Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Fall and Rise of Nuclear Power

Nuclear plant towers (Photo Credit: Tennessee Valley Authority via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Westinghouse’s bankruptcy culminates the collapse of potential US strategic leadership in world nuclear energy.  The US has faltered in many aspects of nuclear technology, now allowing other nations to become the world leaders in nuclear and energy diplomacy. Regaining the strategic power will be technically straightforward but politically difficult.

Nuclear energy importance
More important even than its 8% share of world GDP, energy is the master resource, enabling industry, agriculture, and services worldwide.  Energy is worth a war.  Conflicts over energy include China’s usurpation of territory in the South China Sea, Sudan atrocities, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and the blockade of Japan’s SE Asia oil imports that sparked Pearl Harbor.  Energy is important in war and peace.

Nuclear fission can provide virtually unlimited motive power, and selling its energy can provide strategic economic power.  Though US officials regularly self-congratulate themselves about US gold-standard nuclear policies, the US hardly advances industrial nuclear technology and sells little of it, so has little strategic influence.

The nuclear nonproliferation treaty implemented the desires of permanent members of the UN security council US, Russia, China, France, and the UK to reserve nuclear weapons for themselves, offering fission power assistance to the have-not-weapons states in exchange for forswearing nuclear weapons.  Many countries also have signed bilateral “123” agreements enabling and controlling trade with the US in nuclear-related technology.  However, none of these agreements stopped India, Pakistan, Israel, South Africa, or North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.
Without a strong nuclear power industry and international trade the US has lost negotiating leverage.  For example the new 123 agreement with Vietnam does not prohibit it from enriching or reprocessing uranium or other fuels in order to be permitted to trade with US suppliers.  The renewed agreement with South Korea weakened limitations on fuel manufacturing and offered some spent fuel processing assistance at US national labs.
The Rise
Regaining strategic power will first require changing public perceptions of radiation dangers created by regulatory agencies’ nonscientific rules.  With permission to innovate and test, private industry can then best advance the commercialization advanced nuclear power.
Ending Radiophobia
Today’s radiation science makes it clear low dose radiation is not harmful, but changing the regulations will require recanting historical pronouncements by the NRC, EPA, and scientists of the National Council on Radiation Protection and the National Academy of Sciences, negatively impacting the reputations of many people still in power.

Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information (SARI) have petitioned that radiation exposure limits be set to 50 milliSieverts per year and the scientifically disproven LNT (linear no threshold) model of health effects and the ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) rule for radiation protection be abolished.  SARI is concerned that LNT proscribes promising radiation-stimulated immune-responses therapies to cure cancer, and that LNT induces patients and parents of patients to refuse CT scans, leading to misdiagnoses or risky alternative procedures, and that LNT needlessly forces evacuations of hundreds of thousands of frightened people in the event of a nuclear power plant accident.  Over a thousand people were killed by relocation stress at Fukushima, but none by radiation.  Unfounded radiation fear drives the public to reject what would otherwise be the cheapest source of electrical energy, as well as the safest, cleanest, and most sustainable.

Congress can overcome public radiophobia by requiring radiation protection limits to be based on observed evidence and modern science rather than appeasement of frightened, ignorant opponents.  This will force revision of many regulations of EPA and NRC, including abandonment of ALARA and LNT.  One benefit will be expanded use of radiation in medicine and improved public confidence that limited radiation exposure is not harmful.
Regaining strategic power
US universities and ventures are still producing nuclear-skilled, ambitious scientists and engineers.  Ending NRC overregulation will allow a successful domestic nuclear industry to arise, provided nuclear power is allowed to participate in an economically fair marketplace for non-CO2 emitting energy sources.  Economically displacing fossil-fired power plants with reliable nuclear power plants will prevent additional CO2 emissions, a major contributor to global warming.

With a vibrant domestic nuclear industry the US can rise to compete internationally with the emerging leaders Russia, China, and South Korea.  Economic benefits to the US could be very high.  Today the world is installing 100 GW of fossil-fuel-fired power plants each year, which could be replaced by safe, less expensive fission power plants, garnering near $200 billion per year of sales.

By becoming a sought-after supplier of nuclear power plants, the US will be able to offer the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear power rather than the threats of nuclear weapons.

Read more at The Fall and Rise of Nuclear Power

No comments:

Post a Comment