Welcome Martin Cohen (article) and Andrew McKillop (article), and Host Gregg Levine (capitoilette, Firedoglake, Truthout).

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

The Doomsday Machine: The High Price of Nuclear Energy, the World’s Most Dangerous Fuel

Little more than 13 months after the world’s third major civilian nuclear accident in three decades, it might be surprising to find that one of the words commonly used in context with nuclear power these days is “renaissance.” Though more the product of public relations than real observation, the concept of a “nuclear renaissance” took hold over the last decade purportedly as a response to the rising price of fossil fuels and a growing concern over climate change–and it became so much a part of the lingua franca that even after an earthquake and tsunami triggered the massive crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (a crisis that continues to this day), media reports still try to assess how much of a renaissance we will see post-Fukushima, rather than laugh at the idea that a renaissance ever existed.

The persistence of this current narrative is, of course, not an accident. For while it is debatable how good nuclear power is at meeting the world’s energy needs–the ability of the nuclear industry to gobble public money, peddle influence and reinvent its image, all while still clinging to generations-old technology, is practically the stuff of legend.

Or should we say “the stuff of myth?” In The Doomsday Machine: The High Price of Nuclear Energy, the World’s Most Dangerous Fuel, environmentalist and social philosopher Martin Cohen, and energy economist Andrew McKillop explain that myths are the one thing the nuclear industrial complex is consistently good at producing. From the early echoes of “Atoms for Peace,” through the spin-tastic triple lie of “clean, safe, and too cheap to meter,” right up to the current green-washed renaissance, The Doomsday Machine describes over 60 years of industry morphing and mythmaking.

Even before the world witnessed the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the splitting of the atom had a certain aura about it (if not a glow), and the idea of harnessing the raw power that had leveled two Japanese cities for something “good” was a seductive one. There was something godlike about manipulating nature’s most basic building blocks, and something oh-so-modern and evolved about doing it with the power of science. Cohen and McKillop discuss how, from its earliest days, the nuclear industry used the contrast of clean-cut men in white lab coats manipulating dials versus filthy miners feeding dirty coal into furnaces belching smoke to brand nuclear power as “the energy of the future.”

This is the first of eight myths that The Doomsday Machine attempts to debunk by citing history, economics, psychology, statistics and, yes, science, too. In addition to the failure of nuclear power to ever realize its future (I am reminded here of the old quote about Brazil–a country, by the way, with nuclear hassles of its own–”Brazil is the country of the future–and always will be”), today’s book takes on the myths of nuclear being clean and green, reliable and safe, cheap and desirable as an investment, and immune to the tug of geopolitics. Some of those ideas are more absurd than others, but, being the myths that they are, as Cohen and McKillop detail, none of them are true.

Interesting, too, beyond the long and sordid list of nuclear accidents and mishaps–and that list is indeed very long–are some of the other forces that have, over the years, meshed conveniently with the nuclear industry’s quest for relevance and cash.

Take, for example, that contrast with coal. It is true that coal is ancient and dirty, but coal is also predominantly turned into its usable form by union workers. Uranium, on the other hand, is mined in many places by a much-less-organized workforce, and nuclear power plants, The Doomsday Machine says, are largely maintained by contract workers. Was it just a coincidence that world leaders hostile to organized labor–Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, for example–were also vocal advocates for the expansion of nuclear power? Cohen and McKillop think not.

Another example, and one perhaps even more controversial, is the alliance of nuclear power proponents with a certain segment of the environmental movement. In what the authors term an alliance of “Baptists and Bootleggers,” strange bedfellows have found common cause to attack fossil fuels, demand that their use be curtailed to lessen carbon emissions, and then declare that nuclear energy is the only alternative poised to fill the gap.

Cohen and McKillop rightly explain that nuclear is far from a carbon-neutral energy source. As my own writing has explored many times, from mining to refining, from transport to waste storage, from energy intensive plant construction to the fact that you need a steady energy supply to run a nuclear plant safely, nuclear energy has a carbon footprint of awesome proportions. But The Doomsday Machine goes a little further, asserting that “climate change was originally, and remains, a rich country’s hobby,” and that the focus on CO2 is more political and less progressive than the IPCC and its defenders would have you believe.

From my perspective, it is a point that gives one pause. There certainly are some advocates of atomic energy–”elite greens” as the authors call them–that have used climate change to cloak their naked infatuation with nuclear power (and Cohen and McKillop name names), but does that mean that climate science itself is suspect? It is a question more complicated than one might think–and certainly one more nuanced than anyone will hear in the election year coverage of President Obama’s “all of the above” energy “strategy.”

But it is a question–one of many I hope Martin Cohen and Andrew McKillop will endeavor to answer as they join us here today.

110 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Martin Cohen and Andrew McKillop, The Doomsday Machine: The High Price of Nuclear Energy, the World’s Most Dangerous Fuel”

BevW April 22nd, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Martin, Andrew, Welcome to the Lake.

