on Earth could any civilian possibly know the fuck-ups that have (or have not) occurred? Do you seriously think that the public would know about any Navy screw-ups?

We need to let attrition occur and the obscene overabundance of human beings to subside naturally, not try to maintain a 'Merican "middle class" standard of living for far more people than is literally possible. People will just have to get used to using less electricity. It's that simple. NOTHING about nuclear power (or bombs) is simple nor sane.

There is ONE place that nuclear energy generation makes sense: DEEP SPACE. On our home planet? No freaking way.

I do not think we should be encouraging nuclear power in a society in decline. Nuclear waste does not have a functional solution over the long-term.

Also, societies in decline tend to cut corners, which will raise the likelihood of accidents. We're already seeing nuclear plants still operating decades past their original design life. The temptation to do that is only going to go up as things get worse. What happens when a chernobyl-level event happens, and scatters radioactive dust all over a major area of farmland when the global food supply is less adequate than today? You're leaving millions of people with a choice between eating radioactive grain or starving.

Also, uranium is a non-renewable resource that isn't particularly plentiful. So going full-nuclear would cause massive long-term problems, and near term catastrophic risks, while being at best a stop-gap measure.

David's point that humanity may do it anyway still stands. But it's not a solution I can in good conscience support.

David Trammel's picture

Ken, you bring up a few good counters and note the problems with nuclear power that are commonly discussed. Not sure about the "evilily evil" label based on vaguely suggested cover-ups you want to apply to the application of nuclear power by the Navy. The thing is you also proved in one sentence just why governments will try nuclear power against the effects of climate change. This one:

"We need to let attrition occur and the obscene overabundance of human beings to subside naturally, not try to maintain a 'Merican "middle class" standard of living for far more people than is literally possible."

You have confirmed the crazy conspiracy theories half of the population say about eco-activists and green power people. Though you paint it in buzz words to get by the core suggestion. What me to translate what they just heard?

"We need to let a lot of YOU people die so the planet will heal while letting the ones that do survive live in poverty."

There isn't a politician out there who wants to keep their cushy job who will want to be publicly anywhere near your position. Maybe a few will like it or believe in it privately but saying to voters, "Sorry you all just need to let Grandmother die and accept it", isn't a viable way to get votes. Sure, I think we've got way too many people on the planet. I also feel it looks to be taking care of itself. Birth rates are falling and as Greer has pointed out, societies in decline lose populations through illness, poor lifestyle choices, and people refusing to have kids. There are several factors I consider higher on the priority list for a transition during the Long Descent than that.

Society screwed around too long for this collapse to be a smooth transition. We should have started on renewables and the downsizing of our energy budget in the 70s. Now we're going to get smacked hard with shortages and with no alternatives other than completely senseless ones. That includes nuclear power. I don't like using nuclear any more than you do, for the problems you mentioned.

I do think that eco-activists have oversold the fear of it. Every industrial process we use has problems, has pollution, and has factors against it. Or have things we should do differently or in a cleaner way. I blame that on the "profit for me, and you pay the costs" way that Western capitalists do business. If corporations were treated like they should be, not as people but as temporary constructs to perform a specific task, then dissolved, we'd all be better off. That's not going to happen any more than greening the whole Western economy.

The point I'm trying to make is valid. Governments are going to try to use nuclear power, whether its a sound strategy or now. Ones with money saved up, like the Saudis. Ones that can just issue bonds or print money, like the US.

(I have a second major point to make, but I'll put that in a separate post.)

David Trammel's picture

"I mean, seriously, David? WTF? Nuclear power is more than just a money hole; it makes ZERO sense on so many levels that it beggars comparison. I literally cannot think of anything more insane. Slave labor building a pyramid in St. Louis is a good idea compared to nuclear technology!"

While you might think this is going to be addressed to you personally Ken, it's more of a comment to the general Green Wizard community here. I want to clarify a misunderstanding some continue to have about the ways I run this website, the priority I feel the concept that is Green Wizardry has, and the topics we will cover and discuss. These are a distillation of my personal beliefs, private conversations with John, attitudes I've gotten from his blogs (first TADR and now Ecosophia), and the ways I view the Long Descent happening.

The number one principle of Green Wizardry is the concept of "dissensus". As defined as the belief that strength comes from different points of view AND the strength that comes from being willing to hear the other side, even when you disagree with it.

So there will be more of these types of posts. Don't assume when I post them though, I necessarily support the person's opinions.

IMO we as a society have gotten way too far down the "stick out fingers in our ears and say la-la-la" when we hear things we don't like. Beyond the refusal to hear an opposing view, now a significant portion of society actively seeks to ostracize and silence the opinions they don't like.

I spend a lot of time surfing the internet and FB to find opinions and views that run counter to what I believe, some of which, I post here. IMO we need to have difficult discussions. You can't argue about a situation if all you've even been exposed to is one side of it. Beyond the personal advantages of knowing more than just your favored side, reading and learning the facts the other side uses to support their viewpoint. There's a practical long-term advantage for a Green Wizard to knowing both sides of an issue.

