“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Another Liberal Assault On Nuclear Power

The tragic effects of the earthquake near Japan have been many. Certainly it is sad that so many lives were lost.

As frequently happens after a disaster of this sort, hand-wringing doomsters arise and warn against something, based upon the aftermath of said disaster.

In this case, it's nuclear power. Liberals and greenies, both globally and in the US, are gnashing their teeth at the failure of several Japanese nuclear facilities, especially since the cooling systems failed on a few of them. We are told that this should, once and for all, end nuclear power plant construction.

One greenie interviewed on CNBC Monday morning went so far as to claim that the Gulf of Maine could accommodate sufficient wind turbines to power all of New England, and, further, that solar and wind power would be providing far more of America's power needs, if only they'd had the federal research funding that nuclear has enjoyed for half a century.

From what I've read so far, there is much ado about very little, even with what we know occurred in Japan.

First, the Japanese nuclear reactors are second generation designs which are 40+ years old. Their water circulating pumps failed, causing concerns over cooling the fuel rods, and potential exposure of the rods. But modern, third generation plants, such as one currently being vetted by the federal regulators, use passive water cooling, not pumps.

Second, Japan, the entire country, basically sits atop volcanic and earthquake zones. For various reasons, mostly that it has no oil of its own, Japan chose to go the nuclear route. Thus far, nobody seems to have died or been injured by the condition of or damage to any nuclear plant because of the earthquake.

The same greenie who decried a lack of US funding of wind and solar research claimed that Japan now has blackouts because the nuclear facilities are off-line, thus making them liabilities, instead of assets in the post-earthquake scenario.

I don't know all of the details, but it's unclear to me whether non-nuclear-fueled power plants located in the same places would have withstood the earthquake without any damage. So her criticisms aren't even clearly valid.

Third, while it's reasonable and sensible to observe the problems that occurred with nuclear power facilities because of this earthquake, the fact that there was an earthquake and nuclear facilities were damaged doesn't mean we should abandon all nuclear facilities for power generation in the US. Again, the damaged facilities are all older designs. But critics whom I've heard haven't acknowledged this fact.

Finally, the attack on federal energy research allocations is a red herring. If anything, it argues for fewer, or no research subsidies to any energy sources, thus making them all compete on their merits and economics, rather than on how much free money, in the form of subsidies, various energy lobbies can wring from Congress or various administrations.

Would nuclear have advanced so far without subsidies? I don't know. That's the point. Would wind and solar energy be capable of shouldering nuclear's 20% of American everyday power supplies, had they enjoyed larger subsidies in prior years? I doubt it. But, again, we just don't know. We do know that with what subsidies they have enjoyed, they still don't seem capable of economically storing energy to power electric needs on calm and/or cloudy days.

So, despite the unfortunate loss of life in Japan, as well as the severe property damage, there's no clear evidence from the quake's aftermath that US nuclear power plans should be any different because of it.

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