Gregg, Thank you for Hosting.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Thanks, Bev. And Welcome Andrew & Martin. Thank you for joining us today.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 1:58 pm

You do a great job of detailing a series of nuclear energy “myths”–as you call them–in your book. I hope we get a chance to touch on all of them today, but to start, which of your eight myths do you think is most in play or has the most resonance in this post-Fukushima environment?

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Hi Gregg, Bev, and Fire Dogs!

I guess that would have to be ‘nuclear power is safe’, no?

BevW April 22nd, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Welcome, Happy Earth Day everyone!

Elliott April 22nd, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Welcome to the Lake everybody

In Gregg’s introduction:

From my perspective, it is a point that gives one pause. There certainly are some advocates of atomic energy–”elite greens” as the authors call them–that have used climate change to cloak their naked infatuation with nuclear power (and Cohen and McKillop name names), but does that mean that climate science itself is suspect? It is a question more complicated than one might think–and certainly one more nuanced than anyone will hear in the election year coverage of President Obama’s “all of the above” energy “strategy.”

Can you explain/elaborate/answer?

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 2:06 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

hello from AMK

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 2:07 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 3

Hello there and big thanks for this friendly welcome
Andrew McKillop

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Mmm… let’s get this one over! Even Andrew and I don’t really agree on this….

There are two ways to approach it – the supposed ‘climate science’ way, and the practical policy way. Let’s start (unlike most people) with the latter. If the theory was right, we need to massively reduce global CO2 emissions, right? Yet what is happening, and I would add, what is inevitably going to happen, is that worldwide burning of fossil fuels is going to increase, and alas, rainforest destruction too.

Take Canada, for example, even though the country is a committed campaigner for global reductions of coal use, it has spent large sums increasing its port capacity to export… coal!

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 2:09 pm
In response to Elliott @ 6

This is a really BIG question but I would prefer to first ask a $64k question which is: If you dnt believe in global warming can you still believe, real strong like me, in climate change of the anthropogenic sort ?

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:10 pm

To cut a long story short, there is no way anyone is going to reduce those famous co2 emissions anytime soon. So… you might way, why the big song and dance about trying to?

The whole Kyoto, Climate Change campaign was a bit of a con trick. The reason I say that was that countries, like Germany and the UK, and others making up the EU, or countries like Canada, pledged to reduce carbon dioxide below a 1990 baseline. The protocol was adopted in December 1997. Why then use the 1990 baseline? The official reason that this was the year used in IPCC research. But in the years between, Germany, the UK and Canada had significantly cut back on their indigenous coal industries. Thus, key countries signing were already well below their ‘target’ levels! The public pledge to reduce CO2 by 5% or so, was an empty one, in reality they were actually committing to achieve something that was already the case.

BevW April 22nd, 2012 at 2:11 pm

As a technical note,
there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

(Note: If you’ve had to refresh your browser, Reply may not work correctly unless you wait for the page to complete loading)

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:12 pm
In response to BevW @ 12

Noted

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 2:12 pm

One thing agree with Doc Martin about is why did Canada quit any pretence of being interested in reducing CO2 emission ? Answer: because Canada is racking up its production of tarsand oil to sell to the US at $105 a barrel

What has nuclar power got to do with that ? Nothing at all

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:13 pm

I definitely wanted to get into this, but there is a lot in your book besides this, of course, so maybe it would be best to lay out the broader premise a little, and then get into the particulars of climate change, since I know that will be controversial and important, but no less important than the dangers and mythmaking of nuclear power.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:16 pm

so, as I asked at 3, which of your eight myths do you think is most in play or has the most resonance in this post-Fukushima environment?

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:19 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 15

Mmmm… the thing is, the issues are really very much intertwined – both factually and methodologically. You see, nuclear debates are convoluted forms of economics, and so are climate change ones. When people press for nuclear power, they appeal to ‘rationality’, to ‘our children’s future’ (no really! They do!) and so on… and ignore ‘facts’ that are inconvenient… like that nuclear could not possibly – ever- provide a significant proportion of the world’s energy, and that it invariably and inevitably pollutes the environment in ways we just don’t seem to be able to get to grips with…. see Fukushima and the widely shrugged off radiation releases

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:22 pm

several good points in there–lets see if we can tease a few out. First, you make a very interesting point in the book about percentage of world electricity vs. percentage of world energy provided by nuclear–and the difference in numbers really affects the argument. Can you quickly explain to our readers the difference and the importance of it?

hpschd April 22nd, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Welcome,

Authors. I’ve not read all of the book yet, but I find it intensely interesting and thoroughly engrossing. Great work, well detailed. Highly recommended.

It is clear that nuclear power has not delivered the promises of the ’50s. I appreciated your discussion of the lack of progress in efficiency and cost-effectiveness over the the decades, as compared to the development of other technologies over the same period.

In the “Nuclear Power is Green”-myth section you say of climate change science, “The subject is essentially a scientific debate. It therefore has shades and nuances of meaning but contains no neutral truths and remains far from settled” p.49 Do you have questions about the degree of human influence on the climate?

You also express little faith in the future of wind and solar power as major sources of energy.

