Nukes Are Back: Green Confusion Ahead
Federal regulators, girding for explosive growth in the nuclear power industry, say they are weeks away from an anticipated flood of license applications for new reactors not seen since the 1970s.Part of the reason it won't be easy is NIMBY and Green opposition. The NIMBYs will fail, they almost always do, felled by "greater good" arguments. Yes, there life will suck because a nuke is being built next door, but society's greater good prevails.
"There are a lot of challenges for new construction," said Bill Borchardt, director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's newly created Office of New Reactors. "And a lot of challenges for the NRC."
The independent regulatory agency expects to receive new fast-tracked combined construction and operating license applications for as many as 29 reactors at 20 sites, most in the South, over the next three years.
The first could come as early as Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year.
"We have never had to do this many reviews at one time in parallel with an office that has only existed for less than 12 months," Borchardt said Thursday at the NRC's reactor training center in Chattanooga.
"Nobody thinks this is going to be easy."
Greens have always been dyed in the wool to oppose nuclear reactors, as I was when I was a young Green. The reasons: (1) reactors remind them of war, (2) reactors are big and industrial, (3) they encourage a growing, expanding, healthier economy, (4) reactors keep you in "the grid," and Greens hate the grid, and (5) there's still no solution to the problem of handling radioactive spent rods -- actually a legit concern from the Greens.
The resurgence of nuke raises an interesting question: Will thee be a Greenie-Warmie split, with Warmies going whole-hog pro-nuke because nukes are happy machines when it comes to greenhouse gases. No stacks, no emissions of carbon dioxide and other noxies.
Between the rock of rabid anti-nuke, anti-industrialization Green attitudes and the hard place of the Warmie conviction that humans really can turn around global warming, the environmentalists face a quandary. But I don't see a profound split because you can always count on the Greenie/Warmie factions to go back to the word that gives them the most comfort -- the word "no.
The Warmies will likely ally with the Greenies ultimately, primarily because most of them are Greenies at heart and can't get over their genetic disposition to be anti-nuke. They'll dress it up, though, giving nukes a death of a thousand small cuts. The cooling towers raise atmospheric temperatures; the manufacturing process is carbon-intensive; new power sources encourage non-Warmie consumption (i.e., happiness, and we can't have that); the tons of concrete used in reactors give off greenhouse gases, and on and on and on.
Fight as they will, they will likely only slow the process of the re-nuclearization of America, however. So let's take a look at these new reactors. They are not your father's nukes:
All [utilities] are looking to use advanced reactor designs, which the NRC is working to approve in advance in standardized form to hurry along the process.
Two of five most likely designs already have been certified by the NRC. The others are either under review or expected to be submitted by year's end.
The new reactors are expected to have significant safety improvements over current boiling-water and pressurized-water designs in today's U.S. reactors.
They will have multiple independent systems to cool reactor cores in an emergency, multiple backup power systems, digital control rooms and more passive systems to open and close valves automatically by gravity or water flow, to reduce human error.
The reactors also will have enhanced post-9/11 security features, including hardened concrete exteriors that can better withstand the shock of events such as an airplane strike.
The Greenie/Warmie coalition has succeeded in bringing the construction of new fossil fuel power plants almost to a halt, so the forthcoming nukes are needed to ensure that our state-of-the-art power system stays that way.
But I still worry about ll those radioactive spent fuel rods. I don't care one whit for Harry Reid, but if I were him, I'd be fighting efforts to store them in Nevada, too. If something goes wrong -- and if you ascribe to chaos theory, you know it will -- we'll all have long turned to dust, but a big, hunking radioactive mountain is not something I'd wish on anyone or anything.