Some people get the idea that all Green Wizards in the future of the Long Descent will be lonely hermits off in a paradise of a local earth-centric forest, that well-meaning seekers will come to for bits of lost lore and wisdom. Sure there will be quite a few of us living like that. But as I envision this organization's future there will be just as many Green Wizards in the nasty squalid slums of collapsed cities.

And more than a few walking the gilded halls and castles of the new lords of the Long Descent, as advisors to those in power. They will need to know the downsides as well as the upside of important issues, and while they should advocate for actions that benefit the most, I suspect they will have to often help a ruler to do things that won't.

Net good, even when some are harmed.

I look around my office at the piles of books I've collected, many of which I will never have the time to read, with the intention to get as much of that wisdom into some form that future Green Wizard can use, and see the proverbial "ten pounds of shit, while holding a five-pound bag". The filter I use most often is how will this bit of information benefit the most people in the next 20 years? Not fifty years, nor one hundred. Twenty. That's the span I have left and the time I can directly affect.

Regrettably, that means your question of what to do with the waste that will stay around for 250,000 years isn't what I worry about. It's how do we prevent that same number, 250K of poor people from dying from climate-related heat deaths? How do we adapt to rising sea levels in place? How do we live with the diseases and pests that will migrate northward as the refugees do too?

It's all well and good to say we should be fighting to cut population growth as a global issue but if we ignore the skills and knowledge that the people most affected by overpopulation will need to adapt, then we're wasting our time. Green Wizards becomes just another one of those happy places filled with pretty gardens and unicorns dancing.

Too many times I've seen people who talk green and eco-friendly sit around a table, drinking herbal tea and eating homegrown cookies discussing the broader issues to make themselves feel good while ignoring the cold, hard fact that the people that climate change and the collapse will most affect are the people least likely to have the means to do anything but suffer.

It's gonna get freaking ugly people and I want Green Wizards to be there to make the changes that matter.

Anyway, lol, I have drywall to install.

Ken's picture

I'm glad I got you fired up, David. Installing drywall when the world is melting is a perfect modern metaphor for fiddling while Rome burns. I think that the basis for our disagreement (and isn't disagreement what mages do best?) is in our time scales; I think in terms of centuries and you are professing to think in terms of (a few) decades. Clearly, we are going to disagree about the wisest course of action with those differences. I am not proposing that we abandon every poor SOB to a miserable, sweltering death simply because they are excess population. I AM saying that natural tendencies will reduce the human population in the coming times, and that efforts to prevent or reduce that reduction are not only pointless but counterproductive. I'm not saying the we should embrace ethnic cleansing! But I am saying that we should give some thought to the future societies that will arise from the ashes of industrial civilization and the population that they will want or try to support (at the expense of the rest of the ecosystem). As the inimitable JMG purports, we have gone WAY PAST the carrying capacity of our ecosystem in terms of the human population. So, how EXACTLY, do you propose we resolve this conundrum? Either many people have to die; which in the long term is inevitable anyway, or we need to change an entire planet into a feeding station for humans. I am simply suggesting that, given the options, we voluntarily move toward the inevitable. Humans are a plague upon the planet and no amount of handwaving or BS is going to change that fact. The simple truth is that the world would be better off without us.
Nevertheless, we are here. So what do we DO with that fact? The decent thing would be to reduce our numbers to a point where we don't completely fuck everything into extinction of our own accord. Barring that unlikely outcome, what else do we have?

I don't think replacing climate-related heat deaths with nuclear accident deaths is an improvement. And in a declining society that's going to be tempted to extend nuclear plant lifespans as long as possible, those nuclear accidents will happen.

I think nuclear power is a fake solution that creates problems worse than the ones we started with.

If you want to reduce heat deaths, might I suggest retrofitting housing to stay cool without air conditioning, thus reducing electricity requirements while reducing the risk of heat death? And provision of solar-powered fans to people without air conditioning? And retrofitting buildings to retain heat better in winter so there's less need for fossil-fueled energy? And fixing infrastructure that forces people to drive even when they can't really afford it and don't want to. You could probably reduce demand by much more than you could increase nuclear power for a given amount of money. Nuclear is a really expensive source of electricity, even when everything goes perfectly.

David Trammel's picture

LOL, yeah I'm really looking forward to getting this basement build done and moved in. Though I wouldn't call it fiddle playing in Rome. Staying here in this rental into my retirement would be a better example.

I'm downsizing my carbon footprint from two households to one, decreasing both of our energy usages by doing a ton of insulating first before thinking about something like solar, increasing my personal food production by putting in a huge new garden AND advancing Green Wizards with a testing and teaching facility that will produce books, tutorials, and on-site classes eventually. Ohh, and using recycled steel instead of virgin wood for the studs.

I do a lot of my construction on Thursday (my day off) and the weekends, so I'm about to go over there now too. I'll reply to the rest of your comments and to Cory's this evening.