Elliott April 22nd, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Well, obviously climate change happens routinely in geologic time, but I firmly believe the evidence that it is human activity that is causative currently. And we are way late fixing it.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Andrew, you are the energy consultant here, so help us with this: The Doomsday Machine does a good job of sorting through the various levels of financial manipulation necessary to get a nuclear plant built and running. I am sure it differs some from country to country, but are there some universal “truths” of the nuclear finance game that exist everywhere?

quebecdude April 22nd, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but nuclear energy is an old concern of mine.

Here’s my question: according to the authors, is enenews.com a reliable source of information re Fukushima?

hpschd April 22nd, 2012 at 2:28 pm

There has been talk of building nuclear reactors to supply the heat required to process the bitumen. Currently they are using a lot of natural gas.

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Real good. The spirit of our book was like they say prospective, future oriented back in 2011 when we wrote it, but there has been a giant leap forward in all kinds of countries – Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Belgium and even France “the Nuclear Republic” – on the subject of nukes. It is now real OK to say out loud that you dont like atomic energy

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 21

Sure and certain. Whether its the US EIA or the French Cour des Comptes (government audit agency) the news is out that nuclear power plant construction costs are very high – and are rising, also. Nuclear power is a bad economic bet.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to quebecdude @ 22

I don’t know if the authors read Enenews, but from my perspective (as one who has been writing obsessively about nuclear power in the last year), Ene is great resource, but a mixed bag. They throw up a lot of links, with just the bare bones of the story on their site. It really pays to click through and read the whole original source material, and evaluate both the context and the source beyond the eye-grabbing headline Ene throws on it.

Suzanne April 22nd, 2012 at 2:31 pm

welcome to fdl martin and andrew — gregg am glad to see you as host.

once it was learned that ‘too cheap to meter’ was not true and after the chernobyl and fukushima disasters, why does the old canard of safe cheap renewable energy still get applied to nuclear power?

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to hpschd @ 19

Thanks, hpschd – and do keep going with the book! The New Scientist magazine just read it and called it ‘mendacious drivel’ – so its always nice to get a different perspective. The point that people stick on, yes, is this one about Climate Science. But look, we don’t need to get stuck on that here.

Everyone knows humans have a profound impact on the environment – mainly through chopping down trees and damming rivers. ‘Maybe’ burning fossil fuels has an effect too… but it is certainly a much less clear causality, and even if we allowed all the theory of the IPCC and climate change campaigners, as I say at comment 9 above, there is in practical terms no possible control of carbon emissions let alone the ‘reductions by 90%’ that would be needed to impact even slightly.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Right. let’s go into some detail as to why. You specifically note that of all the reactor projects in the pipeline, only half will ever be finished. Why is that?

Phoenix Woman April 22nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Welcome, Andrew and Martin!

RE: Solar and wind power — Has the recent precipitous drop in the cost of solar panel manufacture and thus retail price made you reconsider your pessimism as to solar (if not wind) power?

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to quebecdude @ 22

We shouldn’t rely on ANY sources… the site is only as good as its last story, and its information comes from somewhere. What I try to do is to track down two sides to an issue, and see whose version seems to hang together best.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Well, if you like that kind of perspective, Matthew Wald, the Green “blogger” for the New York Times called your book a “polemic” against splitting the atom. In my experience, polemics don’t usually come with so many footnotes.

BevW April 22nd, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Are nuclear plants constructed in Europe as they are here – with a lot of taxpayers paying for the construction?

…the news is out that nuclear power plant construction costs are very high – and are rising, also. Nuclear power is a bad economic bet.

Could you explain why?

ThingsComeUndone April 22nd, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Cohen and McKillop rightly explain that nuclear is far from a carbon-neutral energy source.

Numbers please and also numbers on the cost of both nuclear disaster clean up and regular radiation leakage. Plus cost to store nuclear waste. Even if we had a Nuke waste storage place we would need the army to guard all the trains and miles of track hauling the waste.
Air transport would be vulnerable to anti aircraft missiles and be even more expensive.

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Suzanne @ 27

Hi Suzanne,

The $1m question, no? We explain in detail how working out the price of electricity from nuclear is a bit like ‘pick a number, any number’ But you see, the price of nuclear electricity is not really what drives the industry. What do I mean? But it’s easy to see governments love the trappings – from massive works programs (to create employment ‘apparently’ to bomb potential to just power sources run by workers who are mostly non-unionised topped with a technical elite who don’t go on strike.

Companies have these incredible sums of money at low interest rates to play with if they get someone to fund a nuclear power station. $6 billion. And did you know that only half of projects started (money lent) – ever get to produce any electricity?

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 32

That’s right. But it is a ‘polemic’ in a sense, (the one of being ‘warlike’) as it carefully deconstructs the claims of the nuclear industry.

hpschd April 22nd, 2012 at 2:46 pm

It was interesting to discover that the utility rate increases consumers are paying to finance the building of Southern’s newly licensed reactors will continue for an indefinite time, no matter if the reactors ever go on line. Sounds like they’re turning these new nuke projects into free money whether or not they are ever finished.

Interesting that the construction has been going on for some time – long before the license was granted.

ThingsComeUndone April 22nd, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Any links between the increase in cancer deaths since we had nuclear energy that are direct? If so what are their costs?

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:47 pm

ANd I think it is great in the way it carefully takes on their claims one by one and shoots them down. I think the financial argument has a lot of power–correct me if I’m wrong, but I hear you essentially saying, “If you liked the bank bailouts, you’ll love nuclear financing”–do you think there is a way of using current deficit hysteria to stop governments from throwing good money after bad in the nuclear sinkhole?

Andrew, you can chime in on this, too.

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 30

Hi, Phoenix Woman

The point that should lead to some skepticism about renewables (like solar and wind) is that they are producing only tiny amounts of energy… less than 1% They are the noughties of energy politics. Hydro is the one renewable that bumps up the contribution of renewables.

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 30

here again I got to distance myslf from Doc Martin because never, ever did I say that for example windpower is a pure vanity tech – like nuclewr power – although it can be a relative canity tech when its pushed too far, too fast in a totally speculative hedge fund financing context. Result: even the biggest turbine maker in the world, Vestas, is in deep financial trouble

No, we have to loo at this through energy economic lenses. Solar PV is a wonderful technology IMHO. Prices are now insanely low, what we can call a “buyers market” very akin to US shale gas, and gas prices

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to hpschd @ 37

That’s the kind of trick you get, isn’t it? And politicians know that consumers do soon forget those extra charges.

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 2:50 pm

There is no shadow of doubt that NUCLEAR = CANCER

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to hpschd @ 37

The ability to start so much of the construction before licensing, permitting, or even approval of the “new” reactor design comes from a change in the rules passed during the GW Bush years. It is, to my eye, financial hostage-taking. See, we’ve spent so much already, it would be a shame not to finish. And with costs passed to consumers (this varies from state to state), the risk to the power company is minimal, even before the federal govt steps in with loan guarantees. As our authors today allude to, I think the odds of finishing the AP1000s in GA or SC are no better than 50/50, but as you observe, there is possibly more profit in the process than there is in power generation.

hpschd April 22nd, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Regarding nuclear waste. Spent fuel rods still contain more than 90% fissionable material (soured with fission products), but are not re-processed in North America. Is mining and processing new nuclear fuel so much cheaper than re-cycling?

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 2:53 pm

This already is a rearview mirror notion

Take Spain: it has about 28 500 MW of windpower capacity and 7 400 MW of nuclear capacity. On a windy day when power demand isnt all that high, Spain’s windfarms cover 55% of national electricity demand

Talk about “a trifling 1% of power from wind and sun” is already way out of date. It was true 10 years ago. Not now.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:54 pm

The point I always make is that if we made even a fraction of the investment in wind/solar/or yet unexplored alternatives that we do in nuclear (or oil for that matter), we would see efficiency go up and prices come down. It is hardly a free market or level playing field when it come to energy.

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 2:55 pm

What’s a number going to do, ThingsComeUndone?

I had some figures from an Indian physicist, and they are in TwH, for how much energy goes into mining uranium.

He argued that nuclear is a ‘false fuel’ – we have to put more energy (ie from oil) than we eventually get back!

Then, yes, you have to add on the energy requried to dismantle the things and store the waste. No one does dismantle them, but we have seen multi-billion dollar bills piling up at Fukushima to make those reactors ‘safe’.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to hpschd @ 45

In The Doomsday Machine, the authors talk about the myth of “reprocessing.” It actually creates more waste than you had before–not to mention it uses more energy. Would Martin or Andrew like to explain further?

Phoenix Woman April 22nd, 2012 at 2:56 pm

One of the reasons I’m asking is because Scott and Julie Brusaw’s Solar Roadways project is about to bear real fruit:

Imagine you are behind the wheel of your big rig driving on those 440 panels per mile of glass road. There are a number of questions that come to mind, not the least of which is whether this glass road can withstand the weight of the loaded rig. Remember, though, this isn’t your typical window-pane glass. There are varying types of glass, from thin and flexible to bulletproof. “There are a lot of things you can do with glass,” says Scott. “Our goal is for our panels to withstand 250,000 pounds and our glass guy estimates that a 3/4-inch sheet will hold 160,000 pounds.” The glass is a tempered treated glass that withstands cracking and chipping.

At an advanced loading facility, a giant truck tire with weights on top of it was used to simulate a truck driving across the panels. “The hardness of the glass falls between steel and stainless steel and truck tires wear out well before the surface of glass,” says Scott.

Another common question is related to traction. The glass being developed for this project is a textured glass designed to prevent slippage. “This does diminish the solar efficiency, but we are looking at how to make a prism pattern work so that when light comes in it will bend it down and make it more efficient.”

Another question that comes to mind is related to natural disasters. How do the panels hold up in floods, earthquakes and other such occurrences? With flooding, the panels are hermetically sealed, so they should remain waterproof. “They won’t be destroyed or short out,” says Scott. And, they are anchored well enough that they won’t move. During an earthquake, the roadway would likely see damage similar to that of any highway. But power would not be lost throughout the highway system – only the damaged panels would stop producing. Each panel generates power essentially independently of the others.

ThingsComeUndone April 22nd, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Last October, in an area 120 kilometers north of Berlin, Enertrag AG began operating one of the country’s first hybrid plants to generate wind power and convert it into hydrogen, with the help of its partners, Vattenfall, Total and Deutsche Bahn.

The three turbines at the Enertrag plant generate up to 6MW of power. That energy is then passed through water and split into oxygen and hydrogen via an electrolyser, which is housed in a supersized garage and stored in five tanks.

The technology effectively turns wind into a source of baseload power, the industry’s word for 24-hour supply.

The hydrogen can be mixed with biogas made from local corn waste and fed into cogeneration plants, which produce electricity and heat.

It can also fed back into the grid at times when little or no wind is available, and the heat can be siphoned into district heating networks. During periods of low wind, the biogas plant can run on biomass alone.

Figures from the consultancy A.T. Kearney show that producing hydrogen or methane, a gas derived from it in another conversion process, costs two to four times more than Germany pays for imported gas.

http://fuelcellsworks.com/news/2012/03/13/germany-blows-warm-on-hydrogen-power/

Given the true cost of Nuclear Power, Fracking for Natural Gas, Mercury in fish from coal this tech makes much more sense true the cost of pollution is spread out among everyone but even bankers pay with shorter life than they would have had without it.

Phoenix Woman April 22nd, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Exactly. Even China, which up until the past year or so was producing solar and wind gear mainly for export, is now ramping up its own renewable-energy installs.

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to hpschd @ 45

A very complex subject but the bottom line is that recycled and reprocessed military source nuclear materials are NOT cheap fuel. This is hidden by a huge web of hidden subsidies and, frankly speaking, you expect Mr Putin to tell you about how much it costs to hand over military source highly enriche uranium to the US ? The only way you get insights into the true costs is when reactor operators abandon MOX
http://weblog.greenpeace.org/nuclear-reaction/2009/11/nuclear_news_us_company_abando.html

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Regarding ‘cancer links’ – basically there is no agreement on this. Surprise! There’s no real agreement on what causes cancers for most environmental factors… even smoking is bitterly disputed. I saw breast cancer was not being acknowledged as not one disease but a cluster of about a dozen – each with a different cause and – wait for it – different potential cures!

After the Chernobyl disaster, as we discuss in the book, the experts went off in all directions. Some extrapolated a million cancer deaths, some said, hey! it’s just 54.

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 3:00 pm

The advantage of the hydrogen energy storage route,here, is it operates in situ under controlled conditions. This is totally different from and better than letting the Consumer Herd run around in hydrogen fuelled sedans and blow themselves up

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 44

Yes, and do you ever pause to ask why should the state pick up the tab for checking plans for reactors are safe anyway? I mean, the whole culture of nuclear is about safety being on the public tab… plants lack proper insurance cover, they have free inspections/ advice, if they blow up – the public buys out the company as at Fukushima) or even more crazy, (I’m thinking of Chernobyl really) the company simply walks away from the smoldering ruins and starts building new plants

ThingsComeUndone April 22nd, 2012 at 3:06 pm

What will Numbers do? Blaspheme! Pythagoras thought the world was numbers and in a way he is right.
With numbers we can point to cost and we can point out that other countries that can produce power cheaper Will be able to manufacture goods cheaper.
Where manufacturing goes so goes the technical expertise that America depends on for its economy and wars.
If the rich in America think that other countries will keep letting them own that manufacturing forever then the Neo Colonialists are as dumb as the original colonialists were.
Empires that don’t look at the bottom line go broke and die.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm

And in the US, we also have the Price Anderson act that caps liability!

hpschd April 22nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Thanks for the link.

The really appalling detail is that, if I recall correctly, a 900 MW reactor produces 30 tons of radioactive waste a year.

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 39

Absolutely, Greg. The example that I think we all need to bear in mind is of Greece. This tiny little country – population that of New York I think? has debts that run up into the stratosphere… are they trillions of dollars? All by the ‘magic’ of modern finance. If the debts are not paid off, then there is a threat of ‘default’ and the bank system trembles. So everyone – not only in Europe – is stumping up… 100 billion, no, more make that 500 billion!

How does nuclear fit in? But the figures are simply much bigger and hence more terrifying, Most of the clients are countries who would normally have trouble getting a loan – but with nuclear it is kind of sub-prime on an international scale.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I had always been a little suspicious of hydrogen–to me it was just a new battery, you still needed electricity to make the hydrogen–but an energy-geek friend of mine suggests we coudl use wind to make the hydrogen, and then set of a chain of local small scale hydrogen outlets to replace gas stations. . . basically the refinery and the retail outlet in one. It is first time hydrogen has sounded interesting to me. What do you think?

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I expect this book was started before the Tohoku quake and meltdowns at Fukushima–did you have to make many changes or adjustments to take that disaster into account?

ThingsComeUndone April 22nd, 2012 at 3:20 pm

This is totally different from and better than letting the Consumer Herd run around in hydrogen fuelled sedans and blow themselves up

Sedans blowing up? Vision Motors has that problem solved.

Hydrnol is an organic chemical “carrier” for hydrogen transportation and storage. Vision says Hydrnol allows for a commercially viable, nationwide hydrogen infrastructure roll-out, at one tenth the cost of compressed hydrogen. It can be transported via pipelines and tanker trucks, is stored at ambient temperature, and is unpressurized. Hydrnol can provide hydrogen to both fuel cell cars and trucks at competitive prices.
“Vision has built a very functional business model for local and regional delivery, zero emission, heavy duty, big rig trucks with a duty cycle of up to 200 miles over an eight hour shift,” says Martin Schuermann, president and CEO of Vision. Since Hydrnol is an easy-to-handle liquid, company executives estimate that installing Hydrnol storage and dispensing infrastructure at an existing truck stop will cost about $200,000 to $300,000 per station. “We view this agreement with Vision as the first step to improving highway truck transportation in the United States forever,” concludes Michael D. Ramage, Asemblon president and CEO.

http://www.gawdawiki.org/headlines/Vision-Asemblon-Form-Partnership-To-Sell-Hydrnol-933

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 49

Well, not really too much detail here… there’s a good summary in the book! But that word ‘reprocesssing’… its so friendly! And the reality is a process that produces a witches brew of new radiation hazards. Imagine if you took a bag of old newspapers to be recycled and they gave you back two nice sheets of cute writing paper and a trailer full of foul-smelling new rubbish. You’d certainly wonder where the advantages of the process were supposed to be.

I think myself – Andrew please chip in! – the rationale is that reprocessing provides a fig-leaf to the industry. It’s present mountain of wast ‘could’ be reprocessed. What will happen to the next ten mountains that this process results in? But the industry doesn’t need to answer that as so much smoke has been blown around by the exercise.

ThingsComeUndone April 22nd, 2012 at 3:23 pm

After the Chernobyl disaster, as we discuss in the book, the experts went off in all directions. Some extrapolated a million cancer deaths, some said, hey! it’s just 54.

Science needs to gain independence from politics if we can’t trust numbers then society will fail.

BevW April 22nd, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Andrew, Martin, What type of nuclear fuel storage facilities are in Europe and the rest of the world? Is it private or government facilities?

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I am not a fan of finding more things we have to cart around on trucks (see my comment at 61, tell me what you think of that idea). The Doomsday Machine makes a point of discussing how much energy we waste moving things around the globe. I think it is one of the strongest points in the book, and it comes right at the end. We waste a lot of human energy arguing what the next energy source is that we can pay for, but we spend very little time doing the easiest, cheapest thing, which is to conserve, reduce, and reuse.

Conservation might not make Entergy or Exelon money, but it is the simplest path to eliminating the scourge of nuclear (as well as the scourge of CO2).

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Heh, heh… what I mean is you will get the numbers out that you want when you feed the numbers (and the algorithm) in. Take Hydrogen – it is basically a very implausible and ineffecient way to meet world energy requirements. You say some consultancy says x and I wonder how they arrived at their figures. No way we’re going to settle it here. So if we stick to broad ideas, we might shed more light.

Starbuck April 22nd, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I’m a bit late, and spent a fair amount of time examining the Q&A in this post.

Anyway, concerning alternative fuels/methods, do either of you fellows have any comments about Dr. David Nocera and his group using solar to create ample fuel to run fuel cells and such? His data is pretty clear about where this technology can go. Unfortunately, I can’t find my links. I’ll look for them after posting.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:27 pm

The Doomsday Machine explores something I did not know about–a link between the WHO and the IAEA. Apparently, the former has to clear things with the latter.

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 67

Right on. Heres a single figure for you: the world’s heavy cargo shipping industry bunker fuel requirements are close to 4.5 million barrels of oil per day – thats the total oil demand of Japan, to shift products around the globe

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:31 pm

That is an amazing figure.

It is those kinds of apples to apples numbers that I think capture the imagination. I think one of the tricks in debating nuclear power is to make the invisible visible.

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:32 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 62

We certainly did try to keep ‘up-to-date’ which was difficult with the ever-unfurling list of disasters… but basically the book challenges the claims of nuclear on ‘a good day’. Even the US government doesn’t ‘explicitly’ favor nuclear plants that melt-down spewing radiation, so not really the role of the book to rely on disasters to say ‘look this is a bad way to generate electricity’.

We rather try to show that this is just one of the likely ‘real world’ costs to be factored in.

ThingsComeUndone April 22nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Vision says Hydrnol allows for a commercially viable, nationwide hydrogen infrastructure roll-out, at one tenth the cost of compressed hydrogen. It can be transported via pipelines and tanker trucks, is stored at ambient temperature, and is unpressurized. Hydrnol can provide hydrogen to both fuel cell cars and trucks at competitive prices.
“Vision has built a very functional business model for local and regional delivery, zero emission, heavy duty, big rig trucks with a duty cycle of up to 200 miles over an eight hour shift,” says Martin Schuermann, president and CEO of Vision. Since Hydrnol is an easy-to-handle liquid, company executives estimate that installing Hydrnol storage and dispensing infrastructure at an existing truck stop will cost about $200,000 to $300,000 per station.

http://www.gawdawiki.org/headlines/Vision-Asemblon-Form-Partnership-To-Sell-Hydrnol-933

Nuke power natural gas all cost a bunch especially when we consider pollution costs but we do have alternatives by using green power wind and solar to turn water to hydrogen then storing the wind and solar as hydrogen and for cars as Hydrnol so we don’t blow up we can replace oil, nukes, natural gas for far cheaper than the Afghan and Iraq wars to secure our oil supplies cost us.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm
In response to BevW @ 66

Good question. I should note that the last weeks have seen some palace intrigue here in the States that looks like it might put Yucca Mountain back on the table after the election.

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 61

There are plenty of researchers getting large grants to study this.. I don’t think it has any realistic potential at all, no. Last I read (a year ago) by a SUPPORTER was that it was all just a futuristic dream…

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Sure, and there are plenty of cities that run buses on it. But to make a national system you’d have to reinvent the laws of physics.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Good point. Nuclear advocates like to talk about how once you get over the hump, you know, get the darn plant built, approved and fueled, an NPP can produce energy 24/7. . . but that is garbage. Few are ever running at peak efficiency, and on any given day, a dozens of US plants are offline for maintenance, refueling, or have just been scrammed because of what the industry calls an “unusual event.”

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Science and politics are two things?

But they ain’t, and they never have been. Should they be? I don’t even think that. Bad science follows bad politics. But science should serve human needs, that makes it political, no?

hpschd April 22nd, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Just how do you de-commission a nuke plant?
Have many commercial plants have been shut down permanently?.
Who Pays?

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:41 pm
In response to Starbuck @ 69

Never too late!

My point – it’s made in the book too, Andrew! – is that real energy needs are met by…
fossil fuels
biomass
hydroelectric

Now people here do want solar and wind, that’s kind of what I’d call ‘optimism over experience’. Both solar and wind carry real environmental downsides. But I’m NOT going to argue that here – we’ really want to see if nuclear has a place in the energy mix – no?

Starbuck April 22nd, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Wow! That’s pretty far out. So far as I can see, Newton and Maxwell, to take two theorists, are as far from politics, or should I say, their work is as far from politics as can be imagined.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:45 pm

this touches on something I was asking about earlier. THe book makes an interesting distinction between percentage of electricity versus percentage of all energy use. When you calculate nuclear as a percentage of overall energy–which includes things like burning wood for heat–it is really a tiny fraction of the story. One that could easily be bridged with conservation or even nascent alternatives.

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:45 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 67

Exactly as you say, no money to be made out of using energy more shrewedly – eg people doing their shopping in two trips a week rather than say three – who would ever know? Or going to bed earlier and harmonizing their waking hours with the daytime (I’m lousy at that!) Basically, though, humanity is about the creative use of energy. We can’t get away from it.

Starbuck April 22nd, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Most likely not, again if you take the politics out of the science. The flip side of course doesn’t apply. Taking the science out of politics is highly dangerous to your health and your finances. I’m heavily involved in that aspect, but not at the nuclear level. More like EPA.

mzchief April 22nd, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Hear, hear!

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:48 pm

ha! well, you’re not going to get me to get up with the sun–I don’t care how good it is for the planet! But, seriously, I think the point is that there are simple things that each of us can do that really wouldn’t seem like much of an imposition, and if we had governments guide us in that direction, and coordinate some, we could stop screwing around with dangerous dirty energy.

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Amazingly, time is winding down, I was curious about one more thing before we go… Despite atom-heads claims that people are irrationally afraid of nuclear power, I have found this last year that radioactivity’s invisibility and mystery actually make people tune out the dangers. At least I have encountered that here with a US audiences. Do find this to be true in Europe?

BevW April 22nd, 2012 at 3:50 pm

As we come to the end of this lively Book Salon discussion,

Martin, Andrew, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and nuclear energy.

Gregg, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Martin and Andrew’s website and book (The Doomsday Machine)

Gregg’s websites (capitoilette) (FDL) (Truthout)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you want to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:52 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 75

Greg, Bev,

I’ve not got the stats in front of me, but there’s a great story about storing waste in Germany in the book. I would think it is pretty typical. For a while the waste is Private Profit, then it becomes a Public Problem. Yucca? Yes, I’ve seen the mutterrings too. But the project is fatally flawed – by reality. I guess politicians can drop the waste into a hole, but they’d only have to fish it out again later.

ThingsComeUndone April 22nd, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Hi Starbuck are you still around I made it to Portland my number is 634-5789 give me a call Wednesday if you want to hang.

contact the editors for my contact information

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 78

Without wishing to enrage fellow nuclear skeptics, the same sorts of points have to be said about ‘renewables’… meaning the new ones, wind and solar.

For ‘reliables’ we’re back to the oldest forms of energy…

fossil fuels
biomass
moving water

Starbuck April 22nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm

I’m here. Will call.

ThingsComeUndone April 22nd, 2012 at 3:57 pm

But science should serve human needs, that makes it political, no?

Facts are facts but sometimes some people need to believe something thats harmful.

ThingsComeUndone April 22nd, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to Starbuck @ 93

Cool going upthread

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to Starbuck @ 82

Newton actually spent a lot of his time working for the British government direct.

But take a lot of that ‘new science’. It was looking for solutions to practical issues, like navigation – or predicting the future.

Dr. Martin Cohen April 22nd, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Thanks all, been a pleasure!

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 88

!00% correct. Listen – I live in a French Atlantic seaboard town about 850 kilometres from the nearest Germany border but here in town, one Sunday last October there was a German street theater troupe – antinuclear – doing this town with their well produced show. The theme was NUCLEAR = CANCER
They were well organized, they told me they were moving from this town and working their way south right to the Spanish frontier, town by town

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Thats rubbish but since Doc Martin says it I have to (not) agree !

Andrew McKillop April 22nd, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Bye for now and please write me at my mail xtran9@gmail.com or tel me in France on 33-297470903

Gregg Levine April 22nd, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Thanks to both Martin and Andrew for their time today. ANd thanks, as always, to Bev for the great work she does here.

Starbuck April 22nd, 2012 at 4:02 pm

He was also an alchemist.

That science serves humanity doesn’t equate to science and politics are not two things.

Science is the search for truth.

Politics is the search for compromise. I fail to see the connection.

BevW April 22nd, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Thank you Martin – in England, and Andrew in France tonight.

hpschd April 22nd, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Thanks to all, interesting discussion.

sefarkas April 22nd, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Plus cost to store nuclear waste. Even if we had a Nuke waste storage place we would need the army to guard all the trains and miles of track hauling the waste.

News to the uniformed, fresh nuclear fuel is routinely shipped throughout the lower 48 states. Low level waste is also routinely shipped. How is this possible without the army stationed along all of the roads used for this shipping? High-level waste (burned fuel) must be kept at the power plant; nevertheless, durable transport has been engineered long ago for HLW shipment. When you start citing your sources, I will cite mine.

sefarkas April 22nd, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Companies have these incredible sums of money at low interest rates to play with if they get someone to fund a nuclear power station. $6 billion. And did you know that only half of projects started (money lent) – ever get to produce any electricity?

You are comparing the financing experience of the nuclear industry building in an era of high interest rates 9% to 18% and claiming that the low interest rates of modern times (builds in the next eight years) will lead to the same probability of project failure? Your cause and effect seems to be off.

sefarkas April 22nd, 2012 at 8:41 pm
In response to hpschd @ 37

Interesting that the construction has been going on for some time – long before the license was granted.

The construction you refer to is basically digging holes in the ground and lowering the local water table to prepare for a foundation. This work is such a small fraction of the $6B/unit cost that it is hardly worth mentioning.

sefarkas April 22nd, 2012 at 8:50 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 44

The ability to start so much of the construction before licensing, permitting, or even approval of the “new” reactor design comes from a change in the rules passed during the GW Bush years. It is, to my eye, financial hostage-taking. See, we’ve spent so much already, it would be a shame not to finish. And with costs passed to consumers (this varies from state to state), the risk to the power company is minimal, even before the federal govt steps in with loan guarantees.

An accountancy term, construction in progress (CIP) asset or capital work in progress entry records the cost of construction work, which is not yet completed (typically, applied to capital budget items). A CIP item is not depreciated until the asset is placed in service. Normally, upon completion, a CIP item is reclassified, and the reclassified asset is capitalized and depreciated.
While costs are added to the construction in progress, related CIP account is debited with corresponding credits to accounts payable, accrued expenses, inventory, cash, and others. When the construction in progress is completed, related long-term asset account is debited and CIP account is credited.
Accounting and paying for long-term projects built to fulfill the mandate of various public-service-commissions to provide power at reasonable cost is a problem for all forms of energy. Given the various constraints, utility executives will choose technologies that can fulfill the mandate. Constraints include equipment and fuel to produce enough electricity, technical people to make it work and deliver the electricity.

sefarkas April 22nd, 2012 at 8:54 pm
In response to hpschd @ 45

Is mining and processing new nuclear fuel so much cheaper than re-cycling?

Mining is cheaper when the uranium can be found in high enough concentrations. Making new fuel with un-activated material is obviously less expensive than the activated material from a reprocessing plant.

A reprocessing plant is effectively a chemical plant with the familiar three-foot thick re-barred concrete walls around everything, plus the added cost of remote manipulation of virtually everything.

sefarkas April 22nd, 2012 at 9:00 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 47

if we made even a fraction of the investment …

Who is we? Commercial nuclear power techniques and technology is largely derived from private investment (mostly utility companies to one of the reactor vendors). DOEnergy projects (besides the feeding and caring of our nuclear weapon stockpile) are largely make-work to support a political constituency. Fusion is a great example of a way to drain away resources to an unprovable technology vis-a-vis spending that money on more efficient turbines, transformers, and transmission lines. I am all for closing DOE and transferring the weapons maintenance to DoD.

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